How To Repair Water and Oil Stains On Wood

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Today’s Reader Question concerns how to fix water stains on wood, and whether it’s possible to fix oil stains.

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Dear Katie,
I have two questions. My husband put a hot coffee cup on our wooden bedside table and it has left a white mark that I can’t get off. Any suggestions?

Also oil marks from a coconut oil bottle have stained my vanity table. I desperately want to fix this because it was my great grandmothers vanity table/mirror made by my great-grandfather. I love your Facebook page, by the way! It’s fantastic!

Thank you so much for your time,

Dear Krystle,

First, I’m so glad you enjoy my Facebook page! For those of you who don’t know it, I publish tips on both my Facebook page and my Twitter stream several times every day, so be sure to follow me.

Now, on to the important stuff. When dealing with water or oil stains on wood, we basically fix it by using the opposite stuff. That is, to remove water rings we’ll use something oil-based, and to remove oil stains we’ll use something water-based. And sometimes we need to use heat, so be sure to read these instructions in their entirety before trying them out, and always test in an inconspicuous spot first!

Fix Water Stains on Wood with Oil

You’ll need:

  • Mayonnaise (the full-fat kind) or olive oil
  • Warm, damp rags
  • Clean, dry, lint-free rag
  1. Wipe the surface with the dry rag to remove any dust and debris.
  2. Using the corner of the rag, work mayo or oil onto the ring. Rub it in, and take care not to get it on non-hazy spots.
  3. Let sit overnight.
  4. Wipe the mayo or oil off with a warm, damp rag. Rinse and repeat until the greasy film is gone.
  5. Buff the area with a dry cloth.

If the ring is still there, you’ll want to try the heat-based method (below).

Fix Water Stains on Wood with Heat

It is very important that you follow these instructions precisely or you may damage your furniture so much that it can only be fixed by stripping and refinishing.

You’ll need:

    • An iron
    • Two clean cotton dish or hand-towels
  1. Place the towels over the stain and press down with a hot iron using NO STEAM for 15-20 seconds.
  2. Lift, check the stain, and repeat if needed.

Fix Oil Stains On Wood

Use the heat-based method (above) as a last resort. Prior to that, try counteracting the oil with a water-based solution.

You’ll need:

    • One cup warm water
    • One scoop oxygenated bleach (like Oxiclean)
    • Soft bristled brush
    • Soft dry cloths
  1. Mix the oxygenated bleach into the warm water.
  2. Using the corner of a cloth, wipe it onto the oil stain. Do NOT saturate the area, or you’ll just create a water stain.
  3. Use the soft bristled brush to work the oxygenated solution into the stain.
  4. Wipe away with a soft dry cloth, repeating the steps above as necessary until the stain is gone.
  5. If lifting the oil stain changes the surface color, you can easily fix this by wiping the entire surface with the remaining solution to even it out.

What other methods do you use to remove water rings or oil stains from wood? Share in the comments below!

Equipment I Use:


  1. Donna C. says

    I bought some green candles from the dollar store and left them on my dining room table and the green oil from the candles leeched into the table, which has a varnished or urethaned surface. Is there any way to to remove this green oil stain?

    Thank you,

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