How to Change Wood Color From Dark to Light

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Wooden furniture can truly transform a space by adding warmth and elegance. But if you’re looking to lighten the wood’s color, tread carefully – it’s easy to unintentionally harm these pieces.

Drawing from countless wood project makeovers and customizations, I’ve put together a detailed step-by-step guide on how to safely transition the wood color from dark to light.

How to Lighten the Color of Wood With Bleaching

One of the most effective ways to lighten your furniture surfaces with a dark wood stain is by bleaching with a chemical stripper. Since chemicals will be used in this process, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area so you will not breathe in harmful fumes and prevent stains and accidents. 

lightening wood color with bleach

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

Step #1: Gather all the Tools and Cover the Floor

Before you begin, ensure that all the materials are gathered and placed on a drop cloth to cover the floor and collect any potential spills. It’s crucial to wear appropriate protective gear or clothing to prevent any chemicals from coming into contact with your skin or clothes.

Step #2: Apply the Chemical Stripper

Using a dry cloth, remove any dirt and heat stains found on the bare wood. It is important to make the wood clean before treating it with chemicals. It is also important to remove the existing varnish that might be present on your furniture to get the best results. 

Next, using a brush, dip into a chemical stripper and apply a coat on the wood surface you intend to lighten. I always allow the coat of wood stripper to set on the surface for at least 20 minutes. 

applying chemical stripper

After which, use a plastic scraper or a putty knife to gently lift off the finish and make sure to work along the wood grain. Once removed, pour some water to assess the resulting color of the wood.

Step #3: Mix the Wood Bleach Solution

Prepare and carefully mix the bleach solution as directed on the packaging. You may go ahead and mix this in a plastic bucket. 

Step #4: Spread the Wood Bleach onto the Wood

Using a brush, spread a thin coat of the bleach solution on the surface of the furniture. It is best to apply the bleach along the wood grain. I cover the entire surface and let it sit for approximately 30 minutes so it can turn dark wood lighter. 

Step #5: Neutralize the Bleach With White Vinegar

To neutralize the bleach, mix equal amounts of white vinegar and water in a bucket. Dip a clean cloth in the mixture and wipe it on the wood surface with the dark wood stain.

neutralizing bleach with vinegar

The white vinegar solution will stop the bleach from reacting and prevent the dark-stained wood from getting any lighter. Then wipe the surface clean with a damp cloth or a wet cloth. 

Allow the wood to dry overnight. You may repeat the bleaching process if you have not yet achieved the desired light color after drying.

Step #6: Sand the Wood

Once you are satisfied with the light-colored result after the bleaching treatment, it is now time to sand the surface wood completely using a 180-grit sandpaper. This 180-grit sandpaper will help restore the smoothness and level the grain of the wood. 

Keep using the sandpaper until you arrive at a smooth to the touch and visually smooth wood finish. For the best results, sand along the grain to achieve a smooth finish.

Step #7: Refinish the Surface

It is now time to apply a furnish to restore the surface protection of your wooden furniture. To do this, look for a polyurethane finish for your wood. Apply a thin coat on the wood following the direction of the wood grain. 

refinishing wooden surface

Pull your brush over the surface again in long strokes to lessen uneven application and remove any bubbles. Make sure not to shake the can of polyurethane as this will form air bubbles, compromising the polyurethane finish. 

If you want a more natural look, you can also apply beeswax for finishing wood

How to Lighten the Color of Wood With Steel Wool

Another method I often use to lighten wood is with a ball of fine steel wool. If you’re looking for a simple way to transition the wood color from dark to light, I highly recommend steel wool.

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

Plan and gather all the materials you will need which would include but not limited to the following:

Step #1: Start by Rubbing the Wood With the Steel Wool

Soak the fine steel wool in warm water and wring out the excess liquid. Then, lightly rub it on the surface of the wood. 

steel wool used on wood

Try and maintain the amount of pressure applied while rubbing along the wood grain.

Step #2: Wipe the Wood With Mineral Spirits

Using a clean cloth or rag, soak in mineral spirit and rub on the surface of the wood. Continue to wipe along the grain to start lightening the wood pigment. 

Make sure to change rags as soon as it becomes dirty.

Step #3: Rub Again With Steel Wool and Repeat Wiping With Mineral Spirits

Continue rubbing the wood with the steel wool and then wipe with the rag soaked with mineral spirits. Alternate between these two routines until the desired color is achieved. 

Using a clean cloth, remove all traces of the mineral spirits. This process will only result in a slightly lighter color of the stain.

How to Lighten the Color of Wood By the Diluting Wood Stain

Gel stain is a clear medium that can be diluted with a standard stain. This will make the wood stain lighter and thinner. Hence, this is a viable method in making dark stained wood lighter

mixing wood stain solution

This approach of diluting the gel stain with a darker wood stain before its application will help save you a lot of elbow grease.

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

Plan and gather all the materials you will need which would include but not limited to the following:

Step #1: Gather What’s Needed and Set Up Accordingly

Gather all the needed materials and arrange them by following woodworking safety rules. Sort out your standard wood stain of choice with the same bases. 

mixing wood stain solution

Take note of the colors of the stains. The stain that’s clear colored can be used as thinners when mixed with other tinted options. 

Check the ones that you have and make sure that both products are water-based stains or oil-based stains for an easy mixture.

Step #2: Start Mixing the Stain and Natural Wood Stain Equally

Pour equal amounts of your stain and the natural stain into a sealable metal container like an empty paint container. Mix with a paint stirrer until it is completely combined to become a new stain.

Step #3: Test the Color on a Piece of Wood

When I want to make a dark-stained wood lighter, I do not immediately do it on the whole furniture.  Apply some of the combined stains on a scrap wood piece. Make sure that this scrap wood has the same light color as the actual furniture you will stain. 

Allow the piece of wood to sit overnight so you have an idea of how the furniture color will appear with this lighter stain on. 

testing wood stain solution on wood blocks

If you are happy with the resulting light color of the existing stain, you may proceed to apply it to your furniture piece. 

Step #4: Adjust the Mixture by Pouring More Natural Stain

If the resulting color of the wood as a result of the stain is not to your liking, you may adjust the mixture. Add more of the natural stain one at a time, stain over the stain again, and stir it with your stir stick until completely incorporated. 

You can repeat this step until you have achieved the color of stain you desire. Then, you may continue to re-stain your piece of furniture. 

Tips and Tricks For Newbies

I would recommend a mild treatment for beginners. This involves sanding the wood stains with a 120- grit sandpaper [1] to peel it off and then reapplying the stain. This process will result in a light color on the darker stain on your wood. 

How to Remove Dark Stains From Wood Cabinets

Any dark wood stain on a piece of wood furniture can be unsightly. The best way to lighten dark wood stain from your wood cabinets is by bleaching it. 

Wipe the dark stain with a rag soaked in a two-step bleach solution. You may also use liquid laundry bleach to lighten stained wood cabinets. 


How do you change dark wood to white?

To change dark wood to white, you have to use bleach. Bleaching is one of the most effective ways to remove the dark color and make it lighter but you have to do other processes after. Once bleached, continue to strip it down and add a lighter color. 


I hope the steps I’ve shared help you transform the look of your furniture. A technique I’ve found effective in achieving a lighter, more natural wood hue is using a natural stain. 

Combining a standard wood stain with a gel stain can also be a game-changer, helping you attain just the right shade and look for your pieces.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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