How to lighten a dark stain | Detail Guideline

A stain that’s too dark can affect the entire look of your furniture or room. Fortunately, there are ways you can lighten a color until you’re happy with it. The most effective way to lighten the color of a stain is to bleach the wood with chemicals. Steel scouring pads and white spirit can lighten the stain by a small amount if you don’t need to tweak the color too much. Otherwise, if you have B spots it might be too dark, you can dilute it to change the color before applying it.

Bleaching wood

Apply finish stripping the wood that you want to lighten and let it sit for 20 minutes. Work in a well-ventilated area so as not to breathe in any harmful fumes, and wear safety glasses and gloves to protect yourself. Dip a 2-inch (5.1 cm) natural bristle brush to finish sanding and paint on the wood you are lightening. Make sure you get even coverage so that it can strip the tree entirely. Leave the stripper on the surface for 20 minutes to set. X Research Source If you are discoloring a wood floor, then you can apply a chemical stripper or use a sander.

Scrape off wood trim with a plastic scraper. Hold the scraper at a 45 degree angle to the piece of wood and apply a firm amount of pressure to lift the old finish. Works in conjunction with wood grain to avoid scratching or leaving visible marks on wood. Continue scraping the surface of the wood until you have removed all of the old finish. X Research Source Spelled out drop cloth underneath your workstation so you can easily pick up all of the old trim and throw it away. Scraping the finish off can also remove some of the stains on the wood.

Mix the solution of wood bleach. When you want to bleach your woods, you can use oxalic acid for a mild treatment or a 2-part wood bleach solution for a stronger treatment. Wear safety goggles and gloves when you mix bleach, so you don’t get any irritation. If using oxalic acid, stir the crystals in water following the directions on the package. If you are using 2-part bleach, then pour an equal amount of both parts of the bleach into a small bowl and stir them together. X Research Source Oxalic Acid slightly brightens blemishes and works best on naturally light woods. In 2 parts bleach solution removes most of the color and can also lighten the natural color of dark wood. Both types of bleach will work for either oil based or water based stain. You can buy wood bleach and oxalic acid from hardware and home improvement stores. 

Spread the bleach mixture over your wood. Use a 2 inch (5.1 cm) brush to apply a thin coat of bleach to the wood. Make sure you get a subtle appliqué all over the wood surface so it brightens evenly. After you put the peroxide on, let it set for about 30 minutes so that it can discolor the wood and stains. X Research Source If you are using bleach on a wooden floor, then use a mop to spread the bleach solution over the entire surface.

Neutralize with bleach with white vinegar solution after 30 minutes. Combine equal parts white vinegar and warm water in a large bowl or bucket, and stir together. Soak a rag in the solution and wipe it down to remove excess liquid. Wipe the surface of the wood with a vinegar solution to stop the reaction and prevent stains from getting easier. X Research Source You can neutralize bleach anytime you are happy with the color. 

Wipe wood with a clean damp cloth. Wet another napkin under the tap with warm water. Squeeze out excess liquid and then wipe clean with a piece of wood. Be sure to clean every corner to remove any bleach or vinegar that’s still on the surface. X Research Source If you are working on a wooden floor, then use a mop with clean water to rinse the floor.

Let the wood dry before judging the color. Leave the tree in a cool, dry place, the water can evaporate and the final color of the stain can be seen. Check the tree the next day to see if you are happy with your color. If not, apply another treatment bleach to the tree in the same way and check on it the next day to see if it is more lit. X Research source Use only 2-3 bleaching treatments per wood, as wood color can start to look dull and gray.

Sand wood with 180-grit sandpaper. When using a wood treatment bleach, it removes some of the grain material, so sanding this will help flatten your piece of wood. Apply firm pressure with 180-grit sandpaper in the same direction as the wood grain so you don’t see any scratches. Save with sandpaper until the piece of wood is smooth to the touch. X Research Source 

Apply a new finish to the wood to seal it. Look for polyurethane varnish for wood, and stir well to blend. Use a 2 ” (5.1 cm) natural bristle brush to paint a thin layer of polyurethane onto the wood, following the direction of the wood grain. After you spread the polyurethane, pull your brush over the area again in long strokes to remove any bubbles or inconsistent application. X Research Source Do not shake the polyurethane as it can form air bubbles on the wood and destroy the finish.

Rising up a spot with steel wool

The steel wool rubs against the wood in the same direction as the grains. Wet a piece of 0000 steel wool in warm water and squeeze out excess liquid. Apply light pressure to the wood you are trying to improve and work long and back with strokes in the direction of the grain. Be careful not to overlap the stripes compared to steel wool as too much paint or material can be removed. The steel wool will scrape a small amount onto the stain and is ready to lighten the wood. X Research source Using only super fine (0000) or extra fine (000) steel wool, as too much material can be removed from coarse steel wool.

Wipe wood with mineral perfume to help lift wood stain. Wear safety goggles and gloves before handling with mineral spirits as they may irritate the skin or eyes. Use a damp rag with white spirit and rub along the grain of the wood to pick up some stains. You will notice that the wood becomes slightly lighter than the rest of the stain. Continue wiping with a corner and the wipes change if the first one gets too dirty. X Research Source Work in a well-ventilated area as mineral spirits can create harmful fumes. Let the fabric shop dry completely before discarding them as they can cause a fire. Steel scourers and white spirit work best on an oil-based stain, but it may work a little on water-based stains.

Alternate between steel wool and white spirit while you’re happy with the color. Return to the steel wool and rub gently again. on a wooden surface. After using the steel wool, wipe the area with white spirit again to remove some stains and lighten the color. Continue working until you are satisfied with the color of the tree. Give the wood a final wipe with a clean cloth to remove excess mineral spirits. X Research source Mineral perfume and wool have only lightened the color of the stain, so it may take several applications to notice any changes.

Diluting the stain before use

Make a “natural” wood stain that has the same base as the stain you are lightening. Natural wood stain is a transparent medium, you can mix it with a standard stain to make it thinner and lighter in color. Check the stain you already have to see if it’s oil or water based, so you know which type of natural stain to buy. Get the same amount of natural stain as you already have, so you can mix in equal amounts. X Research Source If you can’t find natural wood stain, you can also use white spirit for oil stains or water if it’s water based.

Combine equal parts of the stain you want for a lighter and natural wood stain. Use empty paint or another airtight metal container to blend in your stains. Pour equal amounts of your stains and natural stain into a container and mix it with a paint stirrer. Continue stirring the stain until it blends completely, or it may look blotchy. X Research Source You can buy empty paint cans at hardware stores or online.

Check the stain on a piece of wood to see the color. Dip the end of the brush into the stain, you just messed up and wipe off the excess around the edge with paint. Spread the stain on a piece of wood that is the same type you plan on staining later, and rub it into the wood with a rag. Wipe off any excess wood stain, and look at the color of the stain versus natural wood to see if you’re happy with how light it is. X Research Source Color when you first add the stain may be different than when it is completely dry. Let it stand for the night, so you can see that the tree looks just dry.

Blend into a more natural stain if you want a lighter color. If you still want to lighten your stain, add 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) natural stain at a time and stir it along with a stirring stick until it is thoroughly mixed. Check the color spot on your piece of wood to see how it looks and stir again if needed. Otherwise, put a lid on the jar so that you can use it later. X Research Source Keep track of how many natural spots you add so you can repeat the same color in the future. If the stain becomes too light, add another 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup (59-118 ml) of the original.


Work in a well-ventilated area when handling mineral spirits or bleach as this can create harmful fumes.

Wear safety goggles and gloves when handling strong chemicals as they can cause irritation.


You can try sanding the stain with 120-grit sandpaper to remove it and reapply the stain.


Question: How do you lighten wood stain without sanding the wood?

Answer: Use a furniture builder to dissolve the stain and scrub it with some steel wool. While it still involves some cleaning, this approach is less damaging to the wood’s surface than sanding.

Question: Can you lighten the gel stain?

Answer: Unfortunately, gel stains are quite difficult to lighten. Before the gel dries, you can wash the surface with mineral spirits to lighten the stain. Once the coating has hardened, it can be removed by sanding it down.

Question: Can you spot over a forest that is already spotted?

Answer: If the wood is not sealed, you can easily stain it. However, you probably need to use darker spots than the one already on the tree in order to get good results. Polyurethane stain blends can also be used on tinted wood coatings. For best results, sand the surface down so that the new stain bonds better with the wood.

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