How to Lighten Wood If Stain Turned It Too Dark

Sometimes after finishing wood, you may find the results unpleasant due to the stains being too much making the wood darker than you wanted. When this happens, it is possible to reverse and achieve that lighter look that you want following some simple steps. This, however, will depend on the type of wood that you are working on, and the type of finish you had earlier on applied. So, how can you lighten wood from stain?

Lightening a dark wood stain would require you to have a finish stripper, a plastic scraper, and wood bleach. You need to apply a stripper on the wood that will help to remove the top coat, especially if you had used lacquer, polyurethane, or varnish. After about 20 minutes, scrape off the finish using a plastic scraper, then apply wood bleach solution and allow it to dry.

It is also important to note that, while trying to lighten the wood stain, you need not apply the lighter stain over the darker stain. Simply because the darker stain may still become visible and may even end up ruining your finish. Therefore, you should first strip off the dark stain before you can apply the lighter one.

Also, naturally dark woods such as mahogany or walnut may not turn out too light as you can do with naturally lighter wood such as pine or cedar. However, you can make them look better than they are by following the steps that we will discuss herein.

You should also avoid staining some woods due to their natural textures since staining may not work well on all the woods. But before staining, you should first prepare them the proper way.

How To Lighten Wood After Staining in 6 steps

The most common way to lighten wood is to bleach it. This is normally the case with too dark stains that may not be achieved with other methods. It is also a simple process so long as you have the chemicals and supplies for the task.

What you will need:

  • Paint stripper (Best price for great quality)
  • Wood bleach
  • Vinegar
  • Plastic paint scraper
  • Paintbrush
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Piece of clean cloth.

Lightening process

These are the steps to lighten the wood stain that turned too dark:

Step 1: Apply paint stripper

As we mentioned, you ought to remove the darker stain first before you can apply a lighter stain. Using a paint stripper is a good way to remove the darker stain.

In this step, apply the paint stripper and let it stay for about 20 minutes. It is always the best practice to apply this while in a well-ventilated place. This will help you avoid inhaling dangerous or toxic chemicals that would otherwise be harmful to your health.

Step 2: Scrape off the wood finish

After 20 minutes of paint stripper application, scrape off the finish with a plastic scraper. While scraping maintain a gentle angle that would not leave some marks when you are done with scraping. In addition to that, it is a good practice to work along the grain so that you don’t leave out some visible marks on the wood.

Step 3: Apply the bleach

Before you apply any bleach, you should first know the type of wood that you are dealing with. For naturally light wood, you can use oxalic acid bleach (click to check our tutorial) but for naturally darker wood. you can use 2-part bleach.

Using oxalic acid

As we have mentioned, oxalic acid bleach is good for naturally light wood. Therefore, you need to apply the bleach thinly with a paintbrush and leave it for about 30 minutes.

After leaving it to settle for 30 minutes, wipe with a clean and wet cloth to remove any bleach or chemical that may have been in excess. Now leave it to dry overnight and check later for the results. If you are happy with the new color, then you may proceed to step 4.

Using 2-part bleach

This works for naturally dark wood or if there are too much of dark stains that you want to remove. Just like when using oxalic acid bleach, you need to mix the solution of 2-part bleach as instructed in the packaging. After you have mixed, you can use a paintbrush as well to apply the solution gently over all the sides of the wood.

Step 4: Apply top coat

Now you have the luxury to choose the type of topcoat that you want. You can for example use polyurethane finish or wood lacquer.

In this step, you need to apply the finish gently using the paintbrush until you are satisfied with the results. You should not that the coat will work to protect the wood from damage while giving it a light good look.

How to lighten stain with vinegar

Using vinegar is also an alternative way to lighten the stain. This can work well for dye or other mild stains. What you need to do is to wash all the wood surfaces that you want to lighten with damp cloth and washing liquid, and check if there are still stains. If the stains are still there on the surface, add a few drops of vinegar and baking soda and rub them on the surface. After rubbing consistently, now use a damp cloth to wipe clean and let it dry.

How to remove dark stain from wood

There are options that you can use to remove dark stains from wood. The first one is what we have discussed. That is bleaching using oxalic acid or 2-part bleach. Another option is using vinegar as we have discussed.

There is also an alternative method of using steel wool. In this method, you need to rub the wood gently along the grain with wet warm steel wool. Do this consistently as you observe the stain until you are satisfied.

After that, use a wet shop cloth and apply some mineral spirits and remove all the wood stain along the grain of the wood. Continue with this process while alternating rubbing with steel wool and applying mineral spirits. You can also change the shop cloth that you use to apply the spirit whenever it gets dirty, especially if you are dealing with too much stains.

When you are satisfied with the new light color of the wood, then use a damp clean cloth to do the final cleaning and remove all the excess mineral spirits.

Things to remember when lightening wood stain

  • Always work in a ventilated area when dealing with bleaching chemicals.
  • Always work along the grain of the wood, or in the same direction as the grain so that you don’t damage the wood, especially when sanding or using the steel wool method.
  • Choose the right bleaching agent that is effective for the intensity of the stain and the type of wood you are working on.
  • Use the right amount of bleach treatments to avoid making the wood look dull afterward.

Final thoughts…

In summary, there are different alternatives that you can try to lighten wood if the stain turned too dark. Like we discussed, the most effective and most used method is bleaching. On bleaching, you can either use oxalic acid or 2-part bleach. This depends on the nature of the wood.

If you are working with naturally dark wood, it is recommended that you use 2-part bleach that will remove most of the wood stains and oxalic acid if you are working on naturally lighter wood.

In addition to that, there are also other methods that you may want to try such as using steel wool and mineral spirits or using vinegar as we discussed.

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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