3 Reasons Wood May Turn White and 3 Ways to Fix It

Don’t you hate it when your clean, beautiful, newly finished furniture gets white stains? There are also these round marks that appear on furniture because you didn’t put your beverage on a coaster. But it is not something you can’t fix, all you need is a little elbow grease and some equipment. Let us understand 3 reasons why wood may turn white and 2 ways to deal with it.

Wood mostly turns white because of moisture getting trapped under the finish. This can either happen because of heat or due to condensation. To fix it, simply either get rid of the moisture by using more heat. Or you can use lacquer, lacquer thinner, and superfine steel wool to rub out the white stain. Lastly, there are also some products specifically made to remove these stains such as restore-a-finish.

The reason people opt for wood as a material for making their furniture is simple. It is durable but more than that, it is really beautiful. This beauty can be ruined due to these white marks, which blemish the look of the wood.

If you live in a humid region, these white marks are hard to get rid of. The white stains on the wood are basically moisture bubbles at a microscopic level. These bubbles cluster together to create a cloudy white stain under your finish. 

Reason Why Wood Get White Stains and Solutions

Even though it is moisture’s fault that these white stains appear on wood, there are a few reasons why it gets trapped under the finish. We will go through these reasons accordingly and tell you how to deal with them.

1. Hot Cup or Dishes

When you put a hot dish or cup on a tabletop or any furniture, after a while it leaves white cloudy stains on the surface. You might have tried to use a cleaner to clean it off but to no avail.

So the science behind it is pretty simple, the hot cup or dish causes the wood’s pores to open up. When it does, it absorbs moisture inside through those open pores. As it cools down the pores start to close and the moisture gets trapped inside. This water causes discoloration in the area where it was absorbed, resulting in white stains.

This can be caused by either hot dishes or a hot cup that is making direct contact with the wood. It may also happen even if you have applied a finish to your piece.

2. Condensation in Lacquer

When you apply lacquer finish to any wooden cabinet or furniture, it cures very fast. In fact, lacquer is one of the fastest curing finishes out there. Most finishes take at least 12 hours to dry, and they still require more time to properly cure. But lacquer takes a few hours to dry and harden, so people often like to spray it on their furniture as a finish.

But because lacquer is very fast drying, there is a fast cooling effect in it. Sometimes while it’s drying up, due to the cooling effect, water condenses underneath it. Thus it causes white marks or in woodworking terms, it causes a blush.

The condensation happens in the form of tiny bubbles that cluster together. Because of that, the wood has a cloudy white appearance in certain areas. 

It is a quite common instance and it can be easily resolved with some more lacquer and lacquer thinner along with a fine steel wool pad. 

3. Water Penetration from Cold Drinks

Sometimes water can penetrate into the finish too because of cold drinks placed on the wood. The condensed moisture from the air drips down the vessel and penetrates into the finish. When it does, it sits above the wood under the finish creating white stains.

It is similar to how lacquer cools down and creates condensed bubbles underneath the finish. If the wood turns black instead of white, it means the water is penetrating the wood and staining it.

It can be easily resolved using one of the methods that we are going to discuss in the next section.

Fixing White Stains with Different Methods

UV rays can also discolor wood and make it look grey and dull. But moisture is mostly the culprit in the case of white stains because it is usually water trapped under the finish. You can use any of the tried and tested methods below to get rid of the white stains caused due to that:

Using an Iron or Hair dryer to Remove Heat Stains

Your first instinct wouldn’t be to use heat to remove the stains, since that is what caused it. But in this case, you can use the heat to evaporate any water trapped in the wood using an iron or hair dryer.

Though this isn’t the best method to get rid of trapped moisture, if done carefully it can bring good results. And the other thing you will need is an article of clothing. Any old tee, but white is better.

Place that piece of clothing on the white spot, use the iron on a medium setting over it. You need to keep the iron moving, don’t stay in one place, this might melt the finish and it might stick to the cloth.

Keep moving it and frequently check the stain to see if it is fading. Don’t use an iron with a steam function, use a plain one. Also, you need to keep the iron moving and make sure to give the wood a break if it gets too hot.

Slowly you will see the marks vanishing, though they don’t completely vanish at first. Keep working at it, and slowly but gradually the white stains will be gone. But you can still notice that the stains haven’t fully disappeared when you view them in light at an angle.

With a hairdryer, you don’t have to use a piece of clothing, and just use it on the lowest setting. Keep working on the stain and it will vanish eventually.

Using Lacquer with Stel Wool

If you have white milky stains after your lacquer has cooled down, no need to call in a specialist. You can fix this yourself with just a little elbow grease and some equipment. So the good thing about lacquer is that it does not layer on itself as most other finishes do. Instead, it bonds to the previous layer that you have applied chemically.

As a result, this property of lacquer will also help us in removing the white stain from condensed water sitting under the finish. You need superfine steel wool, a lacquer of your choice, and a lacquer thinner.

First, you need to ensure there isn’t any humidity in the vicinity. Use a dehumidifier or open the windows so that any trapped humidity can ventilate outside. Because you don’t want any moisture to get trapped again while you are working on the white marks.

Mix one part lacquer, one part lacquer thinner in a vessel or container. Slowly dip your steel wool in the solution, which is now going to be less viscous. Apply the lacquer using the superfine steel wool on the area which has turned white. 

You need to rub it in a circular motion for a while, it will take a minute or so, but the white marks will fade. After a while of doing things, the white discoloration will completely vanish, after which you can just apply a new layer of lacquer or another finish like wax and buff it to polish.

Using Specific Products

Now one product that you can replace in the superfine steel wool method is the lacquer. You can switch the lacquer for Howard Restor-A-Finish, which is a pretty well-known product for removing wood marks. Mix it with lacquer thinner to remove the marks from the wood in the same method as above.

It not only removes the discoloration but also fixes any other marks and revitalizes the look of the wood if it is old.

Another product used specifically for removing white marks or blushes is Mohawk No Blush Plus Retarder, which is in a spray bottle. Just apply it gently to the white area, lightly spray it on it, let it stay on it for a while. Take a brush, gently spread it thin so it dries faster.

Don’t use a rag or cloth to wipe it, you just need to spread it thin to allow it for easier drying times. Once it is dried off, it should have also removed any white stains from under the finish and the wood.

Ways to Prevent Wood from Turning White

Well, we all know the reason behind the wood, turning white by now. Once we know the reason, it is easy to come up with countermeasures to make sure this does not happen in the future.

If it is because of hot drinks or dishes, then simply use a coaster to place your drinks on. Don’t let the surface of the hot drink or dish come directly in contact with the wood at any angle whatsoever. This is really important if you want to avoid hot stains at any cost. You can also use tablecloth or some other medium to act as an insulator between the dish or cup and the furniture itself.

In the case of lacquer condensation, the best way to avoid getting water trapped under the finish is to use a dehumidifier. When you are applying the finish, use a dehumidifier that will dry up the air around the wood so no water condenses under the lacquer during the drying period.

This will allow you to escape the extra effort of removing the white stains or blushes and reapplying another coat of your finish. If you don’t have a dehumidifier, just pick a day when it is not raining or it is not very humid. You can just open the doors and windows and let the air regulate the internal room humidity to a low of under 50%.

Lastly, for cold drinks, you should either use a coaster or a tray. This is so that the surface of the vessel in which the drink is cannot make direct contact with the wood. You shouldn’t place the cold drink on a table cloth, because then the fabric will absorb the water and in turn, the wood will also end up absorbing it.

Using Resistant Finish on Your Furniture

While most people prefer lacquer for its quick drying times or some other natural finish, they aren’t exactly very resistant to elements. Now if you used a finish that has epoxy in it, that is a totally different story. Because epoxy is so resistant to heat, up to 500-degrees almost, it is one of the best finishes for tables that will be used for hot and cold beverages alike.

Since epoxy is waterproof and heat resistant, it makes it the perfect candidate finish for such furniture. Although, it will take a little more time to dry than lacquer, so if you have the luxury of time at your side, using such a finish will help you prevent white stains from happening at all.

Using enough layers of epoxy finish on your wood will make it resistant to heat and other elements. Though even epoxy finish will wear off if it is under UV exposure from the sunlight.

Final Thoughts

With this, we are finally through why wood can turn white. And whether it is due to heat, condensation, or moisture penetration, just remember that caring is better than fixing. Taking care of wooden furniture and objects should be a priority. 

Using coasters, table cloths, better water-resistant finishes, and dehumidifying the room before applying a finish is the first step. But in case you do end up with the white wood, the above fixes will serve you just right.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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