How To Fix Scratches On Wood Furniture

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Closeup of a hand using an artist's brush to apply oil to a scratched wood table. AI-generated photo.

Wood furniture can add timeless beauty to your home, but scratches, dents, and gouges eventually detract from its beauty. While some scratches may be barely noticeable, others can require the help of a professional furniture restorer. But don’t worry! In this article, you’ll learn how to identify the type of wood then follow the appropriate steps to fix minor scratches, deep scratches, and even dents or gouges on wood furniture using common household items.

Identify the Wood Tone or Color

The best way to remove scratches on your wood furniture depends on the wood’s tone and color. 

Light wood

Light wood has a more natural appearance and is lighter in color, with a visible and distinct grain that gives it a pattern. Light wood is less dense than dark wood, so it is more susceptible to scratches, gouges, and dents. Examples of light wood commonly used in furniture are pine, ash, birch, and maple.  

Dark wood

Dark wood has a richer, darker color than lighter wood with a more subtle grain that creates a smoother, finer texture. Dark wood is more dense and less susceptible to scratches but can be more difficult to match with scratch repair colors. Examples of dark wood commonly used in furniture are walnut, cherry, mahogany, and ebony.

Oak and teak

Oak and teak can fall into either the light or dark category, depending on the type and the finish. Red oak is lighter in color and has a more pronounced grain than white oak, while the heartwood of teak is light and honey-colored. When removing scratches in oak or teak furniture, choose the treatment based on the color of the finish.

Fixing Minor Scratches in Light Wood

Before you begin, scrub the surface against the grain with a microfiber cloth and warm, soapy water to remove waxy buildup, then rinse it with a clean, damp cloth and buff it dry.

Using a nut

  1. To cover scratches in wood furniture with a nut, match the color of the nut to the color of the furniture. For light wood, pecan, walnut, and peanuts work well. You can even use the oil from natural peanut butter or almond butter.
  2. Forcefully rub the meat of the nut or nut butter oil into the scratch. The nut’s oil will darken the exposed wood and disguise it. 
  3. Seal the oil into the wood by pressing your finger over the area for a minute. The heat of your skin helps the nut’s oil sink into the wood.
  4. Repeat if desired.

Using oil and vinegar

  1. Whisk 1 part white vinegar and 2 parts olive oil together until fully mixed.
  2. Using a cotton swab, dab the mixture onto the scratch. The vinegar’s acetic acid will help raise the wood’s fibers and fill the scratch while the olive oil will correct the color and moisturize the wood.
  3. Press your finger onto the spot for a full minute so the heat of your skin can help the oil penetrate the wood.
  4. Repeat these steps, whisking the mixture together each time, until you are happy with the result.

Fixing Minor Scratches in Dark Wood

  1. Choose a coloring agent that matches the wood. For mahogany or cherry wood, use iodine or shoe polish. For darker woods like acacia, use damp coffee grounds. For medium-colored wood, use strong black tea. The darker the wood, the stronger the tea you should use. For ebony wood, use fireplace or wood ash mixed with a little water to form a paste.
  2. Use a cotton swab or paintbrush, apply a heavy layer of the coloring agent, taking care not to get it on the surrounding wood. 
  3. Let it sit in place for an hour. 
  4. Wipe away the excess with a soft rag. 
  5. Repeat the application until you are happy with the results. 
  6. Finish by using homemade furniture polish to set the color.

See my favorite furniture cleaning and care products.

Fixing Deep Scratches on Wood Furniture

Remove any waxy buildup, then run your finger along the scratch. If you can feel it, you’ll need to color the exposed wood and fill the scratch with a crayon or a blendable scratch filler stick.

  1. Find a crayon that matches the color of your furniture.
  2. Rub the crayon firmly into the scratch, filling it completely.
  3. Remove any excess crayon with the edge of a credit card or plastic putty knife.
  4. Press your finger over the scratch to help the wax set in.
  5. Repeat as needed until the scratch is flush with the surrounding area.
  6. Polish the entire surface to blend the repair.

Fixing Dents or Gouges on Wood Furniture

While wood scratches are typically a line running across on your furniture, gouges and dents go deeper, usually on one spot.

Using a clothes iron

This method is not recommended for painted furniture, since the heat can damage the paint.

  1. Heat a clothes iron to medium-high heat.
  2. Dampen a thick, white towel lightly with water. (White will not transfer dyes to the furniture you’re fixing.) 
  3. Place the damp towel over the dent.
  4. Press the hot iron gently onto the damp towel, moving it around slowly and continuously for 30 seconds. 
  5. Lift the iron and towel and check the progress. Repeat as needed, rotating the towel each time so you’re working with a clean damp area.
  6. Wait 24 hours to let the wood fully dry. 
  7. Rub the area with olive oil to remove any water spots or haziness caused by the steam from the iron.

Spot treating

This method is suitable for both painted and finished furniture and can help you avoid having to redo the entire piece. 

  1. Sand the blemish along the grain with 180 grit paper.
  2. Clean off the dust with a tack cloth or shop vac.
  3. Repeat with 240 grit paper until you can’t feel the scratch.
  4. Color the scratch with matching paint using a fine artist’s brush.
  5. For finished wood, use one of the coloring agents then follow with paste wax (for satin finishes) or auto polishing compound (for glossy finishes).
  6. Let dry, then buff with a soft cloth.

Helpful Tips

  • Sentimental or valuable items require professional restoration.
  • Regularly dust your wood furniture and clean coffee tables to protect them from scratches.
  • Lift rather than drag things on your wood furniture to move them for dusting.
  • Use coasters and placemats on tables to protect them.
  • Avoid setting heavy objects on your tables.
  • Use felt pads on the bottom of metal and stone decorative items.
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  1. The crayon tip worked for me (after failing with commercial products).
    Thanks SO much!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Barbara! I’m so glad to have helped. Enjoy!

  2. Hedda Szczepanski says:

    Fantastic advice- just what I needed! I have been putting this off.
    Thank you

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re very welcome. No need to put it off now!

  3. Greg Winner says:

    Have you had any luck removing scratches from thin veneer timber doors

    1. Katie Berry says:

      With veneer, you can either fill the scratch with a matching Crayon or wax furniture stick, or go through the process of lightly sanding the surrounding area then restain it.