How to lighten dark wood stain

How to lighten dark wood stain

Whether you are attempting to lighten the natural color of wood or alter the shade of an existing applied wood stain, the process is pretty much the same. Bleach is the secret weapon, and choosing the right type of bleach is the determining factor in your success.

Ready, Set, Go

Before starting the process of lightening the color of your wood, use a finish removal product to strip the wood of any previously applied finishes. Choose the proper type of bleach for your particular job, and apply according to manufacturer directions. For lightening the natural color of wood, or evening out the variation in color between heartwood and sapwood, use a two-part bleach of sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide, available as a kit. Chlorine bleach works best for simply lightening an existing color stain or removing minor spills and blemishes. To lighten weathered wood or deep stains from water rings, ink and pigmented stains, choose oxalic acid, which is typically labeled as “wood bleach.”

Easy Does It

Results of bleaching stain vary according to the wood, so first do a pre-test on a small hidden area. Always wear gloves and protective eye goggles, and immediately use water to rinse off any bleach that touches your skin. Follow manufacturer directions for mixing and application.

How to lighten dark wood stain

Applying exterior wood stain is not difficult; however, you do not always know the final result until it is too late to do anything about it. When you first apply an exterior wood stain, it will look much lighter than it will be after it dries, and in our haste to finish a project, we might rush to put on a second or third coat to darken the stain. Then, when the exterior wood stain is finally dry, it is suddenly darker than you originally wanted. There is a way out your predicament, however, and this article will show you how to fix a dark stain by lightening it. This process does assume you have already removed the topcoat of varnish or polyethylene.

Prepare the Object

Regardless of what you are lightening, you want to make sure you prepare properly. If you are working on a door then you want to remove it from its hinges. Lay down a drop cloth and place the item on top of it. You must also prepare yourself before starting, so put on a pair of protective glasses, vinyl gloves, and a mask to protect your eyes, skin, and lungs from debris, chemicals, and harmful fumes.

Sand the surface of the item down in the direction of the wood grain to remove debris and oil from the object. Brush away the dust afterward with a clean paintbrush, paying special attention to grooves and ornate areas. Follow up by rubbing the entire object with a tack cloth.

Mix the Bleaching Solution and Apply

When you use bleaching agents it is always best to follow the instructions on the containers. Some products want you to mix the two bottles together in unequal or equal amounts while others want you to apply each agent to the object separately. After you’ve consulted your product’s directions, use a sponge to apply it to surfaces of the item that are flat. For the areas that ornate or grooved, use a paintbrush.


Bleach can continue to work for hours or days after you have applied it, so it needs to be neutralized when you’re finished. As with the bleach, you will want to follow the instructions on the neutralizing agent containers. The application is done the same way as the bleach but with new, clean applicators. Be thorough, as it is important to get all of the bleach off of the item. You can also use hydrogen peroxide and vinegar solution to further neutralize the bleach. Apply this with a sponge.

Finish Up

You do not want the neutralizer to sit on the wood for too long so use a sponge dipped in rinse water to wipe the solution off. Try not to saturate the wood too much with water. Then, allow the object to air dry for at least 24 hours. When it is dry, sand the surface down, and use the brush to remove the dust. Finish with another wipe from a tack cloth and you’re finished.

How to lighten dark wood stain

With the help of a variety of products, you can easily change the color of your stained fence. You can decide to borrow color ideas from your surroundings or your neighbors or you can decide to make a bold style statement and stand out.

Most people today are environmentally conscious, but it’s hard to avoid using the VOCs and chemical toxins found in stains and paints. However, you can still get earth-friendly exterior finishing products like water-based acrylic, vegetable-based stains, recycled paint, and products that contain zinc oxide as the necessary fungicide. Whether you’re trying to lighten the natural color of your wood or change the shade of an existing wood stain, the process is the same. Bleach is the best weapon for the job and selecting the right type of bleach will determine your success.

Types of wood fences that are good for your home

The type of wooden fence you choose to add to your home will largely depend on your budget, climate, and how long you plan to stay in your home. The most popular woods used for fencing include hardwood and softwood, but this can be confusing since the names don’t always correspond to the tree’s hardness. Softwoods work well for construction and are very popular for building wooden fences.


Cedar has natural acids and oils that repel insects which makes it ideal for building a long-lasting and attractive fence. It has a tight grain, few knots, warps less, and has a desirable red hue. However, it’s not impervious to soil as treated wood so it will rot after several years so it’s recommended that you install a concrete base or secure it to fence posts with treated wood. As it ages it turns to a silvery gray, but for long-lasting color and protection, you can apply a penetrating sealant after installing and annually.


A softwood that is very easy to work with because of its soft texture. It has a light color with a creamy white shade, but other varieties have a super white color or a yellowish-white tone. Their lightness makes it very easy to stain with any color you want and you don’t need to use more than one coat. It has prominent grains with darker knots giving the fence a unique appearance and doesn’t shrink.


A great alternative to cedar as it’s also insect resistant and has few knots. The odor from this wood can cause respiratory irritation so if you’re scent sensitive avoid this wood. Although it’s resistant to both rot and insects, if dried improperly it will warp and twist.


This is beautiful and durable wood, but very costly and most commonly used for wood fencing. Its overall aesthetic appeal and quality make it worth the expense. It’s advisable to treat your fence with a stain or apply a clear oil sealer to prevent your fence from turning gray. It’s insect-resistant and long-lasting.

How to lighten color stain in the fence

Before you start your lightening project, you need to wear protective glasses, vinyl gloves, and a face mask to protect your skin, eyes, and lungs from the chemicals, dust, and harmful fumes. Sand the surface down following the direction of the wood grain to remove all the oil, dust, and debris on the surface of your fence. Afterward, use a clean paintbrush to brush off the dust and pay close attention to the grooves and ornate areas. Then use a tack cloth to rub the entire fence.

When you’re beaching wood, you can either go for a mild treatment and use oxalic acid or a stronger treatment that requires a 2-part wood bleach solution. If you’re going to use oxalic acid follow the instructions on the label when you mix the crystals in the water. For the 2-part bleach, pour equal amounts of both parts of the bleach into a bucket and stir properly. The oxalic acid will lighten the stain slightly which is ideal on naturally light wood, while the 2-part bleach will remove most of the color and it can also lighten the natural color of dark wood. You can use both types of bleach on a water-based stain or oil-based stain.

Use a paintbrush to apply a thin coat of the bleach on your entire fence so that it lightens evenly. Let it sit for about 30 minutes for it to change the color of the wood stain.

After application, bleach can continue to work for hours even days, so you need to neutralize it with a white vinegar solution. Mix warm water and white vinegar in equal portions in a large bucket and stir properly. Dip a clean cloth into the solution and remove the excess liquid, then wipe the entire fence. Make sure you clean every area of any bleach and vinegar on the surface.

Let the fence dry overnight or 2 days depending on the humidity and weather in your area, then sand the surface down following the direction of the wood grain so you don’t leave any scratches and use a brush to remove the dust.

Use a polyurethane finish or a top coat of your choice to seal the wood. Use a paintbrush with natural bristles to paint a thin coat of the finish on your entire fence following the direction of the wood grain. After spreading the polyurethane finish, go over the area with your paintbrush using long strokes to remove any bubbles or uneven application. Remember not to shake the polyurethane can because it will form air bubbles which will ruin your finish. The protective finish gives your fence a fresh appearance, prevents it from fading in the sun’s harsh rays, and prevents it from rotting during the wet season.


With time, a dark stained fence can become dreary, but you can lighten the color of the stain to give it a new appearance and a fresh look. Wood is typically stained and it’s only skin deep so you can easily change the color whenever you want.

Follow these best and worst practices of working with bleach to bring new, lighter life to old wood furniture.

How to lighten dark wood stain

When debating whether to stain or paint an old piece of wood furniture, consider this third, often overlooked alternative: bleaching wood. This finish can help you mirror Scandinavian design, which often features “blond” wood to bring a lighter look to your space. Plus, if your piece is blotchy or discolored, bleaching wood is a great way to prep it for a new stain. While bleaching isn’t difficult to DIY, it does put you in direct contact with some caustic stuff. For safe, effective results, keep these top tips in mind.

DO know your bleaches.

The types of bleach available at your grocery store have varying degrees of effect on wood furniture.

  • Common laundry bleach or chlorine will effectively remove stain or dye color from wood, but will not affect the wood’s natural color.
  • “Two part” A/B peroxide-based bleaches refer to sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and hydrogen peroxide. Combined, they cause a chemical reaction that creates bleach that will blanch the stain color and can also alter the color of the wood itself.
  • Oxalic acid will remove water and rust stains, plus teak stain, and can be used to lighten the graying effect of weather-exposed wood. Note: Some restorers consider oxalic acid highly toxic, since the crystal form it typically comes in can be inhaled and cause lung bleeding. Many recommend using the A/B bleach for safer practices and greater overall bleaching power.

DON’T pour bleach into a metal vessel.

Bleach can damage metal; glass or ceramic bowls are the best choices to contain bleach as you work it over wood.

How to lighten dark wood stain

DO clean your wood.

Wipe it down with water or mineral spirits on a clean, soft rag, then go over every surface with a dry cloth. Wait a day or two for it to dry thoroughly before bleaching.

DON’T expect all wood to react the same.

The best woods for bleaching include oak, beach, ash, and gum. Varieties like poplar and pine are already so light that removing further natural wood color might render them bland and lifeless. Others, like cedar, redwood, rosewood, and cherry don’t take bleach well.

DO work in a ventilated open space.

As these bleaching agents are highly caustic, you have to take adequate steps to protect yourself. Start with the space: It should be well ventilated by open windows and operational fans, and, ideally, include a work surface that is concrete (the acidic aspect of bleach can damage many other materials). Always wear rubber gloves and eye goggles when bleaching wood—and, if using oxalic acid (view example on Amazon), also don a dust mask. Long sleeves and full-length pants will also help you minimize exposed skin.

DON’T get sloppy!

Apply bleach carefully and evenly with a clean, soft rag or paintbrush, in smooth, seamless coats. It’s difficult to correct uneven bleaching, so be mindful and wipe off any excess immediately with a dry rag.

DO neutralize wood between treatments.

To get your desired shade, you may go from chlorine to a peroxide-based two-part bleach (view example on Amazon). Before moving from one to another, soak a clean rag in a 50-50 white vinegar and water solution. Apply with clean rags, then wipe again with plain water. Let dry thoroughly overnight before the next bleach process.

DON’T mix the bleach ahead of time.

As soon as the agents mingle, the bleaching power is activated and begins to dissipate—meaning you’d have to work really fast. It is a fairly pricey product, so consider mixing smaller working batches of about one cup at time to ensure it stays active throughout the application.

DO neutralize your finished piece.

Upon the last dose of bleach, let your project dry for at least four hours. Then, working quickly, wipe it down with a rag soaked in a 50-50 water and white vinegar solution. Next, wipe it dry with a clean rag, and finally wipe it down again with clean water, drying well with a clean, dry, soft cloth. Let dry completely for two days before applying a stain or other treatment. Neglecting to neutralize after your final application may leave lingering bleach to chemically react with whatever finishing stain or varnish you apply next.

DON’T forget to sand.

Once you’ve bleached, neutralized, and dried the wood, you’ll find the grain has become coarse. Sand it with a 120-grit sandpaper then finish it with a 180- or 220-grit paper for a smooth finish.

DO experiment with bleach.

Consider using bleach as a first step towards a final product, especially since bare bleached wood is susceptible to everything from scratches to water damage. The neutral palette of a freshly bleached wood can be the starting point of all kinds of funky wood finish treatments, like “bone” or “pearl.” “Blond mahogany,” a popular finish in the ’40s and ’50s that’s enjoying a bit of a comeback, is achieved by bleaching wood with a two-part A/B bleach, followed by a light sanding and a mustard-colored pigment stain. Whatever finish you choose will protect your piece and make it pop with new life.

When we’re working on restoring our furniture at home, most of us encounter some problems when it comes to staining the wood furnishings. So, what’s the first thing you should do to correct this? I’ve experienced this a lot especially since I refurbish and repaint all my furniture by myself.

It took me a couple of tries before I was able to successfully stain my furniture. Many of my friends who are also DIY moms, often ask me how to reduce the color of the wood stain. This is why I decided to come up with article to teach you and others who encounter the same problem on how to lighten dark stained wood furniture.

Gather The Materials

Before you alter the stain of your wooden furniture, just be aware that this task requires time, energy and patience. On the other hand, it saves you money and allows you to reduce your stress. According to medical experts, using your hands creatively can help minimize anxiety and stress.

It can be a fun, relaxing, and challenging task to take on. Dark wooden furniture may represent elegance and masculinity but if you want a fresh and new aura in your interior, a light stain will do just the trick. It can transform any dark furniture to an airy and bright fixture to go with you’re the look that you want.

When you are applying your stain, don’t be surprised if the wood appears to get darker because this is the natural process. If your existing furniture is finished with a top coat such as varnish, lacquer or polyurethane, don’t forget to remove or strip it before you start lightening your furniture.

Follow These Steps

Here are some simple and easy steps you can follow to achieve that look.

  1. Take out all the drawers , doors and hardware from your furniture if there are any. Get a screwdriver to unhinge it then place it on a bench with the door facing up. The only area you need to stain is the door surface and not the entire fixture. Don’t forget to place a drop cloth underneath the bench.
  2. Gear up. Put on your goggles or eye protection, your gloves and a breathing mask to protect you from the chemicals.
  3. Apply the chemical stripper. Dip your paintbrush into the chemical stripper and spread it on the top of the drawers or door then brush it over the sides. Allow some ample time for the chemical to sit in roughly about 10 minutes.

Once the finish becomes soft, use a flat stick to scrape off the existing finish and let the strips fall on the drop cloth. Start scraping from one side until you work your way to the other end. Let it dry for at least an hour before proceeding to the next step.

Once your sandpaper is filled with the stain, replace it with a new one. Keep sanding until you all the existing stain is removed.

The trick is to wipe off the stain while it is still wet. However, you must let the stain dry completely before finishing off with a coat of lacquer. A pecan stain is a good choice for a light color. You can test it first on a spare wood to see how it will look on your furniture.

Bleaching Your Furniture

If you feel that your new stain still appears too dark for your taste, an optional step is to bleach it. You can use a wooden bleach which is one of the best solutions for lightening wood. Here are different types of bleach for you to choose from:

  • Two-part bleach – Use mineral spirits to wash the wood and let it dry for at least two days. Use a paint brush to apply the wood bleach and let it dry for approximately 10 minutes. Then apply the second part of the bleaching formula and let it sit and dry for four hours.

Use a mixture of 50% vinegar and 50% water to wash out the wood. This will help set the color. Once it dries, sand the surface to smoothen the furniture. However, take note that there may be a tendency for the bleach to affect and possibly alter the natural color of your furniture.

Appreciate Your Finished Product

After you follow all the instructions, you can now kick back, relax and appreciate your masterpiece. If it’s your first time to try lightening wood furniture then you’ll be confident to do this again with your other furniture.

Staining is simple and easy as long as you follow the steps correctly and just have a little bit of patience. Make sure you don’t rush into the project so that you can have a beautiful piece of furniture that looks new.

Did you find this article helpful? Please share it with your friends and if you have any questions, suggestions or feedback, feel free to leave us a comment.

You can lighten dark wooden furniture to suit your taste or to complement your interiors by applying a bleaching solution to wood. But how do you do this when your wood has a dark stain? This guide will show you how to lighten dark stained wood and how to get wood ready for bleaching using time-tested techniques.

Lighten dark-stained wood

Bleaching will lighten dark-stained wood. By using chemical bleaching solution, wood can become lighter and thus the grains are more pronounced. And since these are a chemical solution, be very careful that you don’t scratch the surface of the wood.

What you’ll need

  • Protective gear (gloves, goggles, and mask)
  • Varnish or stain remover
  • Bleaching solution
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Sandpaper 320 to 400 – grit
  • Finish
  • Rags


1) Prepare the area and the wood

How to lighten dark wood stain

Wear protective gear to protect you from the chemicals used to bleach wood. Remove any dirt and grime from wood by washing it with regular dishwashing soap and water. You need to do this because the bleach won’t be able to work well when the wood surface is dirty.

Needless to say, you must work in a well –ventilated area or preferably outdoors because the chemical bleach used can create toxic gasses or fumes.

2) Remove old stain

How to lighten dark wood stain

Now the old and dark stain will be removed by applying varnish or stain remover. Use a rag or brush to apply this product. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the product.

Let the varnish or stain remover settle on the area for about 5 minutes or depending on the instructions. Rinse the residue off with warm water.

You must dry wood for a day or more after using varnish or stain remover. Leave the wooden piece to a dry and ventilated area in your home for a day or two.

3) Using a two-part chemical system

How to lighten dark wood stain

There are a variety of wood bleaching products in the market but the most effective and less toxic are bleach with a two-part chemical system. This type of bleach is known to be less aggressive to health and have the ability to alter the appearance of wood without will alter the appearance of wood without affecting the wood’s natural grain and character.

Use the chemical bleach according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Usually, a package of wood bleaching product has two kinds of bleaches. Mix the two together using equal parts of the two bleaches. Mix these in a plastic container.

Dip a clean sponge in the solution to saturate the sponge. Apply the solution on wood and saturating the wood as well. Move slowly and steadily when applying bleach. Keep applying bleach until every millimeter of the surface is covered.

4) Neutralize with an acidic solution

How to lighten dark wood stain

After applying bleach, neutralize it with a solution made with equal parts of white vinegar and water. Use a clean sponge to apply this to the surface of the wood.

Rinse the wood with water with a clean sponge. Repeat this until the water runs clear from the wood surface. Water will remove all the traces of bleach and vinegar from the wood.

The wood should be dried completely and not just dry to the touch. Check manufacturer’s instructions on the drying times for the product. Usually, you can find this from the label of the product.

5) Sanding wood

How to lighten dark wood stain

Sand the wood completely with grit 320 and 400 sandpaper. This sandpaper grade will smoothen out any rough surface and remove large and uneven grains in wood grains. Sanding will leave a lot of dust and residue from the wood so after sanding, wipe the area with a damp towel.

Use the vinegar and water mixture again to neutralize wood the second time. Rinse the surface again with water and dry the area completely. The wood will appear very light after it has undergone bleaching and neutralizing twice. It is time to apply the finish. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to apply the brand of lighter finish you want to use.


You can lighten dark stained wooden furniture, flooring or wall by removing the old stain and by bleaching wood. The process may look painstaking but the rewards of having lovely lighter wood are definitely incomparable.

There are two broad categories of stain: dye that is dissolved in a liquid, and dye and/or pigment combined with a binder. The first are usually called “dye” stains and are sold either as powders for you to do the dissolving, or are already dissolved in a liquid solvent. The second are often called “wiping stains,” “pigment stains,” “oil stains,” “water-based stains” or “lacquer stains” and are the common stains you buy in cans at home centers and paint stores.

If a dye stain gets the wood too dark, try removing some of the dye by wiping with its solvent. The powder dyes labeled Lockwood and Moser (which are the same) are easier to lighten than the liquid dyes labeled “NGR” (non-grain-raising) or Transtint (which are also the same; Transtint is just concentrated).

If a pigment or wiping stain (those that contain a varnish, lacquer or water-based binder) gets the wood too dark, try removing some of the color by wiping with the thinner for the stain or with lacquer thinner or acetone. These stains are much more difficult to lighten than dye stains.

In both cases, you can also scrub the surface with steel wool or a synthetic abrasive pad together with the solvent or thinner for the stain to remove more color. Try to keep the scrubbing even over the surface so you maintain a roughly even color overall.

With dye stains, you can usually bleach out most of the color using household bleach or swimming-pool bleach. It won’t be possible to remove all the color, however, without many applications, sanding between each.

Finding the color of your wood furniture too dark? Lightening the color can be more difficult than you think.

How to lighten dark wood stain

Stains are made partly transparent in order to keep the wood’s natural grain visible. Covering a dark stain with a lighter one won’t work; in fact, it may darken the wood.

In this article we’ll talk about some ways for how to lighten stain in wood.

Method 1 – Strip and Replace

One option is to totally strip and replace the existing stain.

Apply a varnish remover to the wood and rub it in with steel wool or a wire brush.

Once you’ve removed the existing stain, the dark color will likely be gone. If not, you can sand down the wood to remove the rest of the color.

Now you can reapply the lighter stain that you prefer. This is the simplest and most effective method, but it can be time consuming.

Method 2 – Pigmented Overlap

If the above method is too aggressive, you could try applying a pigmented stain (1) over your existing stain.

Pigmented stains are less transparent. They contain some opaque coloring, like a thin paint. This helps to block out the darker stain, leaving only the newly-applied lighter color.

This will, however, obscure your wood’s grain, so be sure you’re okay with that before going down this path.

This method is effective if you want only a small change in shade.

Method 3 – Bleaching

How to lighten dark wood stain

Finally, you can try lightening the shade of the stain by applying bleach.

This is the most difficult method; if the bleach is applied (2) unevenly, it will lead to spotty results, which will look terrible. Too much bleach could strip areas of stain entirely or even damage the wood underneath.

For lightening an existing stain, use chlorine bleach. Using a small brush, first apply a test amount to a less visible part of the wood. When you are happy with the results, apply the same consistency to the entire surface.

Keep reapplying to keep the surface wet while the bleach is working. Then scrub off the remaining bleach, and wash the wood thoroughly. The color of your stain should be lightened to your liking.

Remember to go slowly and use appropriate safety gear such as gloves and goggles. Bleach can easily burn skin, as well as damage your wood.

If you want an exquisite, precise cut for your wood in addition to a lighter stain, you can look into this great CNC router option that’s really cheap.

Best of luck with your stain lightening project!

I hope you found this instruction helpful. Feel free to leave a comment below!