How to get water marks out of wood — our verdict after testing six methods

water marks on wood
(Image credit: Getty)

If you are desperately puzzling over how to get water marks out of wood you can breathe a sigh of relief — we've been busy testing all the methods touted as producing the best results so that you don't have to. 

Just as with mould removal, there are several methods often recommended for getting water stains out of wood, some of which, rather conveniently, require nothing more fancy than a few pantry stables, others of which use specialist cleaning products. 

Whether your beautiful wooden worktop has been left with unsightly ring-shaped water stains thanks to a carelessly placed pan or dish or your oak floor has been left stained by a leak or spill, we are here to help.

Read on to find the six best ways of getting water marks out of wood.

How to get water marks out of wood: Identify the type of water stain

Before you choose a method to try, it is important to establish the kind of water stain you are dealing with. 

My oak kitchen worktop is, I have to admit, littered with various water stains and so provided the perfect test dummy for this article.

There are two main types of water stains: white and dark stains. White stains occur in cases where water has only penetrated the wood finish rather than the wood itself — and these tend to be much easier to remove than dark stains, often using chemical-free solutions. 

Dark stains are the result of water getting into the wood itself and will need methods of cleaning that are more intensive as the wood has actually discoloured. In some cases they may be impossible to remove entirely. 

dark water mark on wooden worktop

The very dark, ingrained water mark I discovered under the coffee machine. (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

1. What is the steam and clean method?

According to some cleaning experts around, if you have white water stains on wood to deal with, this method could be just the thing you need to get your wooden surface back to its former glory — and all you need is an iron.

The advice is to pop a clean, dry cloth over the stain and use a hot iron (with no water in it) on the lowest setting to apply gentle heat. Move the iron in a circular motion for a few seconds. The heat and steam should help lift the moisture from the wood. If you don't have an iron, you can pick one up from as little as £16 on Amazon.

My verdict: I must say, I approached this one feeling doubtful about the results I would receive. While I have successfully used an iron to remove wax from carpet, it seemed highly unlikely that it was going to get rid of the white (or dark) water marks on my wooden worktops. 

I tried the method on both a light stain near my sink as well as the pretty awful set in stain under my coffee machine and neither were left any better afterwards. 

iron to remove water stains from wood

Using an iron to get rid of water stains from wood didn't work for me (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

water stains on wood

The ironing method made little difference to this stain — and there were no significant changes to the white stains either.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

2. Does bicarbonate of soda and water remove water stains?

If, like many others, you are keen to keep your home chemical-free, you will be pleased to learn that many of the methods of removing water stains from wood can be carried out with natural products alone — kinder on you and the planet.

Although bicarbonate of soda,which you can buy in bulk on Amazon, seems to be the go-to product for all kinds of stain removal, including how to remove mould from grout, would it work on my water stains?

My verdict: I followed the advice to mix two parts bicarb with one part water to make a paste and worked the solution into the stain, starting with a fairly dark ring mark. It was ineffective on this stain. 

However, I then tried the method on a white water stain on my oak butchers block — and, hey presto, the stain disappeared completely!

water marks on wood

The wooden butcher's block before applying the bicarb solution.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

removing water stains from wood

All gone! The bicarbonate of soda worked on the lighter water marks but had little effect on older ones.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

3. Can mayonnaise remove water rings?

I love mayonnaise when mixed with prawns, but to remove stains...really? I had always thought of mayo as being something that caused stains rather than removed them.

The theory behind this one is that the oil in the mayonnaise will displace the moisture in the stain into the paper towel you place on top. Of course this is only going to work on a recent stain as opposed to ingrained old water stains. 

The advice is to use a microfibre cloth, which you can easily buy from Amazon, to work the mayonnaise into the stain before letting it sit, for a few hours, covered with a paper towel. After this time you can clean the mayo off and polish the wood. 

My verdict: I have mixed opinions on this method. On the one hand, it worked surprisingly well in removing the white water stain on my pine dresser. That said, I was, rather predictably, left with a grease mark. I I whipped out a mild abrasive cleaner, worked it over the grease and left it to dry.

The grease and the white stain are gone and even the darker, older water ring that was next to it has faded. 

mayonnaise to remove water stains

(Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

water stains on wood

Before applying the mayonnaise.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

water mark removal

Significant difference after the mayonnaise. I can confirm the grease mark has now faded.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

4. Can you use toothpaste to remove water stains from wood?

Another frequently-recommended stain removal household staple, toothpaste can , allegedly, be used for all kinds of things, from teenage spots to wiping crayon off walls. But would it work on water stains on wood? 

The verdict: Unfortunately I saw no improvement in either white stains or dark stains, although experts do recommend trying mixing the toothpaste with bicarbonate of soda for a stronger mix which I didn't try.

using toothpaste to remove water stains

The toothpaste method did not, for me, produce any results on light or dark water stains.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

5. Does Bar Keepers Friend remove water stains?

Although this isn't a product usually recommended for removing water stains from wood, my parents used to swear by Bar Keeper Friend Stain Remover, available from Amazon, for removing rings and spills from the top of their drinks cabinet — so I thought I'd give it a go. 

As close as the blurb on the back of the product gets to hinting it could be useful in removing water it stains is where it states it can be used to clean work surfaces of stains caused by tea, coffee, fruit juice, felt tip etc. It doesn't actually mention water stains. I decided to plough ahead anyway. 

The verdict: I started by trying it out on the very dark water stain under the coffee machine. After some scrubbing (the product comes as a powder that needs to be worked into the stain with a wet cloth or sponge), the stain had, much to my surprise, noticeably lightened.

While it is still very much there for all to see, it is so much better than it was and I suspect that subsequent applications could pretty much eliminate it. Of course I will be giving the area a good oil afterwards — I really like Furniture Clinic Danish Oil for Wood, available with 15% off in the Amazon Prime Day deal for just £8.46

bar keepers friend

Although not promoted as a water stain remover, I decided to give this product a try... (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

water mark

and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

6. Are made-for-purpose products worth the money?

And finally, if all those homemade remedies haven't quite cut the mustard, it might just be time to bite the bullet and part with some hard-earned cash to buy a product specifically designed to remove water stains. 

There are a whole host of products available but one of the most highly rated is Guardsman Wood Ring & Mark Remover, available from Amazon for £5.99.

Rather than being a liquid or powder, this is a reusable cloth that comes in a sealed plastic bag and is treated with a special formula. It has a slightly oily feel to it thanks to the natural oils impregnated into the cloth. 

It claims to remove rings and marks caused by liquids and heat from wood. 

The verdict: This one was a bit hit and miss in all honesty. While it did nothing on the ingrained dark water stain, I did have huge success in removing white water rings from some bedside tables and all it took was a gentle rub. It also made a difference to some light water stains on the wooden frame of our bi fold doors so definintely worth a go on lighter, fresher stains. 

I wish I could have got my hands on some HG Dark Wood Furniture Restorer, currently in the Amazon Prime Day deal with 19% off at £6.63 in time for testing as I generally find HG's products to be really effective and this one comes with rave reviews from those who have tried it. 

water marks on wooden table

Water ring marks on the bedside table.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

water marks removal

The rings pretty much completely disappeared.  (Image credit: Future/Natasha Brinsmead)

My conclusion

I wish I could say I had more success with the natural remedies, such as the bicarbonate of soda and, had I have tackled the stains when they happened I may well have done. I suspect that many lighter, white water stains may respond well to the bicarbonate of soda method if caught early.

Dark water stains are notoriously difficult to get rid of and I think my best bet would be to get myself an orbital sander to use on that tough stain under the coffee machine. I'm seriously thinking about buying myself a Bosch Home and Garden Random Orbit Sander as it is currently being sold for just £42.99 in the Amazon Prime Day deal giving a saving of 35%. but you can check out more of the best orbital sanders in our guide.

That said, the mayonnaise was a real surprise here — who would have thought it? Be prepared to see an alarming grease mark after using though. I found this was easily cleaned away though. 

I'd say the three best products in this little experiment were the Bar Keepers Friend, the mayonnaise and the Guardsman Ring & Mark Remover, although each worked better for stains of different severities and ages.  

Natasha Brinsmead

Natasha is Homebuilding & Renovating’s Associate Editor and has been a member of the team for over two decades. An experienced journalist and renovation expert, she has written for a number of homes titles. She has renovated a terrace and is at the end of the DIY renovation and extension of her Edwardian cottage. She is now looking for her next project.