How To Remove Stain From Wood (3-Step Guide)

Last Updated On September 17, 2021


Want to know how to remove stain from wood?

Removing stain from wood is easy, and there are a few different methods for removing stain depending on the project. 

In this ProPaintCorner.com guide you'll learn:

  • What you need to know about removing stain from wood
  • Supplies you'll need remove stain from wood 
  • The step-by-step process for removing stain from wood

And much more!

How To Remove Stain From Wood?

So, before you do start your wood staining project, I recommend you read this DIY home improvement tutorial to help you achieve a smooth finish when removing stain from wood.

What Do You Need To Know About Removing Stain From Wood?

First things first, when it comes to removing stain from wood you can either sand stain away from wood or use a chemical to remove the stain.

Ultimately, the method you use will depend on the stained object that you are working on.

So we encourage you to do some research either here on our blog or on Youtube for more specific tips on how to remove stain from your particular object – be it furniture, a fence, or something else.

That said, let's dive into the step-by-step process and the supplies you'll need to get the job done right!

What Supplies Will You Need For Removing Stain From Wood?

Removing stain is a specific task that calls for specific tools. 

Here are some supplies that will help you in your stain removal process:

Drop cloth 

You'll want to use a drop cloth underneath your work space to avoid damaging chemicals

Damp cloth 

A damp cloth saturated in wood stain remover will help you remove stain from nooks and crannies when removing stain from projects like a piece of furniture.

Wood stain remover 

Chemical stripper is one effective way to remove stain from wood.

Make sure to read the manufacturer's instructions when using harsh chemicals.

Mineral spirits 

Mineral spirits won't remove the stain but is a good way to clean the wood after the stain has been removed.

Don't use harsh solvents like acetone to remove wood stain as it can damage the finish.

Plastic scraper/Putty knife

A plastic scraper will help you scrape residual stain from flatter wood surfaces on wood furniture and other projects.

Baking soda 

Baking soda is one household product that can be used to remove wood stain with the help of a tooth brush/scrubber.

Sponge 

You might want to use a sponge when scrubbing stain off of areas like hardwood floors.

Trash can 

You'll want a trash can close to throw materials into afterwards.

Toothbrush/Scrub brush

You may want a brush to help you remove the stain effectively. 

Chemical-resistant gloves/Nitrile gloves

Protect your hands from damaging chemicals by using gloves. DO NOT try to remove stain without chemical-resistant gloves.

Furniture polish

You may want to polish up your furniture after removing the stain and refinishing.

Safety Glasses

We recommend that you protect your eyes when working with toxic chemicals like stain stripper.

Read More >> What Are The Best Stains To Use On A Deck?

How To Remove Stain Wood (5-Step Guide)

Now that you've gathered your supplies, let's dive into the step-by-step process to removing the stain from your wood surface.

(Psst! You can click on any of the links below to jump directly to that step.)

  1. Clean the surface with warm, soapy water
  2. Apply stain stripper, and let it sit
  3. Scrape/scrub the stain away
  4. Sand the surface for complete stain removal
  5. Clean up/Apply mineral spirits

Step 1 - Clean the surface with warm, soapy water

The first step for removing stain from a wood surface is cleaning it with some warm, soapy water. Warm water helps open the pores of the wood, so that when you apply the stain stripper, it will work its full effect.

Because both high temperatures and water helps open the pores in the wood, this allows wood stains to be both easily applied and removed.

Any soap will due, but but we think dish soap is the best option since it doesn't have any lotion-like additives that hand soaps sometimes have that could potentially clog the pores in the wood. 

Any type of citrus-based soap or cleaner mixed with hot water will work.

Step 2 - Apply stain stripper, and let it sit

Use a natural bristled paintbrush to apply an even layer of stain stripper on the wood, and let it sit for the recommended amount of time to let the stain start working its way out. 

For example, if you are removing stain from a small piece of furniture, you'll want to use a soft cloth to get in all the nooks and crannies. On the other hand, if you are removing stain from a wood floor, you may want to use a scrub brush.

You'll also want to decide which wood stain removing agent you would like to use:

Stain stripper 

Reading the label of the specific product will help you get the best results. Before you start your wood stain removal process, you'll have to determine the right method for the job.

Baking soda

If you are using baking soda, you'll want to mix it equally with water, and rub it into the surface of the wood using a toothbrush or another plastic-bristled brush.

Remove hardware and protect unwanted surfaces

Make sure to remove any components like hardware that shouldn't be exposed to potent chemicals.

Use a natural-bristled paintbrush to evenly apply the wood stain remover.

Step 3 - Scrape/scrub the stain away

Now that the stain stripper has had some time to absorb into the wood grain, it's time to start scraping that old finish as it rises to the surface. 

We recommend using a plastic scraper for flatter surfaces, and you could always try a steel wool pad for more difficult areas. The idea is to use the sharp edges of the scraper to scrape the stain in the same direction as the grain of the wood and directly into the garbage can. Don't forget to use nitrile gloves!

Step 4 - Sand the surface for complete stain removal

After the stain stripper has worked it's magic and you've scraped as much off as possible, it's time to sand the surface. 

Use 120 or 180-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge to lightly sand the surface of the wood. The technique when sanding flat surfaces is not to apply pressure, but rather wave your hand lightly across the surface allowing the sandpaper to come in contact with the wood.

Step 5 - Clean up/Apply mineral spirits 

After the previously stained wood is stain-free and you are satisfied with the results, it's time to clean up. 

To completely clean and sanitize the wood after stain removal, you can apply something like mineral spirits or hydrogen peroxide to the surface.

Great, now you should have a completely new wood surface to work with!

Read More >> What's The Best Way To Stain Wood?

Did you know: Paint thinners use chemicals like toluene and xylene to dissolve the molecules in an oil-based paint. This allows you to have more control over the paint's overall texture.

Other Valuable Resources On How To Remove Stain From Wood

Are you refinishing a project? We know all the best stains

Check out our stain reviews to find the best stain for the job.

Is it possible to remove wood stain with bleach?

Yes, you could try to remove wood stain with bleach by using this same method. You must know, however, that bleaching wood will lighten the color of the wood.

You can even use bleach after you're done to lighten the overall color of the wood. All you have to do is pour some bleach onto the surface of the wood, and wipe it down. Repeat as many time as you want for lighter and lighter results.

Repainting your wood project? Do it best by using a paint sprayer

We've researched the best paint sprayers on the market. See our guide for all the highest-rated cheap, expensive, and most frequently purchased paint sprayers.

How to remove water stains from wood

Are there water marks remaining in your wood staining project? Here are some methods you could try to remove water stains:

Petroleum jelly

Add petroleum jelly to your project, and rub it in a circular motion with a rag.

Steel wool and lemon oil

Scrub the area with a fine grade of steel wool and some lemon oil. Emphasis on the finest grade steel wool because you don't want to scratch the wood.

 Sandpaper

Some water spots can be sanded out. You might want to use a palm sander/orbital sander for faster results.

Clothes iron

Try ironing the wood out with a clothes iron that doesn't have any water in it.

Are you looking to re-stain? 

You are most likely removing stain from wood to give it a different look. Here are a few steps for re-staining after you have successfully removed the old varnish.

Step 1 - Lightly sand the surface 

The first step when staining a surface is lightly sanding with 120-grit sandpaper.

Step 2 - Apply the stain using the most convenient method 

After you clean the surface, apply the stain using the most convenient method specific to the job. For example, if you are staining a banister, you'll want to wear nitrile gloves, and simply use a clean cloth to apply the stain in between all the cracks.

Wipe off wet spots in the stain after it absorbs into the surface to make things easier on the second coat.

Step 3 - Apply a second coat of stain if necessary

Some jobs will require that you apply a second coat of stain. Because of the inconsistent nature of wood, the stain will absorb unevenly, and some areas will be left with dry spots that require extra stain. 

After the second coat of stain dries, you may need to lightly sand excess stain.

Step 4 - Apply polyurethane or wax to protect the stain

After you are satisfied with the way the stain turned out, you might want to apply polyurethane or carnauba wax to protect it from UV rays and scratching. 

What Supplies Will You Need For Re-Staining?

Don't forget to use these supplies when re-staining your wood surface:

Paint masker

We recommend buying a 3M paint masker because it will help you avoid getting stain on undesired surfaces.

Stain

There are plenty of different stains on the market. Find one that works for your project whether it be exterior or interior, and let it happen. Amazon has great prices on all paint and stain products.

Sandpaper

Use 120-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge to sand before staining.

Paint Sprayer

Using a paint sprayer is the best way to go about any paint or stain project. For smaller staining jobs, we recommend a handheld HVLP paint sprayer because they're cheap and easy to use/clean.

Read More >> What Are The Best Paint Sprayers For Fences?

Try used motor oil for water resistance on exterior projects

Did you know that painting your exterior wood with used motor oil helps protect it from the elements? That's right, it may not look the prettiest, but used motor oil is a good solution for painting up structural and landscaping beams with a cheap alternative to buying a stain product. 

Any Questions?

Do you have more questions concerning your DIY project performing wood stain removal? Ask us everything on our ProPaintCorner.com home page!

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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