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How to Remove Water Stains from Wooden MCM Furniture

Picture this: You spot a gorgeous wooden table at a garage, a vintage store, or even your grandmother's basement. Maybe it is Jens Risom or a classic Knoll coffee table. Whatever it is, it's perfect...until you take a closer look, and spot some water stains.

If a table is 50 or 60 years old, then watermarks and stains are common. They are often in circles, indicating a wet glass placed directly on the surface on the table. (PSA - Always use coasters!)

Don't despair, because even serious water stains can come out of wooden MCM furniture. There are plenty of tricks and suggestions out there to remove water stains from teak, walnut, oak, and more, but these are the ones that have worked best for me.

remove water stain from wood

Bar Keeper's Friend

Shake a small amount of the powder right onto the affected area and then add water, mixing it into a paste. Then, simply rub it into the grain. The instructions on the container say to leave the paste on for one minute, but that has never been long enough to see results for me. Instead, leave the paste on for ~10 minutes. Wipe it off, and consider reapplication if necessary. I have used it as many as three times in a row, each time seeing marked improvements in the wood. Bear in mind that the treated area may appear lighter than the surrounding areas. As the stain has been pulled out with the moisture in the wood, the wood will require re-oiling. If the treated area remains lighter, you may need to use Bar Keeper's Friend on the entire surface to even it out. You can see the before, during, and after in the photos below.

remove water stains from wood


If you want to remove deep watermarks from wood furniture, then sometimes sanding is the only way to go. Before you get your sander out, check to see what kind of furniture piece you're working with. A solid wood table would be a great candidate for sanding, but a table with a thin wooden veneer might not be.

If you're not entirely sure whether the piece you're working with is solid wood or has a veneer surface, look at the edge. If the grain continues onto the sides, then it is likely solid wood. You can also check underneath the table, looking for grain continuity and the same appearance on the top as well as the bottom. You can sand a thick veneer, but you should be very careful. The key is to always take it slow and use the finest (least abrasive) sandpaper. Try to use a random orbit sander as it minimizes sanding marks. Remember to always keep moving the sander around so you can see how much material is being removed. Stop immediately if you see a sudden lighter color as you may have sanded through the veneer. In these cases, a wood stain pen could be helpful.

Keep in mind that "spot sanding" won't be effective. Instead, you will need to sand the entire surface of the table for consistency. Afterward, an application of teak oil or Danish oil will be necessary as the wood will be very 'thirsty'.

Danish or Teak Oil

In some cases, a water stain is only visible because the affected area is dry. As the wood hydrates, those marks could disappear. Try applying Danish or teak oil directly to the surface and rubbing it in. That alone could be enough to diminish or even eliminate watermarks and deep water stains in the wood. Take it slow and experiment with a small amount to see what effect it has.

Wood Stain Remover Pens

There are several varieties of stain remover pens available online and at local home improvement stores that can seem like a tempting quick fix for water stains on wood. Unfortunately, these aren't always effective. If the mark is darker than the surrounding area, then the pens will be a waste of your time entirely. Pens can darken the surface, but not lighten it. As stated above, stain pens can be used effectively to cover any over-eager sanding jobs that may have damaged the veneer.

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