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How to Remove and Prevent Watermarks on Wood

Pro Referral > Home Guides > Carpentry > How to Remove and Prevent Watermarks on Wood
How to Remove and Prevent Watermarks on Wood

Wood furniture and flooring are not just beautiful, but they are valuable as well. Unfortunately, one of the most prevalent substances on the planet – plain old water – can cause stains on wood surfaces that can be tricky to remove. Most of us who have exposed wood in our homes will be forced to deal with watermarks at one time or another, and knowing how to protect flooring and furniture when these stains occur is a skill set you don't want to be without.


When asked how to remove a large watermark from a wood table, Woodworkers Guild of America recommends placing a clean dish cloth over the affected area and running a warm (not hot!) iron over the cloth for 30-60 seconds, increasing the heat if necessary. Others recommend rubbing the area with a clean cloth dipped in alcohol (except on shellacked surfaces) or using a mixture of baking soda and toothpaste for the job. The truth of the matter is, however, that preventing watermarks on wood is much easier than removing them. Here's what the professionals recommend to keep wood surfaces beautiful and watermark-free:

    Coasters and vigilance can go a long way on tabletops and counters, but when it comes to wood flooring, the sheer amount of surface area makes spotting every little drop of water next to impossible.
  1. 1.Provide a Physical Barrier

    Trivets, coasters, tablecloths, and placemats are some of the most effective means of keeping water from staining wood tables and counters. Many of us already have these useful little devices in our homes, but still find our wood surfaces marked by water. The key here is using them with consistency, and often simply storing these physical forms of protection within arm's reach of where they are used will serve as a reminder to employ them.

  2. 2.Keep a Watchful Eye

    Watermarks don't happen in the blink of an eye; it takes time for water to really penetrate a wood surface and leave a stain. A vigilant homeowner who knows which surfaces of his or her home are most likely to become stained can sop up those water rings before they have a chance to leave their mark.

  3. 3.Provide an Additional Layer of Protection

    Liquid furniture polish and paste wax can both be used to protect the finish of your wood surfaces from watermarks. These products not only provide an additional layer of protection for your wood, they also add gloss to its surface. Some products are not meant to be used on certain finishes and can cause more harm than good, so if you're not sure what type of finish your wood is coated with (making it pretty easy to find an appropriate polish or wax), test a slight amount of the product on a small, low-profile area of the surface to make sure.

  4. 4.Water and Wood Flooring

    Coasters and vigilance can go a long way on tabletops and counters, but when it comes to wood flooring, the sheer amount of surface area makes spotting every little drop of water next to impossible. Of course, area and entry rugs can go a long way, and "shoes off" policies aren't a bad idea, either. But spills, tracks, and drips are likely to occur at some point no matter how many preventative measures we put in place.


    Any removal technique that works on wood furniture is certainly worth trying on wood flooring, as well, but because many folks who seek advice on removing stains from flooring are doing so because they have recently acquired a home with flooring that shows extensive damage; using an iron or toothpaste is just not going to cut the mustard.


    Wood floors are extremely resilient – so resilient, in fact, that an entire industry has sprung up around reclaiming damaged flooring from barns and buildings up for demolition to be resurfaced and sold again. No matter how water- or sun-damaged wood is, as long as it still has its structural integrity, it can be planed, sanded, and sealed. Although the process is far more involved than rubbing a warm iron over the surface, the results are often more beautiful and just as functional as the flooring was when it was new.

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