Rings, spots, and stains on hardwood happen. Don't panic! This guide on how to remove stains from wood floors will answer your most common questions when it comes to cleaning and protecting hardwood.
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When spills happen on wood floors, a quick wipe (and maybe a bit of a cleaning solution) is usually all it takes to clean up the mishap. But if left unattended, sometimes spills and other accidents can become lasting wood floor stains. Maybe a family member inadvertently left a full glass on the floor overnight, or perhaps a spill didn't get fully cleaned up. Whatever the reason, stains on wood floors can be unsightly and distracting. Before you panic over a blemish on your wood floor, take note: You might have options for removing the stain from your beautiful hardwood floors. Depending on what type and how deep the stain is, you might be able to easily fix the spot. Follow these steps for how to remove stains from wood floors, including tips on how to remove water marks and what kind of wood floor stain removers to use. Before you know it, your hardwood floor will look like that stain never even happened.

Loft living room
Credit: Laurie Black

How to Remove Stains from Wood Floors

To remove wood floor stains, first determine what the ring looks like. Its appearance is important to help you figure out how to best address the wood floor stain. White stains, for example, indicate a type of water stain that can be easy to remove. The color indicates whether the stain is located in the floor's finish or the waxy surface layer of the floor.

Kitchen with island and wooden floor
Credit: 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 from wood floors. In addition to these stain removal techniques, you'll also find some kits and products available specifically as water mark removers.

The method you 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.

For floors finished with wax or penetrating stains, very gently rub the water stain on the wood with #000 steel wool and wax. If this method does not remove the stain, lightly sand with fine sandpaper. Clean the sanded area with #00 steel wool and mineral spirits or a wood floor cleaner. Let the floor dry, then stain, wax, and buff by hand.

For floors with a surface finish, use a cleaner made specifically for urethane finishes. For tricky spots, scrub using a cleaner and a scrub pad made for urethane floors.

If neither of these methods work, consider these additional ideas for how to remove water marks from wood floors. Cover the stain with a dry cotton cloth and rub with a hot iron (set to no steam) for two to three seconds. Lastly, try dampening a cloth with denatured alcohol and rubbing over the stain for just a few seconds.

casual dining room with chandelier
Credit: 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 into the finish of the floor. 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 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 if possible.

Kitchen with gray brick and wooden cabinets
Credit: 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 dish detergent mixed into warm water and rubbed onto the spot with a soft cloth.

For greasy stains, like oil and butter, on wax or penetrating finished floors, 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. Then saturate another layer of cotton with ammonia and layer on top of the first piece of cotton. Repeat this process until the stain is gone. Let the spot dry, then buff by hand. Treat greasy stains on surface-finished floors using the steps above for how to remove water marks from wood floors.

When removing wood 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 flooring type and finish. If it's a big stain or something stubborn, contact a flooring professional, as they can advise on how to remove stains from wood floors in a way that won't cause irreversible damage.


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