How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter – 2 Easy Methods

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You’ve got dark stained wood furniture and you want to make it lighter. You will get a fresh accent piece or an item that will match the light theme home decor.

Thinking about changing the look of your dark colored wood furniture? If you want to rejuvenate this wooden piece to look good in the room, the answer is simple: removing the dark stain from the wood.

If you don’t want to work with wood bleach, you can also apply a white color tint to the wood item. This works for bare wood and stained wood. A white tint can also be applied after working with wood bleach to make the color even lighter.

Read on to find out how to make dark stained wood lighter.

how to make dark stained wood lighter

There are a variety of woods used to make furniture. Woods like Mahogany, Walnut, Ebony are dark in color. Other woods like Oak, Maple, Cedar are light-colored.

Wooden furniture is often stained with an oil or water base. If you bleach the wood over the dark stain, it may not penetrate well. However, you can use the easy or complete methods below.

Easy Method
You can apply wood bleach with a scrub brush to generally make it light.

Read on for the full instructions to remove that dark stain and lighten the furniture’s color.

How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter: A Step by Step Process

To make a dark stained wood lighter, work in a well-ventilated area. Apply the chemical stripper and then scrape it off. To further lighten the wood, remove a layer using sandpaper. Using a paintbrush, apply wood bleach on the dark stained wood. When you’ve got the desired color, triple rinse off the wood bleach. Use a tablespoon of baking soda per one gallon of water to rinse. After drying the wood, sand it to make it smooth. Apply top coat to seal the wood.

Lightening the dark stain from wood is easy. With the help of a few simple tools, you can do it on your own.

Step 1: Gather the essential equipment

You’ll be working with wood stain remover and wood bleach. It has strong fumes, so make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area or outdoors. If working outdoors, avoid direct sunlight and strong winds.

Prep your work area to prevent spills with a drop cloth. Use painter’s tape to prep your area where needed.

For your safety and skin protection, wear gloves, safety goggles, and old clothing with long sleeves.

What you’ll need:



Safety gear

Step 2: Remove the topcoat

Before starting the steps to bleach the dark wood lighter, remove the top coat first. If you begin bleaching or painting the wood in light color without removing the topcoat, it will not work well.

Your furniture may have a top protective coat of varnish of polyurethane. For latex paint, check out this article on how to remove it.

Apply the chemical or citrus stripper with a paint brush

You can use sandpaper or you can use a chemical stripper. A citrus-based stripper will also work.

Both chemical or citrus strippers are effective at removing stained dark wood.

Use a paintbrush and apply a thick, even layer.

Then let it sit for 15-20 minutes. If you see it starting to dry, you’ll need to reapply to keep the surface wet.

Scrape off the chemical stripper

Using a plastic scraper or putty knife, gently scrape off the stain remover from the wood. You’ll know it’s ready when the chemical stripper looks bubbled or swollen.

Use a steel wool pad to remove any leftover bits and then wipe the wood with a damp cloth.

Take a look at your work — nice job! At this point, the wood stain was removed and you may have the color that you want.

You can take the following extra steps to increase the lightness of the dark wood. This includes sanding off a layer of the wooden furniture.

Allow the wood to dry completely before doing further processing.

Step 2: Sand a layer of the wood

Give your wood surface 24 hours to dry before sanding.

For this step, wear a face mask and safety goggles.

Begin with medium-grit sandpaper, 100-150 grit. You can use a sanding block, but an orbital sander will save you time on large wood pieces.

use a paintbrush to add color to light wood

You’re removing the traces of the stain and stripper, as well as any imperfections. Make sure the sanding is not damaging the wood.

Use a rag to wipe off excess dust.

Next, use finer, 180-grit sandpaper until the wood looks smooth.

Wipe off the excess dust with a rag.

If you’re happy with the color of the wood now, you can skip to Step 7: Apply a topcoat.

Remember that clear varnish will add a hint of color while protecting the wood.

Step 3: Lighten the wood with wood bleach

For this part, you’ll need water and wood bleach.

And if you are working with woods like oak, ash, gum, or beech, they work great with wood bleach.

Wear safety gear before working with wood bleach.

Move your work outdoors because you will be using lots of water to wash off the bleach.

In a plastic bucket, follow the mixing instructions on the packaging. Do not mix wood bleach with other chemicals.

With a scrub brush, apply the prepared wood bleach on the wood surface.

Wait 10 minutes and reapply. Repeat until you achieve the desired lightness.

Then, triple rinse with water repeatedly. If you’re going to use a water-based finish topcoat, add one tablespoon of baking soda per gallon of water. Then use it to rinse.

Step 4: Dry the wood completely

With a clean, dry cloth, wipe the wood. Make sure to wipe all the excess moisture. Then let the wood dry.

Keep the piece of furniture in an open and dry place. Leave it overnight in the open air.

Step 5: Sand the wood to make it smooth

The whole bleaching process can make the wood grainy. To smooth that out, use fine-grit sandpaper. Sand the wood surface completely.

Keep doing this until the wood is smooth.

Step 6: Apply wood color, if necessary

This step is optional. If you are going for a different color then this is the perfect time to do that.

use a paintbrush to add color to light wood

To get an ideal light color, apply wood color or tint, like this White Color Wash. It’s a water-based layering stain that adds a white tint to the wood and lets the natural grain show through.

You can use it on already stained wood (oil or water-based stains) to add age and character.

Besuerte Mason Jar Wall Sconces Set of Two, Wall Deco
Farmhouse Wall Sconces

Step 7: Apply a topcoat

After the lightening process, you can apply a top coat on the wood. This coat will protect the wood from damage and will keep it looking good.

Keep in mind that clear varnish will add a bit of depth to the wood color.

You can use a polyurethane finish or wood varnish for this.

Take a paintbrush and apply the finish evenly on the wood. Then let the coat dry completely.


This process will also remove dark spots from wood. With an even tone, your furniture piece will look like new. You have successfully rejuvenated your furniture!

With these simple steps, lightening the color of wooden furniture will give it a fresh look.

Minwax 618604444 Color Wash Transparent Layering Color, White Wash, 1
Tip: Use a Color Wash in White to make dark stained wood lighter with by color tinting. It works on bare and already stained wood.

If you found this article on lightening dark wood helpful, please share with your friends.

Add a comment below on which piece of furniture you decided to give a makeover, or follow us on Pinterest and Facebook.

Your metal furniture can get a new look, too! Check out this post on how to paint your metal furniture.



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