Beginner Restoration Skill Level Tips and Tricks

Wood Bleaching

Bleaching, is not just for white clothes. Yes, you can bleach wood but there are some important steps to follow, today I will talk about the wood bleaching process.

Wood Bleaching Product Options:

  1. Household bleach – This can remove stains in wood, but will not effect the wood’s natural color. Also, in my experience it does not do as well of a job removing water marks other defects from age and wear.
  2. 2 Part Wood Bleach – Very strong two part bleaching system. This works quickly. It is great at removing dark stains and can change the color of the wood.
  3. Oxalic Acid – This is commonly used to remove water stains and to even out weathered wood. However, because it is considered highly toxic I typically have opted out of using this one. Please do more research before making this your choice and get a good respirator.

The Test Subjects

I tested the first two listed above on these two oak tables. My client wants a gray-ish stain on these tables so I want to cut as much of the orange as I can.  Table on the left I am going to use a standard house hold bleach (100% undiluted). Table on the right I am going to use A-B wood bleach.

You can see there are water rings in the wood as well. In my experience household bleach will not take those completely out.  I have already stripped and cleaned these tables. I have not done any sanding other than clean up with a #4 steel wool.

comparison on wood bleaching
oak table and wood bleach

This one is the standard house hold bleach.  It just appears saturated.  The color remained unaffected. Notice top left of the table.

wood bleach

This one is the 2 part wood bleach. You brush on part A, and immediately follow up with part B. Once you see the foam starting you know that it’s doing its job.

Now I wait a few hours before assessing the progress… stand by……………….


Here we are after bleaching. You can clearly see the household bleach did not do as good of a job as the two part bleach. Note that two part bleach can clearly result in blotching.  Clean up and sanding usually takes care of that. Or you can go back over with part B.

wood bleaching
wood bleaching on oak

The above picture is household bleach close up on the water rings.

Wood bleaching

This one is two part bleach close up on the water rings.


  1. Start with raw wood sanded with a 100-180 grit sandpaper. You need to open the grain of the wood so the bleach can soak into it.
  2. Dust off and then choose your type of wood bleach.
  3. Let dry, I wait till the next day to really see what results I have.
  4. Neutralize (see below)
  5. Sand again 150-180 grit. You have soaked the two a few times which has raised the grain you will need to sand once dry.


It is important to note the role of neutralizing the alkaline effect of bleach. When you bleach your whites while doing laundry you always need a rinse cycle with vinegar to re-neutralize. Same holds true with wood. If you don’t re-balance the chemical nature from the bleach, it will eat way at your clothes and make holes, or could damage the clear finish you put on the top. I will use a combination of 50% water 50% vinegar when neutralizing (This is a weak mixture). There are chemical reactions that can occur if you mix vinegar and bleach so please use caution.

Wood Types 

Also note that different species of wood will respond differently to bleaching. After a tornado hit a local town, we were contracted to restore six cherry dining room chairs with water damage. We had to strip off the old finish and bleach the chairs because of the dark marks. The cherry wood had a bad reaction to the bleach and turned the chairs green! (Straight up green, I am not kidding.) We were so fortunate to have such understanding clients. We had to ultimately paint the chairs and cover up the cherry wood.

Thank you for reading this weeks blog! Let me know about your bleaching experiences.  Be sure to take caution when bleaching and neutralizing be sure to work in a ventilated area too. You can read more on bleach from Bob Vila here.

Happy Bleaching,

Tara Lou

Update 3/3/20 and 8/31/20

Another Bleaching Job

I recently refinished a dresser that had some scary dark marks on the top. Thankfully the marks came out with some wood bleaching take a look at the pictures to see for yourself.

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Wood Bleaching
Tara Lou

Mama, wife, furniture connoisseur, small business owner, nature-lover, homebody, hunter.

8 thoughts on “Wood Bleaching

  1. Wow the last dresser is amazing? But did you poly it? and if so, did it loose that night white wood color?

    1. Hi Justine, The client wanted it stained to a walnut color and clear coated so I did not clear coat it. Typically to see what it would look like clear coated I spray water on the top to get a good idea of the tone differences.

    1. Yes Suzanne thank you. After the bleach is dry you need to neutralize it so the alkaline in the bleach does not eat away at the finish you plan to apply after completion. Not applying a finish to protect raw wood can result in wood warping and other damage. I did update the page to include the 50/50 ratio of vinegar and water (a weak mixture of vinegar). In addition I have included Bob Vilas website which discusses many of the same techniques I use. As always when wood working you need to use caution and read product labels.

  2. Hi! Which process did you use for the bottom cabinet? We’re going to try doing our ceilings and I love the results of that cabinet!

    1. I did the two part wood bleach but you might want to do oxalic acid for something like that. Be sure to wear respirators gloves and eye wear!!

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