How to remove water rings from wood furniture

July 29, 2015

No matter how quick you are on the draw when it comes to whipping out those coasters, sooner or later somebody is going to put a drink down on your gorgeous coffee table and leave a white water ring.

How to remove water rings from wood furniture

The rings are caused by water condensation on the bottom of the glass that penetrates the finish. Here are three ways to remove the moisture from the finish. Each way is increasingly more difficult and invasive, so try them in the order given.

1. Put some furniture polish, petroleum jelly, or mayonnaise on the damage and let it remain overnight.

  • All of these substances are oily.
  • If you are lucky, the damage will be superficial and the oil will replace the water in the finish, causing the ring to disappear.

2. If the ring persists, try using alcohol — denatured is best, but any alcohol will do.

  • You have to do this very carefully — especially if the finish is shellac, which is dissolved by alcohol.
  • Too much contact with alcohol can also damage lacquer and water-based finishes. So start by dampening a cloth very slightly with alcohol and wiping it across the watermark.
  • If you make some progress but the ring remains, make sure the alcohol isn't making the finish sticky or soft; then add a little more alcohol to the cloth, and wipe gently again.
  • Don't rub hard — you want the alcohol to evaporate as you wipe, so it doesn't have a chance to damage the finish.

3. The last resort is to try rubbing with an extremely fine abrasive.

  • If you have some automotive compound around, that might work.
  • Or try mixing some rottenstone or pumice (which is coarser) with mineral oil or furniture polish.
  • If you still have a ring, try 0000 steel wool, which is coarser still. The problem with using abrasives is that they scratch the surface.
  • The scratches left by fine abrasives are so tiny that you'll see them only as a dulling of the area you rubbed.
  • The solution is to use increasingly finer abrasives until you bring the sheen of the affected area up to the sheen of the rest of the surface.
  • Alternately, you can even out the sheen by rubbing the entire surface with fine abrasive to dull it very slightly.
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