10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

Lightening dark wood plays not only an aesthetic role, but also has important practical significance.

As a result of lightening, a material becomes the original appearance that was lost after a few years of use, transportation and storage. You can not only successfully get rid of unpleasant dark color, but also return attractiveness and significant qualities to the wood.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

There are a lot of different time-tested methods of lightening dark stained wood which are used by specialists, but you can also use them at home. In any case, it is important to not neglect safety regulations and to follow a few rules to make this process as safe as possible.

In this article, we will try to understand how to lighten stained wood at home using several ways. Let us consider peculiarities of each of the methods and the preferred variants of their application.

Can You Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter?

Do you want to change your interior? Thanks to this procedure, you can easily change the look of your workpiece or lighten your dark stained wood furniture.

Due to the natural aging of the wood or the action of different factors (wood-destroying fungus and mildew, physical impact) wood stains can become darker. But don’t worry: you can easily lighten dark wood stain even at home!

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

How To Lighten Stained Wood?

You can lighten stained wood using chemical or physical methods.

It is quite possible to lighten and remove dark stain from the wooden surface by yourself, using:

  • specialized chemical products which can be purchased from any chemical supply store;
  • DIY bleach solutions;

If you decide to do this using a wood bleach or a steel wool, it is necessary to remove the topcoat that protects the stain.

You will need:

  • A chemical stripper;
  • A paintbrush;
  • A plastic scraper;
  • Steel wool;
  • Some clean drop cloths;
  • Rubber protective gloves;
  • Eye protection (like glasses)

How To Lighten Stained Wood?

The most important step – preparation


Before starting the lightening process, make sure that your workplace is ventilated well.

Protect your surrounding area from drips and splashes by being sure to put drop cloths around and under your piece of furniture.

To prevent chemical burns and other undesirable consequences, do not neglect to wear personal protective equipment.

The intermediate step working with a stripper


As always, follow the instructions which you can find on the paint stripper container, then apply the stripper onto all areas of the wood you are going to lighten.

Leave the miracle cure to work for the time given in the instructions.

The last step – removing a top coat


Use the scraper at a 45-degree angle and carefully remove the softened topcoat.

Take your time. You can end up with the damaged surface because it is easy to accidentally touch the wood with sharp corners of the scraper.

If it is difficult to reach nooks and crannies, use steel wool to get rid of the top coat. 

Moving to the bleaching


If you are satisfied with the results, wash and scrub the surface with warm soapy water.

Leave your wooden furniture to dry and then make sure that it is not wet before moving to the bleaching process.

Use Commercial Wood Brighteners

This is the easiest way to lighten dark stained wood.

The market offers several types of commercial wood brighteners.

They are:

Chlorine-free products

These products are completely safe, easy to wash off and do not have aggressive effects on wood fibers. You can use them a few times on the same wooden surface.

We recommend using chlorine-free wood brighteners to lighten stained wood that gains yellow color or become dark over time.

Brighteners with chlorine

It is advisable to use chlorine brighteners to solve more serious problems, for example for recovery wood that has been attacked by fungus (mostly mold).

There is a big disadvantage of this type of brightener – they have a sharp, unpleasant odor. In addition, it is really challenging to wash up these products.

Brighteners with oxalic acid

It is a great option for the case you want to get rid of traces of rust from the wooden surface. Brighteners with oxalic acid work effectively, but do not change the color of wood.

Unlike the two previous brighteners, oxalic acid is an organic chemical substance that is usually used for cleaning and bleaching. Put a few oxalic acid’s crystals to warm water and continue to add until the solution becomes too concentrated, so the water can absorb no more crystals.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

If you decide to use commercial wood brighteners, it is important to carefully read the instructions on the use and follow safety regulations.

Commercial products usually come in different forms, but we recommend you to choose the one in powder form. Just mix it with water until the mixture becomes a paste.

Then carefully apply this on your dark stained wood and leave it for a few minutes. At the end, remove the old finish without causing damage to your stain using a scrub brush.

Use A Wood Bleach

This method is really popular because you can find this budget product for lightening dark stained wood at almost any chemical supply store.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

However, we recommend using a wood bleach only in case you are working in a well-ventilated area and do not have pets, especially fishes in an aquarium and live plants in your room.

Using bleach allows you to not only lighten dark stained wood but also prevent the appearance of fungus.

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Clean the surface of the wood from external contamination;
  2. Sand the wood to provide better penetration of the chemical into the inner layers;
  3. Prepare a bleach solution: mix water with bleach;
  4. Apply a bleach solution on the dark stained wood;
  5. Leave it for 35-40 minutes;

If you did not achieve a desired result the first time, you can repeat these steps.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

Is it possible to use a household bleach instead of wood bleach?

Yes, you can substitute a wood bleach for a household bleach. But there is a nuance. Household bleach will definitely remove leftover dye from the wooden surface, but it will not affect the color of the wood.

Bleaching the wood with household bleach can be not as effective as using a wood bleach and there is a big chance to face yellow stains after the lightening.

Is It possible to use a pool chlorine?

Calcium hypochlorite is well-known as pool chlorine. It is definitely a more potent chemical than a household bleach for stain lightening.

Usually it comes in granular form, so you need to mix it with water.

Attention! If you decide to use bleach to lighten a wood, there is a big chance that it can result in blotchy discoloration because we will face the chlorine crystals forming.

Lighten Dark Stained Wood Using A White Vinegar

It is easy to lighten stained wood with a white vinegar because you can find this effective brightener in your kitchen.

As a wood bleach, a vinegar is a budget product to make a dark wood stain at times lighter.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Clean the surface of the stained wood from external contamination;
  2. Sand the wood to provide better penetration of the chemical into the inner layers;
  3. Prepare a vinegar solution: mix water with white vinegar;
  4. Apply this brightener on the dark stained wood;
  5. Leave it for 35-40 minutes;
  6. Remove the old finish without causing damage to your wood stain using a scrub brush;

Attention! When searching for the best method to lighten a wood, you will find some articles that suggest neutralizing the wooden surface by applying a mix of water and white vinegar.

It is forbidden to use vinegar with bleach!

When you mix bleach with vinegar or acid, it can give off chlorine gas, that will cause severe damage to your health. In some cases, it can lead to death.

Lighten Dark Stain Using Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide performs well as a low-price brightener for almost any type of wood. The only exception is an oak: when in contact with hydrogen peroxide, the oak wood stain takes on a slightly uncharacteristicyellow/green shade.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

If you want to lighten dark stained wood with hydrogen peroxide, choose a 30-percent solution.

You should follow the rules of safety techniques when working with chemically aggressive substances, such as a concentrated solution of hydrogen peroxide. If they come into contact with the skin or mucous membranes, they can cause irritation or burns and provoke allergic reactions, sometimes very severe.

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Clean the surface of the stained wood from external contamination;
  2. Sand the wood to provide better penetration of the chemical into the inner layers;
  3. Mix water with hydrogen peroxide until it becomes a paste
  4. Apply this brightener on the surface of the wood;
  5. Leave it for 5 minutes;
  6. Remove the old finish without causing damage to your wood stain using a scrub brush;

Use A Steel Wool To Lighten Wood

In case you decide to lighten wood stain a little, a steel wool will be a great option. It removes the stain on the entire surface of the wood and its appearance becomes lighter.

Pay attention that, as with using a bleach, it is important to strip off the clear top coat before using the steel wool.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

To lighten wood stain using a steel wool, you will need:

  • Superfine grade steel wool (choose #0000, or 4/0);
  • Warm water;
  • Mineral spirits;
  • Rubber gloves;
  • Protection for your eyes;
  • Cotton cloth;

Step-by-step guide:

  • Start with dipping a piece of steel wool into the warm water and removing the unnecessary.
  • Grate the steel wool over the wood surface in the direction of the wood grain. Try to maintain a little pressure.
    • Attention! It is not advisable to grate along the grain of the wood because it causes unpleasant scratches that will be difficult to remove.
  • Refresh the steel wool in the water to get rid of wood dust and stain.
    • Attention! Make sure that you cover the entire surface equally, without paying closer attention to one spot. Do not neglect this advice because failing this, you will get a patchy finish.
  • Then put on your glasses and rubber gloves to protect yourself from the influence of chemical substances.
  • Clean the wood surface with mineral spirits using a clean cloth moistened with mineral spirit.
  • When you achieve the desired result, stop. If you want lighter color, repeat these steps: start with using the steel wool and then wipe down the surface with mineral spirits.
  • Clean the entire surface with a dry cloth and let it completely dry. 

Try A Boiled Linseed Oil To Lighten Wood Stain

The boiled linseed oil is frequently used for the processing of wooden furniture.

It emphasizes the natural structure of the tree, has antiseptic properties and protects the wood from parasites.

Of course, the boiled linseed oil is a great option to lighten a dark stained wood.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Clean the surface of the stained wood from external contamination;
  2. Apply the boiled linseed oil using a clean cloth or foam brush
  3. Leave it for one day;
  4. Apply one more layer of one of the oil based stain without primer.

Do Not Neglect Using An Electric Sander on A Dark Stained Wood

This is one of the physical methods to lighten wood stain.

Using an electric sander allows you to get rid of any splintered parts or rough spots, so this method also deserves your attention!

But be careful because in case you press down too hard when using the device you will end up with an over-sanding, causing damage or even ruining your stain.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

Sand Dark Wood Stain Before Painting

This method works really well with water-based paints. And all you need to do is lightly sand the dark stained wood before painting.

Give the preference to 120 grit sandpaper, add some water, and take your time to go over the gouges until they are gone. Leave the wood for one day or more, then paint it.

Paint Dark Stained Wood Before Sanding

If you’re not want to make a lot of effort to lighten wood, this technique is for you! Simply paint the dark-stained wood first and then sand it.

These actions will save your precious time because you will not have to do all of that extra work!

Once the wooden surface is clean and sanded, apply a high-quality primer and two layers of paint.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

Use a Dark Stain for Wood

The last method is to give the preference to a dark stain for wood. This allows you to make your wood look like you want. Just apply the chosen stain with a clean cloth or foam brush and leave it for one day or more, then apply another layer!

The Best Way To Lighten Wood

Now that we have covered 10 brilliant methods to make your wood lighter, let us present the best way to lighten wood!

As always, the best method represents a combination of other methods such as sanding, bleaching and applying a top coat.

Take into account that every wood species has a different undertone.

How Can I lighten Wood Stain Without Sanding?

Sometimes stains can become darker or discolor the wood when it is applied.

But do not be afraid! There are some life hacks that will help you to lighten already stained wood!

  • Use Mineral Spirits
10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

One of the most effective and simple ways to lighten wood stains is using mineral spirits. Mineral spirits also known as white spirits are petroleum-based solvents.

After applying the stain, quickly wipe it off using a clean cloth moistened with mineral spirit. Reapply and wipe off until the desired result is achieved

  • Use A Bleach

You can use a wood bleach to lighten the dark wood stain, but also a household bleach is suitable for this purpose too.

Applying the bleach directly to the stained surface and leave it for 30 minutes. Observe how the wood’s color changes during the bleaching process.

  • Use A TSP Cleaner

There is one more method to lighten a dark wood stain – using a Trisodium Phosphate cleaner.

Simply prepare a solution that consists of the cleaner and water, apply it to the stained wood surface and leave it for an hour.

Then rinse the wood thoroughly with clean water to remove the substance.

  • Lighten Rust Stains

If you’ve been racking your brain how to lighten wood with stains of rust, you are in the right place!

Try using a wire brush to get rid of as much as possible. Then wipe the wood stain with a wet cloth moistened with alcohol and apply your natural wood stain color.

10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood

How Do You Fix A Stain That Is Too Dark?

Stain the Wood Again

When you have used the lightener, stain the wood again with natural wood stain or any other one.

Try to apply light layers of stain and make sure that each thin coat has completely dried before applying the next one.

Is It Possible To Refinish Dark Wood Lighters?

In case your dark wood stain is in good condition, you have an opportunity to use a wood furniture refinishing kit to get rid of the existing color and make your wood lighter.

If the desired results are not achieved, or you notice unpleasant scratches on the surface, you should think about staining the wood a different color or using professional refinishers.

Rules You Need To Follow If You Decide To Lighten A Wood Stain

  • Do not neglect to wear the protective equipment such as rubber gloves, a mask and glasses to protect your skin and mucous membranes from chemical burns;
  • Preparation is the most important step in lightening a wood stain. So ensure that you completely and carefully clean your wood before you start painting it or staining it;
  • In case you choose the oil based stain, you can use a paint thinner or a rubbing alcohol.

If there is a need, do not forget about using ammonia. This will allow you to get rid of the old finish, and you will start with a clean slate;

  • In case you have selected the stain that is water-based, you can use a white vinegar and ammonia.Be careful if you decide to use ammonia because it is an aggressive chemical substance, can cause damage to your health!
  • Always let your wood completely dry for one day or more before you begin painting or staining it! This allows the paint or stain to attach to the wooden surface at times better.If the wood is too wet, it will not absorb the stain, and you will end up with unpleasant patchy results.
  • Before starting the lightening process, choose an ideal moment.It is advisable to lighten stained wood at the temperature of about 20 degrees. At the same time, the humidity also should not be increased.
  • If the furniture has aluminum or glass parts, it is important to protect them from the effect of brighteners or other chemical substance
10 Brilliant Tips How To Lighten Stained Wood


Q: Does vinegar lighten stained wood?

A: Yes, a white vinegar is one of the most effective and budget way to lighten stained wood! But take at account that vinegar you are going to use should be diluted!

Q: How should I prepare dark stained wood before painting it?

A: There is no need for special preparation! All you need to do is to clean dark stained wood before painting it: just wipe down the wooden surface with warm soapy water.

It is important to ensure that the wood dries completely before you start painting!

Q: What I should do to remove dark stain from my wood furniture?

A: If you decide to remove the dark stain from the wood furniture, apply paint thinner or alcohol. That way, you will get rid of the finish and facilitate the process! 

Q: How long do I have to let the brighteners leave on the dark-stained wood before scrubbing it off?

A: Time depends on what brightener do you use to lighten a wood.

commercial wood brightenersfind this information in the manufacturer’s instruction
wood bleach35-40 minutes
white vinegar35-40 minutes
hydrogen peroxide5 minutes
boiled linseed oil24 hours or more

Q: Can I apply a darker stain over a lighter stain?

Not in all cases. Using a pigmented stain over a darker stain can cover the darker color, depending on the level of lightening you want to achieve.


Lightening stained wood is not a challenging process, but you should be patient and careful to achieve desired results.

It is necessary to follow all the safety regulations because you are working with some aggressive chemical substances that can effect on your health.

Hope our article will help you to find a correct answer to this disturbing question: “How to lighten stained wood?” and choose the best method.

If you want to get an additional detailed information about any method, or you have any question – please let us know. We will be happy to help you!

Good luck!

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