How to Restore Water-Damaged Wooden Furniture

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How to Restore Water Damaged Wood

Wooden furniture, when it is well cared for, makes a splendid focal point in any living space. Unfortunately, wood is vulnerable to water damage, which can make it look unattractive and even cause it to rot. Restoring and refurbishing wooden furniture is a relatively easy task, although it takes some concerted effort.

Types of Damage and How to Repair It

Water damage takes a number of forms, and may be caused by flood water, humidity in the air, or marks from wet drinking glasses or spills. Depending on how the water damage was caused, various restoration methods can be undertaken.

Flood Water

If a home has been flooded, wooden furniture may be very badly damaged. The most important thing to do is to remove the furniture from the water as soon as possible and then to dry it out. If it is not dried quickly, fungus and mould may begin to grow on surfaces and in joints.
If the furniture is covered with mud and debris, it should be hosed down and left to dry in a well-ventilated spot out of direct sunlight. The drying process may take weeks or months, but patience must be exercised if the wood is to be fully restored.
All surfaces must be dried with absorbent cloths or towels. If furniture has been standing in water for any length of time, it must be taken apart so that individual parts can be dried. Drawers, back panels, doors, and backs of chairs should be removed, but care must be taken not to force items apart. The pieces must be left to dry so the wood shrinks back to its normal size.

Water Marks

White spots are usually superficial and only affect the top layers or veneer of wood that has shellac or lacquer finishes. Once the water has been mopped up, furniture wax or polish should be applied and rubbed in well.

An iron can be used to remove white spots. A thick, clean, and dry towel should be placed over the white spot, and an iron on medium to low dry heat setting should be pressed onto the towel for a few seconds. The heat of the iron causes the moisture to be released into the towel. This technique can be repeated until the spot is gone and then polish applied.

Alternatively, mayonnaise or petroleum jelly can be rubbed onto the white spot; the oil contained in these products is the key to removing the stain. If this does not work, a small amount of abrasive should be applied. A mixture of toothpaste and bicarbonate of soda is ideal. The abrasive should be worked along the grain of the wood and then wiped off with a soft cloth. This process can be repeated if necessary.
Solvents like methylated spirits should be used only as a last resort and applied very sparingly as they may damage the finish; it’s best to test an area on the underneath of the furniture.
Once the white spots are gone, the wooden furniture must be polished and buffed to a high sheen.
Sometimes water has penetrated below the finish and into the wood, causing black spots. These are harder to get rid of than white spots as the finish needs to be stripped away completely and the mark eradicated. The process involves:

  • Stripping the wood of its existing finish. Commercial wood strippers are available with detailed instructions on use. The tools required are a putty knife and steel wool.

  • Sanding down the furniture, starting with 120 grit (medium) and finishing with 220 grit (very fine), and working along the grain of the timber, not across it.

  • Filling in cracks with wood filler and sanding again.

  • Applying a wood stain with a rag, allowing it to dry for 15 minutes and wiping the excess off with a clean cloth. Repeating the process until the desired colour is achieved.

  • Finishing off with a top coat of lacquer, polyurethane, or wood oil so that that wood is protected from water and has a good sheen.


Excessive moisture in the air can cause wooden furniture with lacquer or shellac finishes to develop a white haze or blush as it is called in the furniture industry. Blushing is removed in the same way that white spots are dealt with and can also be rubbed with extremely fine steel wool (Grade 0000) and linseed oil. Once blushing has been eliminated, the wood should be well polished.


How to Buy Wood Restoring Supplies on eBay

eBay sellers offer many wood refurbishing and restoring tools and supplies. A search term should be entered in the search bar and once the products can be seen, the search refined with other criteria like price, brand, and product location. It’s often better to source items locally as shipping costs are lower. Once items have been found, it’s a simple matter to read ratings and reviews of the seller and the product and then place the order.


A restoration project of water-damaged wooden furniture is a labour of love. Refurbishing wooden furniture is well worth the time and effort put into the task as the resultant pieces, glowing with a deep patina, add grace to any home.

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