How To Remove Stains In Wood Furniture

Removing stains in wood furniture doesn't have to involve sanding and refinishing. Try these methods first.

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$30 to $75


Whether it's grass, grease or water stains, there always seems to be something in my house that needs removing. This is especially true of my wood furniture, which bears the burden of forgotten coasters, stray permanent marker or some unnamed substance.

Here, I'll show you five methods to remove these stains in an attempt to avoid stripping and refinishing.

This is an inexpensive, beginner-friendly project. If you try all of these methods, it will cost you around $30, or around $60 if you don't own an iron. Most of these methods take only a few minutes, and together should take less than 30 minutes.

Different methods work better on certain stains. For heat stains, the iron and towel method works great. For old water rings and white stains, mayonnaise is often effective.

Mineral spirits and denatured alcohol can also work on blushes, i.e. white stains caused by moisture trapped under the finish. These chemicals work by drawing out moisture from under the finish and may take a few minutes to work. A similar product is Mohawk No-Blush Plus Retarder, a spray-on product that works to remove moisture without damaging the finish.

Dark stains will benefit from the bleaching power of hydrogen peroxide, but are the most difficult to remove without professional help. Nikita Richard, owner of Furniture Resurrection in Port Chester, New York says there's rarely an easy fix for dark stains. "Often when you try to remove a dark stain, it changes the look of the finish," he says.

Instead of removing a dark stain, he blends it into the wood, a detailed and time-consuming process.

The dark stain I tried to remove from a chair seat only lightened after soaking in hydrogen peroxide overnight, so I'll need to sand and refinish the chair to remove this stain (see photo).

These are the five methods I tried:

Tools Required

  • Iron (Method 4)
  • Rags
  • Tea towel (Method 4)

Materials Required

  • Denatured alcohol (Method 2)
  • Furniture wax
  • Hydrogen peroxide (Method 3)
  • Latex gloves
  • Mayonnaise (Method 5)
  • Mineral spirits (Method 1)

Project step-by-step (5)

Step 1

Mineral spirits

  • Dampen a soft rag with mineral spirits.
  • Rub the stain with the rag for several minutes, stopping periodically to check for effectiveness.
  • Clean the entire area with mineral spirits if the process removes the stain but leaves a dull spot on the surface.
  • Apply a new coat of furniture wax.

Mineral SpiritsLaurie M Nichols for Family Handyman

Step 2

Denatured alcohol

  • Dampen a rag with denatured alcohol.
  • Rub the rag on an inconspicuous area of the furniture to make sure it doesn’t damage the finish. If not, proceed.
  • Gently rub the stain with the rag and alcohol.
  • Stop every few minutes to examine the finish to make sure you’re not damaging it.
  • Work for at least five minutes to check for effectiveness.

Denatured AlcoholLaurie M Nichols for Family Handyman

Step 3

Hydrogen peroxide

  • Soak a rag with a three percent concentration of hydrogen peroxide.
  • Rub the stain with the rag to soak the hydrogen peroxide into the wood.
  • Leave the rag on the stain for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the rag and check if the stain has lightened.
  • For stubborn stains, leave the soaked rag on the stain overnight.
  • Remove the rag the next day and wipe clean with a dry cloth.
  • At this point, if the stain remains, try another method.

Hydrogen PeroxideLaurie M Nichols for Family Handyman

Step 4

Iron and tea towel

  • Set your iron to a low heat setting.
  • Place a dry tea towel over the stain and flatten any wrinkles.
  • Press the iron onto the towel over the stain and rub back-and-forth.
  • Lift the iron frequently to check your progress and to make sure you’re not damaging the wood.
  • Repeat the process until the stain is removed.
  • If after 10 minutes the stain hasn’t lifted, try another method.

Iron and Tea TowelLaurie M Nichols for Family Handyman

Step 5


  • Dab a small amount of mayonnaise onto a rag.
  • Rub in a circular motion over the stain and surrounding wood until the stain disappears.
  • If, after five minutes of rubbing, the stain remains, try another method.

MayonnaiseLaurie M Nichols for Family Handyman