how to lighten dark stained wood

How to Lighten Dark Stained Wood: 3 Simple Methods

To give wood a neat and more polished look, applying a wood stain is the extra touch for it to blend with your interiors and make it stand out too. However, applying your own wood stain can be one worth flaunting or will end up failing if you don’t get the exact shade of the stain you always pictured. But wood stains are not permanent, and you can undo this mistake if you know the right methods on how to lighten dark stained wood. Follow our simple steps and tips to lift up your spirits and that dark, bitter stain.

How to Lighten Dark Stained Wood with 3 Simple Methods

Safety Precautions

To lighten dark stained wood is a task that you should not take lightly. This simple project includes substances with toxic chemicals that can be harmful if mishandled. For your safety, here are our tips before you get started on lightening up that dark stained wood.

  • Work in an open, well-ventilated area. This will ensure that you get adequate air circulation and prevent suffocation from toxic fumes.
  • Work on a clean surface. This not only applies to the workshop, but also the wood material you’ll be staining. Prepare the wood by cleaning it with a damp cloth and mild soap-like dishwasher liquid. Let it dry completely before applying any solvents or using abrasive tools on the surface.
  • Wear your safety gear. Safety goggles, a respirator mask, and gloves are a must-have for this assignment.

Method 1: Scrub and Scrape

One of the easiest and most practical methods to lighten dark stained wood, you’ll only need a few supplies, but it takes some more time and extra handwork.

What you will need

  • Furniture refinisher or mineral spirits (both will yield the same result)
  • Superfine or extra-fine steel wool mit (for a smooth finish)
  • Sandpaper 
  • Clean rags
  1. First look for the direction of the wood grain. Using your steel wool mit, gently scrub following the grain to lift the stain off. You’ll gradually gather some dust from the dark stain.
  2. Dampen a clean rag with your choice of furniture refinisher or mineral spirit. Wipe this along the surface and let it dry to reveal the lightened stain.
  3. If you want the stain to be lighter, go over the area again with your fine steel wool mit, followed by a wipe of the furniture refinisher or mineral spirit. 
  4. Repeat the process of altering between scrubbing with the steel wool mit and wiping over with the spirit until you have achieved your desired appearance for the stain.

Method 2: Bleach Treatment

This is one of the more popular methods, using many times that are readily available at home. 

What you will need

  • Finishing stripper (this solution is similar to mineral spirit but is compatible when it comes in contact with bleach)
  • Bleach
  • Vinegar
  • 180-grit Sandpaper
  • Plastic scraper
  • Flat paintbrush
  • Clean rags
  1. Using a clean paintbrush, coat the wood in a finishing stripper, following the instructions on the product label. A finishing stripper should rest on the wood surface for an average of 20 minutes to dry completely. 
  2. Once the stain begins to crack or chip off, take your plastic scraper and start lifting the dark stain coat from the wood. You’ll start seeing a lighter layer but it will be uneven. 
  3. Dilute your bleach solution and brush it over the wood. Brush an even coat on each spot so you can even out the wood stain.
  4. To neutralize the color, use a damp cloth and wipe a mixture of vinegar and warm water on the wood. 
  5. Let the vinegar solution dry and clean with mild soap.
  6. To refine the surface from scraping, using 180-grit sandpaper to smoothen out the exterior. 

Method 3: Stain Dilution

This method is ideal for a dark wood stain that can be easily covered up, or if you’ve only brushed on a minimal amount of the stain to still fix the final color payoff of the stain.

What you will need

  • A wood stain of your choice (1 lighter, and the darker stain used)
  • Flat paintbrush
  1. In a mixing bowl or tray, combine the darker stain and lighter stain to create a lighter shade of your wood stain. Add more of the light stain for it to dominate the darker hue.
  2. Mix the stains well to combine.
  3. With a flat paintbrush, apply it over your wood surface in even layers. Let the stain dry first and see if you are satisfied with the color. If not, add more light or dark wood stain to the mixture as you please. Repeat if necessary. 


Congratulations, you have just learned how to lighten dark stained wood. Dark wood stains are often thought to be an irreversible mistake once the stain has dried up. Applying a wood stain is the finishing touch to many woodworks to enhance the color of the wood and make it fit in with most set-ups. If things go wrong though, you can easily learn how to lighten a dark wood stain. These methods are beginner-friendly with tools you’ll already have in the workshop or your nearest hardware supply store.



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