DIY – Removing Water Stains from Wood

I am nothing if not a tinkerer.  I’m also more of a perfectionist than I have any right to be as someone who is lazy and doesn’t have a tendency to follow through.  I suppose all of this is to warn you that I had an idea, and it failed to work, and now I’m left in a bigger quandary than before.

Story time!  2 years ago my grandmother who lives locally finally decided to move out of her house and into a retirement community.  That meant that all the local grand-kids were badgered to get their stuff out of the free storage in her basement, and to also take any furniture from her house that we wanted for ourselves.  At the time the Boy and I were living in our little apartment, and had no room for anything.  Eventually, I was convinced to take something, and so I decided on a nightstand/end table that had sat in her bedroom for years.

It’s a nice table – it’s actually a modern piece from the mid-century, which means it’s quite trendy right now, and also a style that I’m very into because of it’s simplicity.  The problem is that it was covered in water rings.  It had been a piece that was well used, but also one that was a victim of the fact that my grandmother is legally blind.  Coasters are of very little use to her.  So I took it, stored it for a while, and when we had the house, I moved it into the guest room…where I have continued to fail in using coasters on it, but it’s in less contact with condensed moisture on cups or mugs, so it hasn’t mattered so much.

But still, I wanted to try and fix it.  So when Buzzfeed/Nifty posted a short video tutorial about removing water stains from coffee tables, I was intrigued.  I could do that – I had mayonnaise in my fridge!  And so I did.

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Above you’ll find the photos and results of my experiment with the mayonnaise and hair dryer.  Not thrilling, but it sort of worked?  In any case, it did not hurt.  As you can see from the slideshow above, the white parts of the stain did disappear, which is what happens in the video from Nifty.  Perhaps mayonnaise is only meant to take out the white stains on wood?

At this point, I had made a very small amount of progress, but as I said above, I’m a tinkerer.  I could not leave well enough alone.  And in my head I thought – I’ll blog about it!  I’ll fix the table, and it’ll look great, and people will go, “Oh Maggie – you’re so clever”.  This is my downfall.  So a few weeks later when I remembered, I did a little experiment using water-stain-in-wood-removal techniques found other places on the internet.


First was a trio of concoctions I mixed together from a list on Reader’s Digest.  On the bottom you’ll find baking soda and water mixed to be a paste, top left is salt and water as a paste, and top right is vinegar and olive oil which are to be rubbed in with a soft cloth.


I could go through and show you all the before and afters, but it really wouldn’t be worth it.  None of the mixtures really removed the water stains, and as you can see in this picture (labelled with where each was applied), they’re still quite prominent.


However, there was one treatment that I felt worked slightly better than the others, and that was the baking soda one.  As I rubbed the paste into the wood, I did see some stain coming up as I cleaned, and it was very satisfying.  As you can see, the ring is definitely less distinct, and while it’s slightly reddish, that wasn’t quite as obvious when not looking closely.

So using my scientific reasoning, I figured – if one treatment did pretty well, why not combine two treatments and see how things go?

Warning: mistakes are about to be made.


In my research for techniques I found one on Lifehacker that said to apply the mayo directly to the wood surface, and let it sit for at least an hour, up to 8 hours or so.  I applied the mayonnaise like so (covering all the water stained surfaces of the table), and then let it sit while we went to see Trolls.  After we got back, I went to check on it, and it looked like this:


And it smelled like mayo that had been left out.  Surprise!  So I began to clean it up, and when it was all off, the table looked like this:


I hope you’ll agree with me that this was NOT an improvement.  In fact, this is very not good.  The previously better area on the bottom right with the baking soda appeared to have reacted badly with the mayonnaise and make things worse.  That area may look dark and oily, but it feels dry and rough.

So – what are the lessons to be learned from this?  First off – go slow.  Experimenting is fine, but it doesn’t all need to be done at once.  Second – clean up thoroughly between experiments.  Perhaps if I’d cleaned up better from the first go round and let it sit, there wouldn’t have been bad reactions between substances.  Thirdly – it will be ok.  It’s only furniture.  It was slightly ruined to begin with, and it’s not the kind of thing that can’t be fixed by some other method in the future.

Which brings me to this – how will I fix it in the future?  Right now, I’m not sure.  Option A is to do some intense sanding on all the top surfaces, and then trying to re-stain it, with the sanding taking out the water marks.  But I have a feeling that either there’s a veneer on the wood, or else I’ve done a not great thing with that bottom right section, and it’ll be very visible.  If that’s the case, I will probably go to option B, which is paint.  Obviously that’s not ideal with vintage wood furniture, but in this case, it will definitely not be worse.  So – watch this space, and we’ll see what happens!

1 Comment

  1. Nicole Holstein says: Reply

    You could a shabby-chic thing, which is also super trendy right now. Basically, you just haphazardly paint over the wood with whatever color you want, and then take a sheet of sandpaper to it so it looks all rough and peely. I’m going to be trying this with a piece or too myself, and have been researching methods. What I just described is a super simplified summary, so don’t take that as actual instructions 🙂

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