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Tips and Tricks for Removing Stains on Furniture

Tips and Tricks for Removing Stains on Furniture

When hot cups or even cold drinks are left on furniture, they can sometimes leave an unsightly white or pale mark. This is where the moisture sneaks in under the surface finish but not into the timber. Hot or cold drinks spilling directly onto the surface also cause these white marks. There are a few ways to tackle these, which are very effective.

Three Ways to Remove White Moisture Rings/Marks


Coffee cup on table, contents splashing out
When hot cups or even cold drinks are left on furniture, they can sometimes leave an unsightly white or pale mark. This is where the moisture sneaks in under the surface finish but not into the timber. Hot or cold drinks spilling directly onto the surface also cause these white marks. There are a few ways to tackle these, which are very effective.


1. Using a Clothing Iron

Place a white or pale facecloth/tea towel over the marks and hold a clothing iron over the fabric briefly, checking frequently. Don't use the steam function. This effectively draws up the moisture into the fabric. Obviously, you need to be careful not to hold the iron over the patch for too long at a time and check frequently. The marks can disappear in 5-10 seconds.

2. Toothpaste 

Place toothpaste on your finger or a cloth. Rub the toothpaste with the grain of the wood until it heats. Dampen a cloth with water and then wipe away the toothpaste. Blot the water away with a paper towel or teatowel.

Make sure the toothpaste you use is white rather than the gel variety. You don’t need much, just a small blob will do the job. Scrub for a few seconds, taking care not to scrub beyond the area of the stain as it could wear the finish. Repeat the process until the stain is gone.

3. Bicarbonate of Soda

Mix bicarbonate of soda with water to remove the stain. If using water, mix 2 parts baking soda with 1 part water. Use a rag to gently scrub the stain. Wipe away the paste with a damp cloth afterwards.


Two Options For Removing Dye Stains

Maybe the little ones in the house have been doing a little lockdown decorating of the furniture! Here are two methods to restore your precious timber coffee table.

1. Bicarbonate of Soda

To remove the dye, mix baking soda with distilled vinegar or lemon juice. Make a paste that is the consistency of toothpaste. Spread it over the stain. Use a sponge to gently rub it into the wood, then wipe the paste from the area. When you're finished, rinse with a rag and plain water. You can add vinegar to the paste if the stain is particularly stubborn. You can repeat the process if the stain is still visible.

2. Isopropyl Alcohol Method (permanent marker stains)

Place a small amount of isopropyl alcohol onto a rag. Gently rub the stain to remove it. Wipe off with a damp rag afterwards to rinse. Before using, test the alcohol on the underside of the table first to ensure that it doesn’t damage the finish. Toothpaste can also be useful for removing a permanent marker stain. Rub gently though, the abrasive part of the toothpaste may damage the finish of the timber if you get too carried away.

Removing Food and Nail Polish Stains

Use dish detergent for non-greasy stains. For food and nail polish stains, try using dish detergent. Mix the soap in warm water, soak a rag in the solution, and then rub over the spot.

Rub greasy stains with ammonia. For greasy stains on wood, try using a little bit of ammonia mixed with cold water. Cover a rag with the solution, and then gently rub over the stain.

Removing Oil Stains

How should I deal with an oil spill? 

Wherever possible, the answer to this is ‘quickly’. If something oily spills onto your wooden floor or furniture, spring into action straight away. If you are able to act quickly, you can prevent stains becoming stubborn.

Blot the mark oily mark with newspaper to soak up as much of the liquid as possible. Then mix some dishwashing liquid and water, fluffing it up to create lots of bubbles. Scrape off the bubbles only to avoid adding too much moisture to the wood. Scrub over this with a scrubbing brush or similar. Dry the area thoroughly with a soft, clean cloth. 

You can use mineral spirits to wipe over a more stubborn stain - wipe away the residue with a microfibre or other lint-free cloth. The stain should vanish, leaving your wood clean and sparkling.

Using Fuller's Earth - sometimes, this is not enough for an older or more deeply penetrating stain. Your next trick is Fuller’s earth (cat litter) which is widely available and very cheap. The clay-based material is very effective for absorption of oil.

Sprinkle Fuller’s earth over the stain and leave for 10 minutes or more to absorb the oil. Scrub it off with a brush and clean with a damp cloth (with a little dishwashing liquid). Buff dry with a microfibre cloth.

For a more intense version, you can mix Fuller's earth with a little water to make a stiff paste. This is suitable for an older stain. Spread it over the mark and leave for 24 hours. Take care when you remove the caked paste so that you don’t scratch the timber.

Upholstery Stains

Fabric Upholstery - general stains, mix 1/4 cup vinegar, 3/4 warm water and 1 tablespoon for dish soap or Castile soap. Put in a spray bottle and mist the soiled area. Scrub with a soft cloth until the stain lifts. To accelerate the process, you can pat bicarbonate of soda over the damp mark. This will draw out the remaining moisture and any discolouration as well. Simply brush off or vacuum when dry.

Leather Upholstery - grease Stains - sprinkle corn flour or talcum powder over the affected area. Let it sit overnight - the starch will absorb the grease. The next morning, gently wipe the powder away with a clean, lint-free dry cloth. You may need to repeat the process more than one. You can also use dishwashing liquid to break up the grease of more stubborn stains. Rub a little over the stain and follow with the cornstarch or talcum powder.

Water Stains - if you can get to them straight away, use a microfibre cloth to soak up the water. If not, dampen a microfibre cloth with distilled water and rub over the stain, starting in the centre and working outwards in a circular motion. Allow to dry naturally. If the stain is still there, repeat the process.

Following removal of stains on leather furniture, always use a conditioner to moisturise, protect and replenish the sheen. Gilly’s Leather Care is ideal for this purpose.

Mould on Timber Furniture

Timber is porous and contains components that mould can feed on. In damp conditions, mould can flourish. Where possible, ventilating the area to reduce humidity is helpful. If mould does grow, it should be regularly cleaned to prevent staining.

Ordinary household vinegar is an excellent method of cleaning and preventing mould. Bleach is commonly used for removing mould; however, it actually bleaches the mould rather than removing or preventing it. Vinegar contains components that actually kill the spores and prevent regrowth.

There are of course, many commercially available mould cleaning preparations on the market, which you could use.

However, if you prefer to create your own natural cleaning products, this is a great recipe to use on timber of mould-prone areas:

  • 4 litres hot water
  • 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ cup of white vinegar

Mix a quarter teaspoon of oil of cloves (no more) per litre of water, put it in a spray bottle, lightly mist on. Leave for 20 minutes and wipe off.  Spray again and leave.  It will take 24-48 hours for the mould spores to dry and drop off.

Following mould removal, it's well worth an application of oil or wax (depending on your preference - see our blog on choosing a a product: Which Product Do I Need?



  • Posted by Jeanie Manser on

    Thank you for the help with removing stains on my furniture! We just had our cabinets refaced last week and ever since, the stains everywhere else stick out like a sore thumb! I’m hoping this does the job with my couches, thank you for sharing!

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