How to Remove Stains from Wood Floors So They Look Good as New

Rings, spots, and stains can happen. This guide to removing stains answers common questions about cleaning and protecting your hardwood floors.

When spills land on wood floors, a quick wipe (and maybe a bit of a cleaning solution) is usually all it takes to clean the mishap. But if left unattended, spills and other accidents can become lasting stains—say, for instance, a family member inadvertently left a full glass on the floor overnight, or perhaps a spill wasn't fully cleaned up. Whatever the reason, stains can be unsightly and distracting. But before you panic over a blemish, take note: You may have options for removing the stain from your beautiful hardwood floors.

Depending on the type of stain, and how deep it is, you might be able to easily fix the spot. Follow these steps for tips on how to remove stains from wood floors, including how to remove water marks and what kind of stain removers to use. Before you know it, your hardwood floor will look as though it's never had a stain.

Loft living room
Laurie Black

Before Getting Started

To remove wood floor stains, first determine what the ring or watermark looks like. Its appearance is an important clue in figuring out how to best address the stain. White stains, for example, indicate a type of surface-level water stain that can be easy to remove. Dark brown or black stains indicate a deeper stain that may require more work. The color of the stain indicates whether it's located in the floor's waxy surface layer, or has penetrated the finish into the grain of the wood.

Kitchen with island and wooden floor
David Tsay

How to Remove White Rings and Water Marks from Wood Floors

Start by letting the stain dry for two days, to see if it disappears on its own. If not, try one of these methods for removing white water rings. In addition to these stain removal techniques, you'll also find some kits and products available specifically as removers.

The method you'll use for removing water stains from wood will depend on whether your floor is treated with a wax or penetrating stain, or if the floor has a surface finish. As the name implies, the stain or finish on surface-finished floors sits on the surface of the wood, while wax or penetrating finishes go deeper into the wood and are typically found in older homes.

What You Need

  • 000 steel wool
  • Wax
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Mineral spirits
  • Wood floor cleaner (optional)
  • Cloth for buffing
  • Urethane finished floor cleaner
  • Scrub pad
  • Dry cotton cloth (optional)
  • Hot iron (optional)
  • Denatured alcohol (optional)

Step 1: Clean Waxed Floors

For floors finished with wax or penetrating stains, very gently rub the water stain on the wood with extra fine grade #000 steel wool ($5, Home Depot) and wax.

Step 2: Lightly Sand Stain (If Needed)

If the above method doesn't remove the stain, lightly sand it with fine sandpaper. Clean the sanded area with fine grade #00 steel wool and mineral spirits, or a wood floor cleaner ($5, Home Depot). Let the floor dry, then stain, wax, and buff by hand.

Step 3: Clean Urethane-Finished Floors

For floors with a surface finish, use a cleaner made specifically for urethane finishes ($8, Home Depot). For tricky spots, scrub using a cleaner and a scrub pad made for urethane floors.

Step 4: Remove Stubborn Stains

If neither of these methods works, consider these additional ideas. Cover the stain with a dry cotton cloth and rub with a hot iron (not set on steam) for two to three seconds. Lastly, try dampening a cloth with denatured alcohol and ironing over the stain for just a few seconds.

casual dining room with chandelier
Anthony Masterson Photography, Inc.

How to Remove Dark Water Stains from Wood Floors

Black rings or dark water marks can be more problematic as these are generally water stains that have penetrated the finish.

What You Need

  • Small brush (toothbrush)
  • Bleach

Step 1: Use Bleach and a Toothbrush

To remove dark water stains from wood floors, you have two options. Dip a small brush (such as a toothbrush) into a small amount of bleach and rub it onto the stain. Do a second round after several hours and let the area rest until the next day.

Alternatively, you can strip, sand, and reseal the area.

Kitchen with gray brick and wooden cabinets
John Granen

How to Get Other Stains Out of Wood Floors

Stains from non-greasy items, such as food and nail polish, should come off with these steps.

What You Need

  • Kitchen soap with lye
  • Hydrogen peroxide (optional)
  • Ammonia
  • Cotton balls or rags

Step 1: Rub with Cleaning Product

For greasy stains, like oil and butter, or on floors treated with wax or penetrating finishes, rub the area with a kitchen soap that has a high lye content. You can also try soaking a cotton ball or rag with hydrogen peroxide and placing it over the stain.

Step 2: Add Ammonia

Saturate another piece of cotton with ammonia and layer it on top of the one soaked in hydrogen peroxide. Repeat this process until the stain is gone.

Step 3: Dry and Buff

Let the spot dry, then buff it by hand. Treat greasy stains on surface-finished floors using the same steps.

When to Call a Professional

When removing stains, always follow the general guidelines for cleaning wood floors. Go easy on the moisture, and always dry thoroughly. Only use products recommended for your type of flooring and finish. If it's a big stain or something stubborn, contact a flooring professional, as they can advise on how to remove stains in a way that won't cause irreversible damage.

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