How to Remove Water Stains from Wood Table Top

How to Remove Water Stains from Wood Table Top

Tables exist to be used. From formal dinner parties to late-night homework sessions and board game nights, the table is your gathering place.

Unfortunately, all that use sometimes results in unsightly damage, including water stains.

If your wood table has water rings or stains, you might be tempted to sand the top or start over with a new table. But before you do anything you can’t undo, try these tips on how to remove water stains from wood table top surfaces.

Causes of Water Stains

As you might have guessed, water stains happen when moisture comes in contact with the wood. These stains usually occur in one of two ways.

The most common cause of water damage is condensation from cups and glasses. When you don’t use a coaster, the moisture that forms on a cool glass drips down onto the table, creating those telltale rings.

Water stains can also appear when spills aren’t cleaned fast enough. If the moisture sits on the wood surface too long, it can seep downward, damaging the finish and the wood below.

White vs Dark Water Stains

Just like with tabletop scratches, there are two types of water stains:

  • White stains – When the stain is white or cloudy, the water has only impacted the wood finish and hasn’t worked its way down to the actual wood.1 You can treat these minor stains using the processes in this guide.
  • Dark stains – When the stains are a dark brown or black color, the moisture has likely passed through the finish and reached the wood itself.2 Dark water stains are almost impossible to remove without re-sanding and refinishing the table.

If you’ve got scratches as well as water stains, learn how to fix scratches on a wood table in our blog.

DIY Methods to Remove Water Stains

If you have white stains or mild dark ones on your wood furniture, you may be able to remove them with some simple at-home strategies. Here are a few methods to try for removing water stains.

Household Iron

One option is to use a clothes iron and a cloth. Irons de-wrinkle clothes by turning water into steam, so you can use this same principle to fix water stains. Note that this process works best on recent stains.

Start by cleaning the area with a clean rag, then place a microfiber cloth over the water stain and fold it in half. Turn your iron to a low heat setting and place it over the cloth for about ten seconds.3 Check to see if the stain has disappeared; if it hasn’t, try again a few more times.

Baking Soda and Toothpaste Mixture

Other household staples are equally effective. A mixture of baking soda and non-whitening, non-gel toothpaste may effortlessly lift water stains from your table.4

To create this mixture, combine some baking soda and toothpaste in a clean container. Then, rub the mixture onto the stain with a clean cloth, going in the same direction as the wood grain. Buff the stain with the cloth, then wash the area and coat it with furniture wax. If all goes well, your table should look brand new.

Mayonnaise and Oil Treatments

If you’d rather stay out of your bathroom cupboards, head to the kitchen instead.

Surprisingly, mayonnaise can remove stubborn water stains from wood.5 To test this method, apply some mayo to the water stain with a clean rag, then let it sit overnight. Wipe it away with a cloth the next day for a stain-free table.

This process works because mayonnaise contains oil, and oil and water are natural enemies.

With that in mind, you can also use pure oil to eliminate a pesky stain. Consider reaching for a bottle of:

  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Peanut oil

Commercial Products

If these do-it-yourself solutions don’t work for you, you may need a commercial-grade cleaner. Some brands offer cloths treated with powerful stain removers that you can apply to your tabletop.6

However, before you scrub at a stain with these products, test them on an inconspicuous part of the table—just in case the product damages your wood finish. Consult with an expert at the hardware store if you’re unsure.

Preventative Measures

Of course, the best way to enjoy a stain-free table is to avoid water rings in the first place. You can keep your table in perfect condition by:

  • Using coasters – Always use coasters when placing drinks on your table, and ask your guests to do the same. That is, unless you have a handcrafted wood table from James+James. Our tables are sealed with oil-based polyurethane, creating a water-repelling barrier that prevents damage from spills and condensation.
  • Applying a protective seal – If your table doesn’t already have a wax coating, you can apply one yourself.
  • Cleaning spills immediately – Never leave moisture to dry on your table; wipe it away as soon as possible.
Trestle table

James+James Tables: No Coasters Needed

Some tables, like the ones from James+James, don’t need coasters or coatings. That’s because we seal all wood furniture with a polyurethane finish to protect the wood, giving you a table ready for any activity—one that’ll last for years to come.

To find out more, check out our collection of custom wood dining tables today.


  1. Architectural Digest. How to Remove Water Stains From Wood.
  2. Better Home & Gardens. How to Remove Water Stains from Wood Without a Special Cleaner.
  3. Martha Stewart. 4 Ways to Remove Water Stains From Wood, According to Cleaning Experts.
  4. Architectural Digest. How to Remove Water Stains From Wood.
  5. Bob Vila. How to Remove Water Stains From Wood.
  6. Better Home & Gardens. How to Remove Water Stains from Wood Without a Special Cleaner.

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