How to Remove Water Stains from Wood Without a Special Cleaner

Before you start searching for a replacement coffee table, turn to our expert tips for removing water rings from your home's furniture.

You know the scenario: A guest forgets to use a coaster under their chilled glass and soon a faint white stain appears on your favorite wood furniture. This stain is often referred to as a water ring, and while it's certainly frustrating, it doesn't have to ruin your party. Learn how to remove water stains from wood with our easy cleaning hacks that use everyday products you already own, including toothpaste, distilled white vinegar, and even mayonnaise.

Removing White vs. Dark Water Stains from Wood

Before you begin removing water stains from wood surfaces, examine the color of the water ring. It's important to note that some tough water stains may be best treated with a combination of cleaning techniques; experiment with each method as needed.

  • White water stains: Stains with a white tint appear when moisture is trapped in the wood's finish. Our cleaning methods work best for these types of stains.
  • Dark water stains: If your water rings are darker in color, the liquid has likely reached the wood itself, and you may need to refinish the surface entirely.

Below, we'll show you how to remove water stains from wood so the party can continue.

using mayonnaise to remove water stain from wooden surface

BHG / Sarah Crowley

1. Remove Water Rings with Mayonnaise

One surprising fix for water stains is probably already in your fridge. The oil in mayonnaise works to displace the moisture in a water ring and remedy any cloudy residue in the finish of wood furniture. Using a paper towel, dab mayonnaise onto the stain. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight with the paper towel on top. Wipe away the mayo with a clean cloth and finish by polishing. Voila! We found this to be one of the most effective cleaning methods for removing water stains.

2. Combine Vinegar and Olive Oil for a DIY Wood-Stain Remover

In a small bowl, mix equal parts vinegar and olive oil. Apply the mixture to the water stain using a cloth. Wipe in the direction of the wood grain until the stain is gone. The vinegar will help remove the stain while the olive oil acts as a furniture polish. Finish by wiping with a clean, dry cloth.

using an iron to remove water stains from wood surface

BHG / Sarah Crowley

3. Use an Iron to Remove Water Stains from Wood

To remove water rings with an iron, start by laying a clean cloth over the mark. We recommend using a cotton cloth without any prints or decals to avoid any transfer to your surface. Make sure there is no water within the iron, then set it to a low temperature. Once warm, briefly set the iron on the cloth over the water stain. After a few seconds, lift the iron and cloth to check the stain. If it's still there, repeat steps until the stain is removed. This water stain removal method works best for stains that are still damp, rather than set-in water stains, as it effectively evaporates moisture in the surface finish.

We recommend using a soft cotton or microfiber cloth without prints or decals to avoid any transfer to your surface.

using a hairdryer to remove water stains from wood surface

BHG / Sarah Crowley

4. Remove Water Rings with a Hairdryer

This method works best for fresh water stains. As soon as a water ring appears, head to your bathroom and grab a hairdryer. Plug in the device and turn it to its highest setting. Aim the hairdryer towards the stain and hold until the stain disappears. Unplug the hairdryer. Finish by polishing the table with furniture oil ($9, Ace Hardware). If you don't have furniture oil on hand, olive oil works too.

5. Use Toothpaste to Get Rid of Water Stains

For this water stain fix, you'll need white toothpaste (skip the gel and whitening varieties) and a cloth or paper towel. Dab a generous amount of the toothpaste onto a clean cloth. Buff the toothpaste onto the stain. Continue to gently rub the stain until the stain is completely removed. Wipe away any residue with a cloth or paper towel.

6. Remove Water Stains with Baking Soda

Mix together water and baking soda to form a thick paste. Start with 1 Tbsp. of baking soda and add water in small increments until a paste forms. Use a microfiber cloth to apply the paste to your wood stain, gently rubbing the surface with it for a few minutes. Do not use water to clean the baking soda residue; instead, use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe away any remaining paste.

Does WD-40 Remove Water Stains on Wood?

WD-40 has been advertised as a method for removing water stains from wood, but unfortunately it doesn't work most of the time. WD-40 is a lubricant for things like squeaky doors and rusty hinges, so it's made with petroleum oil. Using this on wood can darken the surface—giving the appearance that it has lifted a light stain—but it can't actually remove water stains.

If you've tried all the other methods with no luck, you can try using WD-40. Spray it on a microfiber cloth and gently apply it only to the lighter areas of wood. The product will make those areas darker, so stains will be less visible.

water glass creating water stain on wooden table

BHG / Sarah Crowley

Best Cleaning Products for Removing Water Rings

In addition to homemade cleaning recipes, there are many store-bought products available formulated to remove water stains on wood. Both Homax ($9, The Home Depot) and Guardsman ($8, Walmart) offer a pre-treated reusable cloth that removes white rings from wood. Before using, check the manufacturer's instructions to make sure it's suitable for your wood furniture's finish, such as shellac, lacquer, or varnish. Test on an inconspicuous spot if you're unsure of your furniture's finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can water stains on wood be permanent?

    Water stains on wood are usually temporary. Still, removing the stain may be impossible if the water is exceptionally hard, as it can be in some places, or if it's been left on the wood for weeks or months. 

  • Will using vinegar to remove water stains from wood cause any damage?

    No, vinegar won't harm wood when used properly by combining it with olive oil. However, if used alone, vinegar can leave a cloudy film, since it can eat through the finish.

  • What happens when wood gets water damaged?

    When wood gets water damaged, it will start to soften and rot. Mold and fungi can grow where the wood has softened. When wood floors have water damage, they'll buckle and fold, and will need extensive repairs or replacement.

  • Can you remove water stains from wood with Vaseline?

    You can use petroleum jelly to remove water stains. Be sure the stain is completely dry, then apply a thin layer of Vaseline and let it sit overnight. Wipe away the petroleum jelly in the morning.

  • Can you remove water stains from wood with hydrogen peroxide?

    Hydrogen peroxide can be used to remove stains from wood, but it works best for dark stains. Mix one part hydrogen peroxide with one part water and soak a paper towel or small cloth in the mixture. Lay that on top of the wood stain for 10-15 minutes. Then, remove the cloth and let the surface dry.

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