How to Lighten Dark Stained Wood Furniture? – Bleaching and Sanding

You did not know the color of the wood stain was that dark, and now your furniture is too dark stained. Do you wish to know how to lighten stained wood? Best way to lighten stained wood? How to whitewash dark stained wood furniture? All the answers you are looking for are in this article.

Here’s what I learned:

How to Lighten Dark Stained Wood Furniture?

You can lighten stained furniture by bleaching and sanding. Use a brush or mop to apply bleach to the furniture or floor, then apply a suitable amount of white vinegar, and finally clean the wood surface with a clean damp rag.

Surely, you can lighten wood stain no matter how deep the dark stains might have penetrated the wood fibers. Hence, this article will explain the different bleaching and sanding methods and procedures on how to lighten stained wood, tips on how to go about lightening dark wood stain, and lots more.

Let’s get started.

Let’s look at 6 ways to lighten dark stained wood:

Continue to the next to learn more。

Using Wood Bleach – Best Way to Lighten Wood

One of the best and easy ways to lighten dark wood stains is through the use of wood bleach. This is because the wood bleach is specifically designed to whiten and lighten the wood stains, compared to other forms of bleaching substances.

The first thing to do in using this wood lightening method is to protect the floor by putting on it a drop cloth to prevent chemical spills on it. After this, you protect yourself with protective wear, then start to work.

The first step is to clean the wood with a clean cloth or water and allow it to dry. More about this method will be discussed below. Materials needed are:

Tools and Materials

  1. Wood chemical stripper
  2. White vinegar solution
  3. Warm water
  4. Sanding block
  5. Brush
  6. Safety wears,
  7. Plastic containers, etc

How Do You Whitewash Dark Stained Wood Furniture?

After cleaning the dark wood furniture with water, you continue by removing the protective finish like polyurethane finish on the surface of the wood using a chemical wood stripper.

With a brush, apply a thin coat of the chemical stripper to your wood. Allow it to work for 20 – 35 minutes before using a plastic scraper to remove it.

After getting rid of the wood’s topcoat, follow the mixing instructions on the wood bleach, mix appropriately and apply.

Leave it on the wood for half-hour. While waiting for the bleach to do its work, mix an equal amount of white vinegar and water in a plastic container.

Dampen a clean cloth with this solution and use it to wipe off the bleach to see if you have achieved your desired color. Clean the wood with a warm water-wet cloth.

Then, whitewash to get a lighter color by applying a mixture of white colored paint or latex paint and water in a ratio of 2:1.

Wipe off the paint before it gets too dry. Finally, apply your desired finish, and the job is done.

Using Oxalic Acid

This acid is used in a lot of household cleaning agents as a bleach. It is a natural dark wood lighter. Therefore, you do not have to be afraid about using the acid. Just protect your eyes, ears, and hands, and be careful while handling it.

This dark wood lighter is effective for removing dark water stains while preserving the natural color of the wood. You can buy the acid from an online store like Amazon if you do not see it in local stores. It comes in crystals and needs to be dissolved using hot water.

To start the beaching process, use a wood cleaner to cleanse the surface you want to work on.

Tools and Materials

  1. Wood cleaner
  2. Wood conditioner
  3. Acid crystals
  4. Brush
  5. Sanding block
  6. Borax (optional)

How to Lighten Stained Wood by Using Oxalic Acid

As usual, allow the cleansed or conditioned wood to dry. Pour some hot water into a can. Then, put the acid crystals into the hot water until no more crystals dissolve. This shows the water is well saturated by the acid.

Apply this solution to the dry-cleaned surface with a brush. Then wait until the solution dries off. That is the water evaporates, giving you back tiny crystals.

Gently scrape off using a paint scraper. If you see the desired change, wash it off. For stubborn stains, you might want to re-apply the wood bleach solution.

After scraping off the dried used bleach, clean your wood with enough water using a rag. You might use borax solution or bicarbonate of soda to neutralize the effect of the acid.

Do not use vinegar because it is an acid, and cannot neutralize its effect. After that, let the wood dry overnight, before using sandpaper to smooth It. Then, apply a wood finish.

Using Mineral Spirit,  Denatured Alcohol, Turpentine

Mineral spirit is an organic solvent that is used to thin oil-based stains. Hence, since this solvent dilutes wood stains, it can also be used in lightening wood stains

However, it is more suitable for removing the newly applied wood stains. Turpentine, also an organic solvent gotten from petroleum distillate works to remove dark stains off wood too. They are both used to remove oil-based stains or finishes.

The only difference is that the toxicity of this spirit is low compared to that of turpentine. Denatured alcohol is used as a shellac finish thinner, hence it can also be used to strip off the wood finish and the wood stain of dark wood.

Tools and Materials

  1. White spirit
  2. Drop cloth
  3. White towel
  4. Soap and water
  5. Brush, etc.

How Do You Lighten Already Stained Wood by Using Mineral Spirit?

As earlier mentioned, if the stained wood already has a finish coat, you wash this coat with warm water and soap. Then allow it to dry.

After which you pour the wood stain lighter into a container with a lid. Dip a clean white towel inside, then use it to dab the dark stains on the furniture, and rub.

For most, effects, you clean off the wood stain along the wood grain. And, since this solvent dilutes stain, it immediately reduces the darkness of the stain as you rub.

However, it is good to know that this solvent is more compatible with oil-based stains and polyurethane varnish.

Also, if you use a lacquer thinner when staining your dark wood, denatured alcohol is more compatible to lighten stained wood in this situation.

After reducing the dark color of the dark wood stain, you should cover it up again with a compatible wood finish.

Using Baking Soda.

This substance also called bicarbonate of soda is a natural whitening substance. It is used in laundry to remove tough stains and smells. Therefore, we can call it a natural bleach.

A beautiful benefit you get apart from using it to lighten natural wood stain is that it helps to reduce the stain smell. Apart from this, it is also useful in removing heat stains and other pesky wood discoloration.

Hence, if you are afraid of chemicals and you need an effective home remedy to lighten the stain on your wood, bicarbonate of soda is a good option.

Tools and Materials

  1. Bicarbonate of soda
  2. Plastic scrapper
  3. Mixing container
  4. Water

Steps to Lighten Dark Stained Wood Table Top by Using Baking Soda

There are a lot of ways you can use this dark stained wood lighter to lighten the natural color of your wood or the natural stain on your wood.

Before discussing the two methods, it is important to remove the top coat on your wood with a wood cleaner or soapy water. Then air dry.

After this, mix in equal proportions of water and bicarbonate of soda to make a paste, then apply this paste to the surface of the wood furniture and scrub for a few minutes.

Wash it off with water to observe changes. Another method you can use is applying the soda pasty solution to the wood evenly. Leave it on the surface until dry.

Then you use a plastic scraper to remove the residue. You can always repeat this process if you want to tone it down to a lighter color.

After this, you wash off the pasty remnant with dish soap and water. If you are satisfied with the color outcome, go ahead and sand the wood evenly until smooth.

Lastly, protect your furniture by applying a desired top coat.

Using Paint Thinner

A paint thinner is a volatile solvent used to reduce the color intensity of paints, clean off excess paints, and sometimes even used to remove stains. Examples of such thinners are Toluene, Acetone, Mineral spirits, and lots more.

In as much as they are solvents that have chemical diluting capacities, they can be used to reduce the dark hue of stains and prevent wood furniture from getting too dark stained.

However, it is important to understand that the type of paint thinner to use is dependent on the type of stain in use. Mineral spirits work well for oil stains, but for lacquer-based stains, acetone, and the like is a more suitable paint thinner.

Tools and Materials

  1. Brushes
  2. Wood stain
  3. Paint thinner
  4. Drop cloth.

Steps for diluting dark wood stain before application

One way to get prevent the wood from being dark stained is for you to reduce the color of the stain to get a more natural stain before application. This way, the stress of using dark stained wood lighter will be avoided.

A particular advantage of diluting stain apart from reducing its color is that it reduces blotches during staining. Below are the steps to take to dilute your dark stain, thereby reducing its color before application.

For water-based stains, dilute with water. For oil and gel stains, dilute with mineral spirits. For lacquer-based stains, dilute with lacquer thinners.

For an oil-based wood stain, pour your dark color stain into an empty paint can if you are diluting a little. Mix thoroughly.

Then measure a small number of mineral spirits and pour inside the stain. Mix them very well.

Keep pouring the thinner in a small amount until you get the color you want. To know how light the color is apply some on a block of scrap wood.

Applying Fine-grit Sandpaper or Steel Wool by Sanding

In addition, another way to lighten stained wood is through sanding with fine-grit sandpaper or steel wool. However, I would advise you to use this method only if the dark stain has not penetrated the wood fibers.

The technique behind this wood lightening method is to remove a coat of dark stain on wood to reduce its hue. Thereby reducing the number of dark stain coats on the furniture surfaces. This method might seem a little strenuous, nevertheless, it is a good method to use if you do not want to use chemicals on your wood.

Tools and Materials

  1. Grit Sandpaper or steel wool
  2. Clean towel
  3. Warm water.
  4. Hand gloves
  5. Mineral spirits.

How to lighten stained wood using steel wool

To lighten that wood surface a little, then you should sand it. The use of chemicals might be unnecessary since the lighter color you want is just a layer or two layers away. Follow the outlined steps in sanding your dark-stained wooden furniture into a light-stained one.

Wear your hand gloves and respirator to prevent your hand from steel wool and toxic sanded wood residues.

Moisturize the dark wood lighter with water. Then begin to use it to scrub the wooden surface along the wood grain.

While sanding, try as much to apply an equal level of pressure all through the sanding process.

For oil stains, soak a clean towel with mineral spirits and use it to wipe off the sanded particles.

For a water-based stain, use a water-soaked clean towel. As you wipe the wood, a lighter shade of stain is seen.

If you wipe with water, allow the furniture to dry, before covering it with a topcoat or wood finish.

Best Wood Bleach – Oxalic Acid Wood Cleaning and Bleaching

This acid is still the best natural bleach you can use on your wooden furniture. Because it is a natural substance, it protects your wood to an extent compared to the chemical wood bleach. Not only this, apart from helping to reduce the hue of dark-colored stains, it also removes tough stains like iron stains off your wood surface.

Best Wood Bleach to Lighten Dark Stained Wood - Oxalic Acid Wood Cleaning and Bleaching


It does not have a heightened damaging effect on bare wood because it is a gentle wood bleach.

It is a natural wood bleach.

Does not alter the normal color of the wood.

It gives a uniform color after bleaching.


For strong stains, it might require several applications before a visible effect is observed.

It doesn’t work on wood finishes, so you have to first remove finishes from your furniture.

The effect of the acid needs to be neutralized so that it does not react with the incoming wood finish or further change the wood color.

Tips to Lighten Dark Stained Wood

In addition, there are certain measures and precautions to put into consideration when lightening dark wood stain. Some of which are

It is less stressful to lighten dark stained wood when staining wood, that is before applying wood finish. Hence, during your DIY project, if you observe that the staining is getting darker, immediately lighten it

When using chemical wood stripper, wood bleach solution, and even wood stains, wear gloves and other protective gear. Avoid inhaling toxic air and work in a well-ventilated area.

When using paint thinners and organic solvents to lighten the wood stain, make sure you use compatible ones.

Gel stains, when dried is a little difficult to lighten. Hence, it is better to do this before it gets dried.

When using steel wool to remove coats of dark stain from the wood surface, to avoid scratches and imperfections, follow the pattern of the wood grain when scrubbing.


Below are answers to some frequently asked questions.

How do you lighten oak furniture?

Due to the uneven texture of oak furniture, it might be fairly difficult to lighten it. However, it is possible. Pour some wood bleach into a container, using a brush, add wood bleach to the dark stains, then in a particular hand movement, use steel wool dipped in the bleach to scrub the stains. After this, you wipe with a cloth.

How can I change the color of my furniture without paint?

A particular way to change the color of your furniture is to lighten the wood stain by removing the finish, doing a little bit of sanding, and wiping off sanded particles with mineral spirits or water. With this, you have successfully changed the color of the wood. Apply a protective finish and that is all.

How can I lighten wood without bleach?

If you are afraid of those chemicals and acids damaging your wood, other options you can go for are paint thinners like acetone, home remedies like bicarbonate of soda, and sanding.

Does hydrogen peroxide bleach wood?

Yes, hydrogen peroxide apart from its cleaning properties also bleaches wood. The only setback is that it is not compatible with all wood types. For instance, it works well with beech wood, but not oak wood. Hence, the type of wood you are working with determines if you can use it.

What is the difference between pickling and whitewashing?

Pickling and whitewashing are both techniques used to lighten the wood depending on the wood species. Pickling involves the use of a pickled finish (pickling stain) while whitewashing is done using white paint. In addition, professional woodworkers believe pickling should be used on oak woods, while whitewashing is suitable for pines.

How to lighten wood stain without sanding

If you do not want to sand your wood because of the damage it could cause, a better alternative is using steel wool. I think sanding should be used when painting, while steel wool is better suited for staining. This is because, with steel wool, you can easily work with wood grains.

What is the best way to lighten dark stained wood?

Finally, a lot of people have their preferred ways of how to lighten stained wood. Hence, the best way to lighten dark stains on wood or natural wood stain is dependent on what you can work with.

If you are a naturalist, you might want to choose a home remedy or natural agent approach. Nonetheless, for the record, a natural wood bleach is the best way to lighten a dark or natural wood stain without hassle. It is high time we start to protect our climate by choosing natural agents that does not pose too much threat to nature.

Leave a Comment