How to Lighten Stained Wood (Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Lighten Stained Wood

To make dark wood lighter, wipe away any dust on the wood. Spread a thin coat of 2-part wood bleach solution across the wood surface and let it sit for 30 mins. After that, use awhite vinegar solution to neutralize the wood bleach before wiping it clean with a wet cloth.


2. Sand and Bleach the Floor

Sand, going with the grain of the floor, to remove the hard surface finish. Sand edges by hand to avoid damaging baseboards or sanding across grain. Bleach with A-B or chlorine wood bleach to remove all of the color.

2. Dip a Piece of Cloth in the Mixture

Dip a clean, soft cloth – old white T-shirts, diapers or microfiber cloths work well – in the mixture and wring it out until almost dry.

Bleach and Other Chemical Options

Bleaching the stain can be a great source for removing hard or larger stains. By using wood bleach you may be able to lighten the stain or remove it altogether. Depending on what caused the stain to begin with and how long it’s had to penetrate the wood, different chemical solutions may work better. Chlorine works well for stains caused by food, blood, and other related items.

White Vinegar is great for all stains, but best fo

White Vinegar is great for all stains, but best for those where you want to simultaneously get rid of a smell. You can also use it for areas that are beginning to mold or mildew to get ahead of darker stains.

Extra tip: If you add a little baking soda to your vinegar, it’ll create a paste that you can smooth out over the stain and leave to dry for maximum impact.

How much does it cost to pay a professional to lighten your hardwood floors?

The average cost of hiring a professional to lighten your hardwood floors comes out to be $1,500.00 but could be more depending on the size of the area that requires refinishing. This may seem like a daunting project but it is achievable to do yourself! All it takes is hard work and time!


  • Work in a well-ventilated area when working with mineral spirits or bleach since it can create harmful vapors.

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  • Wear safety glasses and gloves while handling strong chemicals since they can cause irritation.

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Here are Some Important Tips for DIY Enthusiasts

Now that you’ve known how to stain wood a lighter color, here are few tips to keep in mind.

# 1: Start by buying your standard stain and checking if it is oil-based or water-based. Then, proceed to look for a natural stain with the same base before buying.

# 2: Use mineral spirits to dilute oil-based stains if you cannot find the natural wood stain.

# 3: Use water to dilute water-based stains if you cannot find a natural wood stain. 

6. Don’t Pour the Bleaching Solution Directly Onto the Floor

As mentioned, applying a bleaching product is pretty much like applying paint. You put it layer by layer so pouring bleach directly onto your floor is a big no-no. Instead, just get some paintbrush or a soft rag and apply a small amount of bleach onto the wood. Then slowly work your way around the entire area that needs bleaching.

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How to stain dark wood lighter

If you are using a pigmented stain, you’ve tested an inconspicuous area and like the effect, and you wish to proceed, here’s what to do. Follow the instructions at the start of this article where I describe the removal process for varnish or polyurethane. Then lightly sand the area using 120-grit sandpaper to smooth down the grain before vacuuming and cleaning the surface.

Once the wood is clean and dry, apply your pigmented stain to the manufacturer’s directions. Use the number of coats necessary to lighten the underlying stain and gain your desired effect. Once the stain is dry, apply your chosen clear topcoat.

How to lighten dark stained wood floors

If you have a stained wooden floor that’s too dark for your liking, all of the solutions described in this article will work. However, floors are a larger expanse and require a bit of thought. For a large floor, the simplest way would be to hire a floor sander and edge sander and sand the floor back to remove the topcoat and stain. You can use a belt sander for a smaller area and do it by hand. Start by using 80-grit sandpaper before working your way to 100-grit, then finish with 120-grit. Clean, dry, and vacuum the floor before applying the stain of your choice and resealing with a clear coat.

Read More: Do You Have to Seal Stained Wood?

If you wish to use the bleach method, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it as bleach can soften the wood fibers, making the floor more easily damaged from foot traffic and furniture. However, here’s what to do if you’re adamant bleach is the right way for you. 

While varnish stripper will remove the top coat, you might also choose to use lacquer thinner or denatured alcohol, depending on which clear coat product was used. You can test a small area to see which softens the finish.

If you are using thinner or denatured alcohol, professionals use the trick of laying out rags or newspapers on the floor and soaking them in the liquid. Be sure you have adequate ventilation, use an appropriately rated mask, and extinguish all ignition sources! Once the finish is soft, use a scraper to remove it. With the topcoat removed, sand the floor with 120-grit sandpaper to lift the remaining stain.

Give the floor a good final vacuum and wash to remove all residue and allow it to dry. Now apply the bleach solution as described in the bleaching section, then neutralize the floor before allowing it to dry again. Now apply your chosen stain or surface finish.

4. Don’t Apply Too Much Bleach

Go easy on the bleach. You don’t have to put it in all at once. It’s just like putting paint. You don’t put all the paint at once. You apply it layer by layer until you achieve your desired results.

Furniture Refinishing Cost

One of the things I love about Facebook Marketplace finds is that you can achieve a really nice piece on a budget with some elbow grease. But realistically, furniture refinishing costs can vary based on what you already have on hand, the size of your piece, and how many failed attempts you have. 😉

For my pine cabinet, I paid $150 to the seller, then had to purchase sand paper, different waxes I was considering, gloves, face masks for sanding, steel wool, putty knife, and wood conditioner. I spent around $100 in supplies, bringing my grand total to $250 for a huge cabinet!

I’d say that’s a good deal.

I kept the old latches!
I kept the old latches!
Perfect pantry addition.
Perfect pantry addition.

Of course, everyone’s budget will be different, but the hours and hours of work go a long way to add affordable pieces to my home.

About The Author

							Dr. Sara Austin

Dr. Sara Austin

Best known for being “not that kind of doctor” and never knowing which fork to use, Sara is a learning designer and writer, former real estate agent, and builder with a penchant for home design and remodeling.

Staining and Refinishing

Once you’ve chosen your method of removal and gotten rid of the black stains in your hardwoods, Staining and finishing your area of work could be the next step in your journey. First, get the stain that matches your floor and apply it with a rag before letting it sit and soak in for 15-30 minutes. Afterward, make sure you wipe away any excess stain to prevent leaving behind awkward lines. Once you’ve waited for the floor to completely dry, you can top-coat the area with wood varnish, lacquer or wax to match the original finish. 

Keep in mind that with all of these suggestions, you may not be able to remove black stains from hardwood floors. If you’re uncertain about being able to remove a stain, or what your best option may be, contacting a professional and getting their opinion is always encouraged. 

How to Eliminate the Dark Spots on the Hardwood Floors

When it comes to removing the dark spots on the hardwood floors, it’s important to know what caused these stains in the first place. This can help determine what kind of cleaning materials should be utilized to get rid of the stain without damaging the material further.

Always make sure to check the instructions on the product label before applying it on the hardwood floors. If you are unsure about the best way to remove the dark stain, it’s better to ask a professional woodworker or flooring contractor first. 

Here are two of the best ways to remove the dark spots on the hardwood floors:

Bleaching the Dark Spot 

Wood bleach is an effective solution that can eliminate black stains from the hardwood floors. They were developed to lighten the hardwood’s color and remove the blemishes found on its surface. While there are wood bleach brands available in the market, there are also a few homemade solutions that can work in getting rid of the dark spots, such as:

  • Chlorine – Bleaching agents made from chlorine are effective in removing food, blood, and ink stains.
  • White Vinegar – Aside from removing the stain on the floors, white vinegar can also help eliminate the odor of the hardwood floors. Just mix a cup of warm water with a cup of white vinegar to get rid of the dark spots. Scrub the stained area using a rug until the dark spot is gone, then pat the place dry.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – Like white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide can also eliminate both stain and odor from hardwood. Soak a clean cloth on the chemical and place it on top of the stain. Leave the cloth there for at least 8 hours or until the stain is gone.
  • Baking Soda – This cleaning material is typically mixed with vinegar to create a paste. The mixture will be applied to the stained area and left to dry. Wipe the paste with a microfiber cloth when the black stain is gone.
  • Oxalic Acid – This acid is effective in eliminating rust and water stains in wood. It can also lighten the graying effect that occurs in exposed wood. However, oxalic acid is considered a highly toxic chemical. When utilizing this substance, make sure to follow the instructions and other safety practices.

Sanding and Refinishing the Hardwood

If the cleaning and staining products fail to remove the dark spots on the floors, there’s a huge chance that the damage has already set in and penetrated the finish. The best thing you can do to remove them is to sand and refinish the hardwood.

Fine grit sandpaper can be utilized to scrape the stained layer. Make sure to scratch in the wood grain’s direction when removing the stain. After scraping the surface, use a vacuum cleaner to remove the wood dust and clean up the area. Check the area to see if there are any parts of the stain left on the surface.

Once all the dark spots are gone, it’s time to stain and refinish the area. Find a stain that matches the floor’s color. Use two shades of stain and mix them to achieve accurate colors. Apply the stain on the hardwood floors using a rag and leave it for about 30 minutes.

Ensure that all excess staining solutions are wiped clean because they might leave behind awkward lines on the material. When the staining is done and the floor is completely dry, apply the topcoat with wax, wood varnish, or lacquer.


A few things to consider when lightening wood floors include using the right tools and sandpaper grit, knowing how to maintain the newly lightened hardwood floor, and understanding realistic results.

Darker When Wet

Don’t worry if the floor looks darker than you want it to look after you’ve applied the polyurethane or light stain. It will usually look darker while it’s wet and lighten up as it dries. To avoid having to redo anything, always test a small section of the floor before applying anything to the entire hardwood floor.

Sanding Between Coats

You will only need to sand between coats if you are using a water-based sealer. If you do sand between coats, always follow up with a tack cloth to pick up minute particles and leave it smooth before adding a new layer of coating.

However, to be sure, always follow the manufacturer’s suggestions and directions for use from the sealer you choose.

Proper Tools and Sanding

Use a sanding pad with different grit levels. Usually, be prepared to use three levels of sanding starting with the 60 grit, 254 microns, then 80 grit, 165 microns, and finally 100 grit, 122 microns.

You may also need:

  • A drum sander
  • A palm sander with a 60 grit, 254 microns, pad
  • Plastic scraper to remove stubborn stain
  • A drop cloth
  • Wet/dry vac or other type of vacuum
  • Broom
  • Clean cloth, sponge, or paintbrush
  • A T-Bar
  • Rubber gloves
  • Mask
  • Goggles

It is best to completely sand down to the natural wood to get the best results. However, you can gently use steel wool to help remove any existing stain. Or, you can use a furniture stripper to remove the stain.

Safety Concerns

Be sure to wear a mask to avoid inhaling wood dust or vapors. If you want, also wear goggles to protect your eyes and gloves. Additionally, if you have a central, forced air cooling or heating system in the house, turn it off so no wood dust or fumes gets blown throughout the house.

Maintaining the New Floor

Refinishing the floor every 5 to 10 years will help to keep the wood looking its best. Use mineral spirits to maintain a lighter look.

Realistic Expectations

Keep in mind that the lightest color you will be able to lighten your wood floors to will be its natural wood grain. The only exception to this rule is if you choose to bleach or whitewash the floor to make it even lighter or white.

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