How to Remove Stains and Rings From Wood

It's probably safe to say that we've all come across a piece of furniture (or two... or three...) that has seen better days. We want to rescue them from the landfill or a bad paint job, but the wood looks beyond salvage. Well, I'm here to show you that many of those pieces are hidden treasures, just waiting for someone like YOU to come along and apply the TLC necessary to restore the wood to its former glory. Not everything needs to be painted. In fact, I will usually try to save the wood on the top surface with stain rather than paint over it.

Take a look at this sad little table I brought back to life:
Just look at the mess on the 'BEFORE' photo with all the mold, black and white stains. No one thought I could get this in shape suitable for staining.
This was the top of the table after I lightly cleaned it. I didn't think to take a photo of it when I first brought it out of my car.
AFTER Bleaching
After sanding and bleaching with Oxalic Acid and first coat of stain applied.

Although I don't have all the photos to show you the process, it is very straight-forward.

  • Be sure to do this outside/in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gloves. Oxalic acid is highly toxic and can irritate the skin
  • Sand with 220 grit sandpaper until smooth to the touch. Vacuum dust and wipe down wth a damp paper towel
  • In a GLASS CONTAINER, Mix 1 Tbsp Oxalic Acid with 2 cups warm water
  • Dip an old dental brush into the solution and tamp the brush directly over the stain(s), allowing a small puddle to sit above the wood. Let stand for 15 minutes or so
  • Mix 1 Tbsp Distilled White Vinegar with 2 cups warm water.
  • Take a clean dental brush and dip into vinegar solution and spread over area where Oxalic Acid was applied. This will neutralize the acid.
  • Allow wood to completely dry.

Repeat until all traces of stain have been removed. Usually, twice will do it.

When wood is completely dry (I wait a full day), apply Pre-Stain wood conditioner as directed by manufacturer on can before applying stain. When stain has completely dried (I like to wait 48 hours or more), apply your favorite sealant, per the manufacturer's directions.

This was a simple restoration project using paint (Behr "Black" in satin), stain (Varathane Cognac) and Varathane brand water-based satin PolyUrethane. I used BarKeeper's Friend to shine up the toe caps.
This was a simple restoration project using paint, stain and water-based PolyUrethane. I used BarKeeper's Friend to shine up the toe caps.
Refinished top
Another look at the finished top

Suggested materials:

  • Oxcalic Acid  (
  • White Distilled Vinegar  (Grocery Store)
  • Sandpaper 220 grit  (Home Depot)
See all materials

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Have a question about this project?

3 of 8 questions
  • Lyw12440978
    on Jun 13, 2017

    Can the acid be used on finished furniture water stains
  • Katherine Penney
    on Jun 19, 2018

    Where do I find the oxcalic acid . i have a very dark stain on my kitchen table , which is honey oak, I sat a plantic bottle of laundry detergent on the table the bottom of it had a leak and it when on my table , its a mess now , i need to get the dark stain out before i remove the table .

  • Sandra Lewis
    on Jan 18, 2019

    I have a dresser and chest of drawers that have a beautiful dark cherry finish. From storage, something got on the surface. It looks like dirt but it’s not. How do I clean the surface of this furniture without ruining the finish?

    • Chairished Furnishings
      on Jan 18, 2019

      Hi Sandra - It's difficult to say without actually seeing it but I would imagine, it got stained somehow during storage. Probably moisture got in through weak finish. You can try the oxcalic acid (be VERY CAREFUL, as it's toxic to breathe) or TSP. If the acid doesn't remove the stain, you may need to strip the finish to clean and re-stain. Good luck!

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