How to Fix Water-Damaged and Swollen Wood Furniture

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Even though wood is known for its durability, it’s not invincible, especially when it comes to water damage. So, instead of rushing to buy brand-new furniture, let’s explore a more practical solution.

If you’re eager to rescue your cherished pieces, I’m here to guide you through the process of repairing water-damaged and swollen wood furniture. I’ll provide you with expert advice and essential considerations to ensure a successful restoration.

All You Need to Know About Water Damage

One of the most common perpetrators of wood damage is water penetration. Water can ruin your wood pieces and cause them to swell, warp, and rot with mold. 

It’s frustrating to encounter problems with your wood, especially when it starts showing signs of damage like mold and discoloration. The sooner you notice signs of water-damaged furniture, the quicker you can fix the problem.

What Does Water-Damaged Wood Look Like?

The damages caused by excess water and termite are often interchangeable because it has the same characteristics. However, water damage is distinguishable as square-shaped cells that are often mixed with discoloration and staining. 

hardwood floor water damaged

On the other hand, termite damage looks like tunnels since the termites eat the wood out of the softer grain. 

Signs of Wood Damage Caused by Water

All wood structures, including ceiling, wood floor, or hefty furniture, no matter how well crafted, will swell up when exposed to water. Knowing the telltale signs of water damage will help you save your wood from being permanently ruined. 

Excessive humidity or unfavorable occurrences such as heavy rainfall or flooding can lead to the growth of molds, alterations in texture, and discoloration of wood, resulting in water damaged furniture.

How Water Damage Occurs and Reasons for Wood Furniture to Swell

One quality of wood that causes self-damage is its ability to absorb, and when exposed to the presence of water, will cause warping and swelling, resulting in water-damaged wood furniture. 

fixing furniture water damage

Moisture caused by a lot of factors, such as seasonal changes and humidity, will cause swollen wood to shrink. Since wood is hygroscopic, the best and most efficient way to fix water-damaged, swollen wood furniture is to allow it to dry completely. 

Wood and Moisture: What are the Effects of Water on Wood?

Depending on the type of wood, water exposure can cause different effects. One, it can cause moisture that will result in shrinkage or swelling, resulting in a damaged, swollen piece. 

Another common effect of water is the formation of molds and rot, which happens when the wood is exposed to an extensive amount of water. 

How to Insulate Your Bathroom Wood From Moisture

It’s a must to coat your bathroom furniture with lacquer or a hard coat of varnish to prevent moisture from penetrating the wood’s deep layers. 

bathroom hardwood floor

Lacquer helps retain moisture, and since it has resins, it creates an elastic and thick film on the entire surface of the wood to protect it from UV radiation and water penetration. Prepare the surface properly before applying lacquer to ensure it has a 6-year guarantee of protection.  

Clean, dry, and de-grease the wood to maximize its longevity. To protect any furniture, keeping it under the right temperature and in optimal condition is vital. 

Also, keep in mind to apply the product accordingly as indicated in the manufacturer’s instructions to fix water-damaged furniture or projects more efficiently.  

What Should You Use to Protect the wood from Moisture?

Apply double protection on your furniture to keep it safe from any water damage that can be brought about when moisture penetrates. 

mixing oil-based primer

Products such as protective primers and applying protective-decorative impregnations strengthen the wood structure keeping it invulnerable to mold, stains, and water.

Risks of Water-Damaged Wooden Furniture

Apart from being an eye sore, water-damaged wooden furniture has risks that may put one’s health in peril. 

Fungi, dirt, and mold can cause symptoms like a stuffy nose and itchy eyes and trigger skin asthma. Molds may also increase the tendency for bronchial and fungal infections. 

Types of Wood Vulnerable to Water Damage

There are many types of wood, and others may be more vulnerable to water damage. 

Mahogany board

Mahogany is one of the sturdiest and most expensive wood types, but its characteristics can speak up for its cost. It is durable and can withstand water penetration; in fact, it’s one of the most dependable woods used in boat making. 

Fixing Your Water-Damaged Wood Furniture: 9 Steps

Step #1. Dry the Wood Furniture

When starting with any repair or restoration, drying the furniture is a complete must. Excessively moist furniture is impossible to repair, and it’s better for disposal instead. 

To fix water-damaged swollen wood, leave it under the sun for a couple of hours or leave it in a well-ventilated area or even on an iron box. Don’t rush this process, as too much heat can cause the furniture to break and crack. 

Use an Iron

Water can have a surprising impact on wood, leaving behind those tricky watermarks. Ironing wood might seem like a tough task, but fear not! Here’s how you can go about it like a pro:

iron and white cloth

Step 1: Use a dry rag to wipe the visible water atop your wood.

Step 2: Turn on your iron and set it at a low temperature. 

Step 3: Put a soft cloth above the stains on your wood. 

Step 4: Press down the iron on the wood for about five to six seconds. 

Step 5: Check it every so often to check if the marks have disappeared already.

Step 6: Iron continuously until all the water stains are gone and there’s no visible swelling wood anymore.

Step #2: Use a Needle or Printer

One way to remove air bubbles from damaged swollen wood furniture is through a needle or a printer. Use a needle to pierce the swollen parts and bubbles but make sure that you pierce the side to avoid overlap on the excess materials.

bubbles on wooden surface

Step 1: Use a needle to pierce the sides of the bubble.

Step 2: Push the needle underneath the damaged wood and let the wood glue suck into the needle. Make sure to use the best wood glue for better results. 

Step 3: Let the wood glue come out on the cracks once the piece has softened already.

Step 4: Wipe the excess glue and place plastic on the crack.

Step 5: Use books to squeeze the furniture and set it out to dry.

Step 6: Let the glue feel soft in the veneer to flatten the piece back to its original shape. 

Step #3: Pull off or Stabilize Rotting Wood Pieces

Mold can be toxic both to humans and your priced furniture. If you think you’re allergic to certain kinds of mold, it’s best to consult your doctor before pulling off or removing the rotting pieces on your own. 

mold on wood

When removing mildews and mold, bring your furniture outdoors to make sure that the spores don’t fall off inside your house. After drying the furniture, apply bleach and detergent to wipe the fungi, dirt, and stains. 

Step #4: Fill the Flaws with a Filler Putty

Finding a reliable filler putty is paramount when patching up the chunks caused by rot. After putting out the rotting pieces brought by mold, your furniture pieces will certainly have missing chunks and crevices. 

Fill these uneven surfaces to fix the damaged areas or the swollen wooden side panels. 

Step #5. Sand and Cure the Wood

Sand off with sandpaper to scrape off old varnish, paints, and other impurities. Even out the wood by cleaning the entire fungi and dark spots, as aiming for perfection in this step is vital. 

Wood is a suitable material that can withstand all sorts of construction work. However, it should be prepared ahead of time to ensure it has the right moisture content percentage. 

sanding furniture

Grab a moisture meter to confirm if your wood has the right amount of moisture, about six to nine percent woodwork. Cure such if the moisture is higher than the required percentage.

Step #6: Oil and Moisturize the Wood

To protect the furniture piece from premature aging, apply oil and soak it. Soaking the wood in natural oils will improve its aesthetic appeal and prevent breaks and cracks. The oils that penetrate the structure are what hardens the furniture itself. 

Wipe the excess oil residue from the wood, and ensure that it’s squeaky clean. It’s best to use natural oils such as rapeseed oil and coconut oil rather than chemical substances, which can be toxic as well.  

Step #7: Do the Finishing

Re-apply coatings of varnish and other material that can act as a protective transparent. 

applying polyurethane

Refinishing the top surface is important as it adds a layer of moisture resistance and prevents wood from swelling. It also protects such furniture from liquid stains and water spills, making the surface easy to clean. 

Step #8: Flatten the Wood

Fix water-damaged swollen furniture by flattening wood. Use a damp cloth to wet and moisten the wood surface. The bigger and chunkier the piece is, the more water it will require to moisturize the water-damaged swollen wood.  

For larger and heavier wood, it’ll require you to repeat the process over and over until it’s moisturized enough. Flip the swollen furniture with the wet side facing down to keep the damp side of the board moist. 

This process leaves the dry side of the wood exposed to air, making the drying process easier. Use hard books to add weight to the furniture helping it flatten out evenly. 

Step #9: Treat the Wood Furniture

Shine up your furniture by treating it with polish. One way to ensure your wood’s longevity is to polish it regularly. It’s the final step, and it should be done at regular intervals to ensure that the moisture is sealed. 

Teak oil finish

A water-damaged swollen wood is more high maintenance to repair and return to its original look, so you’ll have to consider checking in with your furniture to avoid wood swells that will be difficult to treat. 

How You Can Fix a Swollen Door

It’s common to be puzzled about what the best solution is in fixing the damaged swollen door. Here are the steps you can take:

  1. Check the level of damage. Inspect for cracks and splits that may be causing the swelling. 
  2. Resize the furniture by sanding before performing the next steps in the wood restoration process. Scrub-brush or sand it to help absorb moisture.
  3. Check if the door is sealed properly at the top and bottom, as gaps can also cause swelling. To treat minimal swelling, simply unhinge the door, and let the wood dry.  
swollen door

If you’re dealing with wood that’s all swollen and damaged from water, especially if it’s in pretty bad shape, it’s a good idea to get a pro involved. They can figure out the best way to fix it up right.

How You Can Fix Your Wooden Drawer Swollen Shut

Wood is a porous material, and with the changing temperature and humidity, incidences of wooden drawers swollen shut are mainstream. Here’s a quick fix:

Preventing Water Damage: How to Protect Wooden Furniture in 3 Ways

Apart from knowing how to fix water-damaged swollen wood furniture, it’s also a must to remember to apply preventative measures for your own piece of outdoor furniture. 

1. Use Oil Finishes

An oil finish is preeminent and creates an overall classic impact on your wood’s appearance. Besides making your wood furniture look aesthetically pleasing, oil finishes also act as repellant on the wood surface. 

General Finishes Oil-Based Gel Stain

There’s an array of mineral oil, such as tung oil and linseed oil, which are available as combinations of types of wood finishes. 

2. Seal the Wood

Sealing is an essential step in ensuring that the sanded wood is protected from any kind of damage, may it be water, scratching, or fading. There are a lot of options you can consider, and almost all have impeccable water-proofing abilities like varnish, lacquer, and polyurethane. 

Also, keep in mind to let the furniture dry and wear safety glasses, protective gear, and a dust mask when sanding to avoid splinters on your eyes. 

3. Use Stain-Sealant Products

If you are looking at staining your water-damaged swollen wood furniture after repair, using sealant products is the best option. Sealant products are simply wood sealants with additional color pigments and can come in oil, alkyd [1], or water-based varieties. 

Ready Seal Stain and Sealer for Wood

Dressing up your wood furniture with a touch of stain not only amps up its beauty but also gives it a protective shield against water. 

For that fresh, timeless look, make it a habit to reapply this magical combo of stain and sealer every year. Trust me, your wood deserves this pampering.

How Can You Avoid Wood From Rotting?

Wooden pieces rot when infested with moisture and water, so it’s essential to apply protective primers. Wood absorbs moisture when there’s no initial protective-decorative impregnation, and the process of application is vital to ensure this process will prevent further damage. 

Begin by cleaning the wood of grease, dirt, and old stains. Let the swollen wood table dry before brushing a layer of primer. 

Can You Reverse Wood Damaged by Water?

Water damage, whether caused by a burst pipe or flood, is often irreversible, especially when the signs of warping and discoloration are already evident. The best option is to simply fix water-damaged swollen pieces with the repairs I’ve mentioned. 

deck water damage

It will repair the damage, but the wood is still vulnerable at this point. If water impregnation isn’t extensive, wiping the furniture may be enough as a preliminary fix, but if the damage is more extensive, you can save money by just purchasing a new one. 

Will the Wood Shrink Back?

Using special furniture oil has tendencies to reduce the wood size, but it still depends on the type of wood you are using. With special furniture oil, shrinking is minimal. 

What to Do if Damaged Wood is Very Wet

Dry the water-damaged swollen wood furniture with a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner to remove water. When soaked for a long, it may suffer extreme damage, and this process may not work. 

Assess the water damage before drying your wood. Once dry enough, apply a waterproof sealant to make the wood sturdy and waterproof. 

Can You Fix a Water-Damaged Wooden Furniture Without Replacing it?

It’s possible to repair water-damaged wooden furniture without having it replaced if there’s just minimal damage. Dry the swollen and damaged area with any clean towel before furnishing it with sealants. 

rotting wood due to water damage

However, extensive damage on the swollen wooden furniture may be irreversible, and you’re better off buying a new one instead.  

How to Tell if Wood is Too Damaged to be Repaired

Swelling wood is a tell-tale sign that the furniture or wood piece needs to be repaired. However, knowing when the wood is extremely battered by water damage is essential to avoid wasting your time saving up a wood that’s already on its dead-end.

Read Next: How to Fix Mistakes When Applying Wood Stains 


Furniture isn’t just wood and fabric; it often carries memories. So when your cherished pieces get damaged, especially by water, it can tug at our heartstrings. It’s true that once damaged, furniture might not retain its initial strength and luster. 

So, hopefully, this guide you helps you be aware of the clear signs of water damage and the best remedies to breathe life back into your beloved wooden treasures.          

robert headshot

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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