How to Remove Water Stains From Wood Furniture

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Don’t you hate those stubborn water rings on furniture? I know I do. In this post, I’ll show you how to remove black and white water rings from wood table tops without having to strip the entire piece of furniture.

How to remove white and black water ring stains from furniture by using a common household cleaner and Howard's Restore-a-Finish when you don't want to strip your furniture. #waterrings

I think I would make my high school science teacher proud.

I experimented today.

If high fives were still as cool today as they were my senior year, I think my science teacher would give me one. Maybe even a high ten.

I did my research, formed my hypothesis, and tested my prediction.

And it worked!

High fives all around!

First, I’ll go over how to remove dark water stains. Later in the post, I’ll show you how to remove white water stains.

Remember that mid-century modern dresserI found at Habitat for Humanity for 70 bucks that needed some desperate TLC?

George Nelson for Herman Miller 4 drawer chest

The dresser already had several mysterious dark water stains. Then it acquired another mysterious white water stain after I brought it home.

How to remove white and black water ring stains from furniture by using a common household cleaner and Howard's Restore-a-Finish when you don't want to strip your furniture. #waterrings

I’m not ready to strip it quite yet. So, I needed to figure out a way to remove the water stains without having to strip it entirely.

One of my most visited posts is how to remove rust from chrome bathroom fixtures by using Bar Keeper’s Friend.

Being the nerd that I am, I remembered that one of the active ingredients in Bar Keeper’s Friend is oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is also what you use to bleach wood. It’s also what professional furniture restorers use to remove dark water rings from table tops. 

So, my question is: if oxalic acid bleaches wood, will Bar Keeper’s Friend work to remove dark stains from wood furniture?

*Some of the products can be found at home improvement stores but I’ve included affiliate links to help you find what you’ll need at no extra cost to you.

Usually, for bleaching wood, you use 100% oxalic acid powder and water it down. Neither Lowes nor Home Depot had it in stock. I also don’t like the idea of letting water sit on a piece of veneer furniture.

Since Bar Keeper’s Friend (BKF) is not 100% oxalic acid, I made a concentrated paste using 2 parts BKF and 1 part water.

I applied the BKF paste to the stained areas using a damp rag going with the grain of the wood. Remember to protect your hands with gloves.

how to use Bar Keeper Friend to remove dark water stains from wood table top

I let that sit for a few minutes, then wiped it down with a clean damp cloth.

For the really stubborn water ring that didn’t go away the first go-round, I used a more concentrated 1:1 paste of BKF and water with a 0000 (fine) steel wool pad.

Tip: If the black stain doesn’t come out, you may have to sand with a high grit sandpaper to remove the finish. Also, black stains may be due to mold so test the stain with diluted bleach. Bleach may raise the wood fibers so don’t leave it on longer than a couple of minutes.

removing dark water rings from wood table top furniture

Since the entire table top needed help, I went over it using the paste and rag wiping with the grain of the wood. This also helped even out the finish.

Next, I wiped down the surface with a 1:3 solution of vinegar and water. This will neutralize the oxalic acid and make the next step a more even application.

removing water rings from wood table top- use vinegar to neutralize

A quick fix for water rings and scratches in wood:

As if I couldn’t be nerdy enough, I did some more research on how to get rid of water stains and found a product that helps to do just that. Plus, it blends out minor scratches.

It’s called Howard Restor-A-Finish. It’s made to revitalize wood finishes without having to go through the messy steps of stripping and totally refinishing them.

using Howards Restor-A-Finish to revitalize damaged wood table top

You can use a rag to apply it, but for better results, use a 0000 steel wool pad. Always go with the grain of the wood.

how to use Howards Restore-a-Finish using 0000 steel wool

Then, wipe it off with a paper towel or dry rag.

how to use Howards Restore-a-Finish using 0000 steel wool

Protecting your furniture:

After it dried, I applied a thin coat of furniture wax to protect the table top and buffed it. I used Annie Sloan Clear Wax since I had it on hand. Johnson Paste Wax works just as well to protect furniture and is a lot cheaper. 

before after how to get black water stains out of wood furniture

Eventually, I’ll get around to stripping, sanding, and using 100% oxalic acid. But for now, it looks so much better.

before after how to get water stains out of wood
Find out how to remove black and white water rings from wood table tops without having to strip the entire piece of furniture.
how to revitalize damaged vintage wood furniture with Howards Restore-a-Finish on a mid-century modern dresser

How to easily remove white water rings and scratches on wood:

Since the Restor-A-Finish worked so well on the mid-century modern dresser, I wanted to really put it to the test on a water stained and scratched buffet that I also found at Habitat for Humanity.

Tip: For new white water rings, try using a hairdryer. It’ll pull the moisture from under the top coat without damaging the wood. Then rub the stain with coconut oil.

I rubbed the Restor-A-Finish onto the entire buffet using the same fine steel wool and watched most of the white water stains and scratches fade away. It also seemed to clean the built-up grime off the surface.

How to restore furniture without stripping: before & after using Howard Restor-A-Finish for removing white water stains and scratches.
How to restore furniture without stripping: before & after using Howard Restor-A-Finish for removing white water stains and scratches.
How to restore furniture without stripping: before & after using Howard Restor-A-Finish for removing white water stains and scratches.

Now I want to Restor-A-Finish all the things!

Now it’s your turn to share with the class. Tell me your tips or tricks you’ve used to remove white or black water stains from furniture in the comment section below.

I’m waiting on the supplies for the artwork to arrive for our guest room makeover. Once that comes in, I’ll have another simple DIY project to share with you before our guest room is complete!

Update: Click here to see our finished guest bedroom makeover that was done on a small budget of $700 including DIY wall lamps, furniture, DIY artwork, curtains, and bed linens! 

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. does this work only on bare wood or does it work on old furniture with shellac or varnish finish?

    1. Hi Gail, I didn’t go down to the bare wood with either piece of furniture but I’m unable to tell what kind of sealer my furniture has. Depending on how many coats of shellac or varnish your piece has, it may take using take allowing the BFK to penetrate longer or using the steel wool.

  2. Amazing! Absolutely amazing.. the method you have described above is so simple, and I am glad that I have finally found something that works when it comes to removing those pesty water rings from my wood furniture.

  3. I will definitely buy Bar Keepers Friend. Thanks for your tips.

  4. I use Bar Keepers Friend for everything it seems. Lol! Now I have one more use for it. This is great. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome! I agree. It’s good stuff. I hope you get the chance to try it out soon. 🙂

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