How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter: 13 Methods

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Dark stains on wood have long been a favorite choice for interiors. Yet, as trends change and evolve, many of us find ourselves yearning for a lighter or more natural aesthetic.

Rather than considering a complete furniture reset, you should know that there are several ways to lighten dark stained wood without compromising the integrity of your cherished pieces. In this guide, I’ll show you all the steps in the process. Let’s start!

Can You Make Wood Stain Lighter?

Yes, it is possible to make stains lighter. You can opt to use a wood furniture refinishing kit to remove the dark wood stain and apply a lighter stain. 

You might also want to stain wood with a different color if you notice any visible nicks or scratches. You can also opt to hire professional refinishers to ensure an easy finish.

Here are all the effective options I have tried:

How To Lighten Dark Stained Wood: 12 Methods

Method #1: By Bleaching

One common way to lighten dark stained wood is through the process of bleaching, but this doesn’t mean simply spilling chlorine all over your materials. 

bleaching wood stain

There are a few processes that need to be done to ensure that you can lighten dark wood stain without damaging the wood at all. 

One caution with this method is that it can produce fumes that may be harmful if you have an aquarium or live plants in your area. If this is the case, I recommend you work in a well-ventilated area instead.

Step #1: Prepare All the Supplies Needed & Set up Your Working Space

Set up your workstation and ensure that all the needed supplies are ready, which includes coverings and safety gear. 

Since you’re working with chemicals, added safety measures should be applied to prevent skin damage. Here’s a list of the supplies and tools to prepare before bleaching.

Things You'll Need

To avoid causing damage to your skin in case of bleach spills, make sure these two safety gears are prepared. If possible, wear long sleeves or clothes that cover your arms as well.

protective gears
    • Safety goggles (3M Safety Glasses)
    • Hand gloves
    • Paint scraper
    • Natural bristled paintbrush
    • Water
    • Hot faucet water
    • Sandpaper (180-grit)
    • Tarp
    • Plastic bucket
    • Chemical wood finish stripper
    • Wood bleach

Step #2: Scrape the Top Coating

Since dark wood has a top coating, it’s a must to scrape off that stain and you can use either a plastic scraper or a putty knife when doing so. The chemical stripper will start appearing swollen, signaling that it’s ready. 

scraping top coat

Depending on how light you want your wood to be, continue this process until you’re satisfied with the lightness. Grab a steel pad to dust off any leftover bits, before wiping the wood with a damp cloth.

Applying the Chemical Stripper Using a Paint Brush

Use a natural bristled paintbrush to apply an even coat of chemical stripper on the part of the wood that you wish to lighten. Coat evenly, and ensure that every part is covered. Leave it sitting with a chemical wood stripper for twenty minutes to allow the wood to set.

Clear the Chemical Stripper Off

Place your plastic scraper on a one eight-degree angle and gently run it on the wood grain stroke. You can also opt for a rubber spatula to avoid scratching the wood surface.

Step #3: Sand the Wood's Layer

Let the wood surface sit for 24 hours before sanding, allowing the wood to completely dry out. Start with medium-grit sandpaper, of 100-150 grit when sanding the wood’s layer. 

sanding wood layer

Wear safety goggles, and a face mask when completing this step. I recommend using an orbital or drum sander to save you time when working on large wood pieces.

Step #4: Prepare Your Wood Bleach (Mix It)

Use a plastic bucket to combine wood bleach and water. Make sure you follow the prescribed instructions as different bleach mixes have different ratio proportions. 

You can also opt for oxalic acid if you only want mild bleach. When handling bleach, do not forget to wear gloves and goggles to ensure safety.

Designated wood bleach is more powerful than other acids, and it will lighten wood stain easily. Both products can be easily found in your local hardware store.

Step #5: Make the Wood Lighter Using a Wood Bleach

Grab a natural bristled paintbrush to cover the surface of your wood with bleach. Once applied, let it sit for about thirty minutes. And a pro tip: if you’re treating a wooden floor, using a mop to spread the bleach can be especially effective.


Step #6: Tidy Up the Wood Surface Using a Wet, Clean Rag

Wet a clean rag, wipe the wood, and remove the residue. Remove any mark of bleach and vinegar, and let the surface dry overnight or until fully dry. 

To make your dark stained wood lighter, do the bleaching process again, but make sure to not go beyond three bleaching treatments, as it will deteriorate the quality of the wood and cause the surface to grey out.

Step #7: Let the Wood Dry Completely

When lightening stain through bleaching, wiping excess moisture is paramount to let the wood dry evenly. A wood bleach solution works better when you keep the wood dry after every process.

Step #8: Sand the Wood for a Smooth Finish

Using the bleaching process to make wood lighter causes the wood to appear grainy. To smooth your wood, sand the wood completely with a fine-grit sandpaper. Sanding revives a wood’s smoothness and decreases the grainy effect caused by bleaching.

Step #9: Apply Your Preferred Color (As Needed)

If you’re opting for a more natural stain, applying a white color wash is the best option. This adds more character to your wood. Adding this extra process only applies if you want to get a lighter wood color. 

staining wooden shelf

The lighter the color you choose to apply, the more subdued the stain becomes, allowing the wood’s natural grain to truly stand out and shine.

Step #10: Apply the Top Coat or Refinish the Wood

To protect your lightened wood, apply a top coat. There are different varieties that you can choose from, to give more accent and protection to your material. Going for the natural color of the top coat will only polish the color of your wood. 

On the other hand, applying a thin coat of clear varnish or polyurethane finish adds depth and texture to the wood color.

It’s a  must to remember that when applying any form of stain or coat on your wood, going for a second stroke right away will make the surface look uneven, and create bumps. Apply thin coats, and repeat the process for an even coating.

Method #2: Use Steel Wool

Another way to lighten wood stain is through steel wool. It’s a relatively simple approach, but it does demand a bit more elbow grease.

steel wool

Supplies You'll Need

Step #1: Scrape the Wood Using Steel Wool

Grab a fine steel wool, and let it soak in warm water. You can use different grades depending on how fine you want them to be. 

Remove the excess water and rub it lightly in a direction apart from the wood material. Apply even pressure when rubbing to allow the light stain to come naturally.

Step #2: Damp Cloth with Mineral Spirits and Remove the Stain

Dampen your clean rag with mineral spirits and wipe it along the wood to highlight the stain along the grain. You will notice the color change as you wipe the area. 

person holding cloth

It will appear lighter than the other areas, and it will take a while before you’re able to cover the surface. Use more rags to avoid casting the dirt that gets accumulated on your every wipe.

Step #3: Scrub the Wood with Steel Wool Again (Keep Alternating the Process)

Repeat the process over and over until you reach your desired shade. To lighten stained wood using the wool process, you’ll have to check the color achieve in every wipe to know once you’re going overboard with the lightening process.

Method #3: Diluting the Stain Before the Application

Another way to make stained wood light is to dilute a dark wood stain. This saves you from elbow grease and is one of the proactive approaches to avoid working backward.

Materials You'll Need

Step #1: Gather All the Materials

tools for painting

Assemble all the items and supplies needed to avoid cramming out while in the middle of diluting stains. Ensure that both your natural and standard stains are the same.

Natural wood stains can be used as thinners when combined with other products that are tinted to achieve a lighter shade. Both products should be the same to achieve a compatible base.

Step #2: Combine Standard Stain and Natural Wood Stain in Equal Parts

Mix an equal ratio of your natural wood stain and standard stain. You can utilize a sealable metal container or empty pain mix when combining these two. Mix both parts thoroughly with a stirrer.

Step #3: Check Your Stain Mix in a Wood Scrap

Test out your combination to know if this is the color you desire. Apply the stain on scrap pieces of wood, and ensure that the wood is similar to type of furniture you’ll be working on. 

staining wood with sponge brush

For a more accurate color test, apply the mixture the same way you would on your actual furniture.

Step #4: Add More Parts of Natural Stain (As Needed)

If you’re not satisfied with the color of the stain on your wood, I’d recommend adding a more natural stain while stirring the mixture. Test the adjusted stain until you achieve your desired color.

Method #4: Using Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits can lighten most wood stains. Simply apply the stain atop the surface and wipe it off immediately. You will notice a slight difference in the color of your dark wood. However, you’ll have to repeat the process continues to achieve the color you wish.

Method #5: Applying White Vinegar

Using a natural solution like vinegar can also lighten dark stained wood. If you want to know how to make dark stained wood lighter with this solution, you must first soak the entire surface with vinegar. Then, let it sit for a day or 24 hours, to allow the solution to work its magic. 

It’s important to wear rubber gloves when working with vinegar since it’s acidic and can irritate your skin. And while vinegar fumes aren’t the harshest, it’s still a good practice to wear a safety mask to avoid inhaling them.

Method #6: Lighten Wood With Acetone

Acetone is a natural remover of paint, as it does with nail polish. It removes water-based and oil-based stains, but it’s only best used for sealing stains. Using acetone to completely make wood light will be difficult, especially if you’re working with huge wood furniture.

using acetone

Method #7: Using Commercial Wood Brighteners

The most common method to make dark-stained wood lighter is to use commercial wood brighteners. 

It’s a straightforward solution, and one of my top go-to options especially when working with small pieces of wood. There’s an array of brands in the market, and most of these products come in powder form.

Mix the powder with water until it creates a paste consistency and applies such mixture on your dark stained wood. Let the mixture set for a few minutes, before scrubbing it with the brush to remove the old wood finish.

Method #8: Use Hydrogen Peroxide

Using hydrogen peroxide to make dark-stained wood lighter is best when working with pine tree wood. Create a paste mixture by combining hydrogen peroxide with water and use the same process as with commercial wood brighteners.

Method #9: Apply Boiled Linseed Oil

Use a clean cloth to apply boiled linseed oil on your bare wood. Make sure that you boil your linseed oil before applying it to the surface you want to lighten. 

pouring linseed oil

Let the surface dry for 24 hours after application, before applying another top of oil-based paint. This technique is best applied on working with oil-based stain. 

Method #10: Electric Sanding

Using an electric sander on your dark-stained wood will help you remove the splintered parts or rough edges on your wood. However, I recommend exercising caution to avoid over-sanding to ensure the wood’s integrity and appearance remain intact.

Method #11: Painting Dark Stained Wood Before Sanding

Another way to remove dark stains is to paint the wood first before sanding. This technique is efficient because it saves you from extra work. Clean the surface before painting the existing wood finish. Apply an even coat of primer and at least two coats of paint.

Method #12: Sanding Dark Stain Before Painting the Wood

This technique is best applied when working with water-based stains. Sand the wood with a soaked 120-grit sandpaper and lightly gouge the surface. Dry for at least 24 hours before painting the board again.

sanding block

Is it Doable to Lighten Dark Stained Wood?

In this guide, I’ve outlined a variety of methods to lighten dark stained wood, many of which are cost-effective. The approach you choose will depend on your preferences and how much effort you’re willing to invest in refurbishing your wood pieces.

But how about staining the wood darker? Is it also doable? Find out next!

Can You Lighten Dark Wood Without Sanding?

There are ways to make dark-stained wooden pieces lighter, such as using the wool method. Let the steel wool soak in warm water and rub the wool along the wood grain to achieve a light color on your wooden furniture. 

Another way is to use a chemical-based paint stripper where you allow the stripping compound to remove the top coatings from your finish.

Whitewashing is also common when trying to make dark wood lighter without sanding. Mix regular white paint with water and apply it directly on the surface. This subtler color will shade the underneath finish, making your wood lighter than it originally is.

How to Do it Without Sanding

Try Using Mineral Spirits

Turpentine or mineral spirits have compounds that can lighten dark colors on your wood. Just apply it with a cloth and wipe it on the surface of the wood.

can of mineral spirits

Try Wood Bleach

Using common household bleach such as liquid laundry bleach can lighten dark wood stain as well. Pour the bleach directly into the area you want to lighten and let it sit for half an hour until you reach your preferred lightness.

Use TSP Cleaner

A TSP Cleaner is also another solution to use if you want to achieve the lighter color of wood without sanding. Mix it with water and allow the solution to rest on the surface for an hour. Clean the area with a wet cloth or with clean water.

Use White Vinegar

There are a lot of options to make your dark wood lighter, and it includes a trip to your pantry. A white vinegar solution is the cheapest way to lighten the existing stain.

Make Rust Stains Lighter

Use a wire brush to light rust stains. Grab a clean cloth and spray it with alcohol to wipe the wood stain, before applying your regular stain color.

Sanding the Wood Stain

Use fine-grit sandpaper to gently sand the dark color of your wood. You may opt for 220-grit fine sandpaper to avoid huge imperfections on your wood when sanding. 

sanding wood surface

Staining the Wood Surface Again

Once you have achieved a lighter color of the wood, you can stain it again, either with white paint or natural stain to ensure a smooth finish. When applying coats, allow each coat to fully dry before applying a second coating to ensure an even finish.

Tips to Consider When Lightening Dark-Stained Wood


How do you lighten walnut wood that's stained dark?

Using bleach or alcohol can be effective in lightening a dark walnut stain. Both chemicals have the capability to lift the stain, but it’s essential to apply them with care to preserve the integrity of the wood grain. Always proceed with caution when using these substances on wood.

How can you remove the dark stain of wood?

Removing dark stains from your wood is manageable with a paint thinner or alcohol. This breaks down the finish, making it easier for you to remove such from the surface. Vinegar is also a good alternative, which you can also use when removing black urine stains from hardwood floors

Moreover, chemical stripping agents are effective in dissolving the stain and can be applied following manufacturer instructions. Another option is to use a wood bleach to lighten the darkened area.

What's the recommended paint to use when lightening dark stained wood?

Use a damp drop cloth to remove residue from the wood before painting it. Dry out the surface before applying paint, as wet wood can form air bubbles when you apply a coat.

Does wood stain naturally lighten over time?

When wood is placed outdoors, it will naturally lighten over time, due to inevitable UV [1], and dust particles. However, this will take a while, and letting it lighten naturally may create a botchy look on your furniture.

Does a lighter finish mean less wood protection?

A lighter wood stain doesn’t necessarily mean lesser wood protection, as covering it with a thicker stain doesn’t endure more protection. Bleaching and sanding, however, will make the wood more vulnerable.

More useful guides: 


There are a lot of workable solutions on how to make dark stained wood lighter without breaking the bank or hiring professionals. 

The challenge often lies in selecting the right approach. Based on my experience, I’d strongly suggest testing your chosen method on a scrap piece of wood first. This way, you can ensure best results before committing to larger pieces, like your cabinets or furniture.

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.

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!