How to Neutralize Red Tones in Wood: 4 Effective Methods

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In my years of crafting and restoring wood furniture, neutralizing red tones in wood can be quite the challenge. It’s not just about removing them; it often requires a depth of knowledge and techniques that many might not be familiar with.

I’ve seen stunning wooden surfaces lose their charm because these red tones weren’t addressed properly. That’s why I, along with a few other expert woodworkers here, have compiled four effective methods to help tackle these stubborn red hues in wood.

4 Methods to Neutralize Red Hues in Wooden Surfaces

Method #1: Adding a Bit of Green to the Stain

To remove red tones in wood, you can use a greenish stain. This is based on the theory of the color wheel, where colors opposite to each other can neutralize each other. And red is the opposite color of green, so adding green color to wood can remove red tones.

This method helps to lighten red tones in wood by not using bleach. However, it’s essential to be cautious while adding green color to wood and maintain a 1:1 ratio of red and green tint to achieve a neutralized brown wood color.

using #2 Bates Paint Brush

Method #2: Using Raw Umber With A Greenish Undertone

Raw umber is a type of cool brown color that is made of red, blue, and green stain. If you want to get red tones remove from the wood, you can use raw umber that has a green undertone.

However, you must be careful with the quantity of color you use. To really tackle those persistent red hues, I’ve sometimes mixed a touch of raw sienna with the raw umber and applied two coats. This blend has consistently helped me neutralize those pesky red tones.

Method #3: Try to Bleach the Wood

Another method to neutralize red tones in wood is by bleaching, but it can be risky if not done correctly. Bleach has the potential to ruin the wood if not used according to the instructions.

Due to this, many people avoid using bleach. However, if done correctly, bleaching can provide better results than the previous two methods. There are two options for bleaching wood: using a homemade bleach solution or purchasing a store-bought wood bleach.

Here are the steps for both methods:

staining red tone wood

Using the Homemade Bleach

Step #1: Gathering the Necessary Supplies

If you’re aiming to make your own wood bleach, there are some essentials I always gather beforehand. 

These include a dry towel, the wood piece you’re working on, a quart of water, a trusty plastic container, a cup of Hydrogen peroxide, a cup of Lye, and sometimes, if I feel it’s needed, a vinegar solution.

Step #2: Mix Lye and Water

It is crucial to take safety precautions when handling Lye, like eye protection. When mixing Lye and water, it is important to pour water into the container first and then slowly add small amounts of Lye while stirring.

Also, never use a metal cup or container to avoid a chemical reaction. The water amount needed depends on the amount of wood being bleached.

When working with larger amounts of wood, we recommend to prepare a gallon of water. In a plastic cup or container, gradually add three tablespoons of Lye to the water, stirring slowly after each addition to achieve thorough and proper mixing.

neutralizing wood using bleach

Step #3: Put Hydrogen Peroxide on the Wood

Once you have prepared and set aside the solution of lye water, proceed to pour a small amount of the solution of hydrogen peroxide onto the wooden surface.

Ensure that you cover the entire surface area of the wood by not missing any spots to achieve a uniform bleaching effect. I’ve found that a foam brush does the trick quite well, allowing me to spread the solution uniformly across the wood.

Step #4: Apply the Lye-Water Solution

After you have finished soaking the wood, you will need to use the lye water solution in a plastic container that you prepared earlier.

Simply pour a small quantity of the solution onto the wood and use a foam brush to spread it evenly across the entire wood surface. It is important to ensure that you do not miss any spots and that you get good and even coverage to achieve the desired color.

Step #5: Drying and Rinse the Wood

Once the lye solution has been applied to the entire wooden surface, allow it to dry in the sunlight. This will enable the formation of a thick and effective layer of lye and hydrogen peroxide.

After the wood dries, it may have a yellow tint from the lye residue, which is normal. Rinse it with plain water, then rinse again with the solution of white vinegar. Wipe it again with a towel and let it dry in the sun.

putting peroxide on the wood

Using Store-Bought Wood Bleach

Step #1: Combine the Solutions in Separate Bottles

To begin the bleaching process, mix the Lye solution and hydrogen peroxide together in a plastic container. It’s important to maintain a 1:1 ratio for the best results. Be sure to don’t pour Lye directly into the hydrogen peroxide bottle.

Carefully mix and pour the solutions into the container, as both chemicals are highly reactive and toxic. It’s important to follow the instructions on the labels and work in a place with good ventilation to minimize any potential hazards.

Step #2: Applying the Solution to the Wood

After mixing the lye solution and the peroxide in a plastic container, apply it to the wood as soon as possible, being careful when handling the chemicals. I’ve always preferred using a foam brush—it allows me to spread the mixture evenly, ensuring that every part of the wood gets its fair share of the solution.

It’s important not to miss any spots to avoid uneven bleaching. Try to apply the solution evenly to ensure that the wood is thoroughly soaked and to minimize any streaking.

Step #3: Drying and Rinsing the Wood

After soaking the wood with the hydrogen peroxide and lye solution and ensuring that it is evenly covered, allow it to dry fully in the sun, which will be faster than indoors.

When the wood is completely dry, it may have a yellow tint due to the lye residue, but this is normal. Just rinse it with water, then white vinegar. Finally, rinse the wood with water again and dry it with a towel. Leave the wood in direct sunlight to dry fully.

drying and rinsing the wood

How to Sand the Wood After Bleaching

When bleaching wood, it’s important to avoid rough sanding afterward, as bleach only affects the top layer of the wood’s color and doesn’t penetrate the inner layers.

If you continue to sand the wood, the outer layer will be removed, and the inner layers with no bleach treatment will be revealed, resulting in a red wood tone.

Therefore, it’s best to only perform a light sanding after bleaching, if needed, and ideally complete any necessary sanding before bleaching.

Method #4: Applying Aerosol Toner with a Green Cast

From my hands-on experience with various finishes, a transparent aerosol with a slight green cast can do wonders for neutralizing those red tones in wood, especially if the wood’s already coated. The green hue in the aerosol acts as a counterbalance, helping to offset and mellow out the red in the wood.

It’s important to be careful and not use aerosol too much because this could result in an unpleasant color. But it’s advisable to use a green aerosol wood toner as it is one of the effective methods how you can neutralize red tones in the wood.

To apply aerosol wood toner with a green cast to the wood, you will need to follow these steps:

Step #1: Take the Aerosol Toner

When selecting an aerosol to use to neutralize red tones, it’s important to choose one that has green undertones. This is because the red and green colors are opposite colors on the color wheel, and using a green-toned aerosol will help to neutralize any red tones in the wood.

Step #2: Mark the Area That Requires the Aerosol Toner and Painter’s Tape

Before applying the aerosol toner, I recommend marking the specific area with painter’s tape. This is because mistakes are common when working with transparent aerosol toners, and marking the area beforehand can help you to achieve a more precise application.

applying green tone on wood

The aerosol is almost clear, so it can be difficult to see where it’s been applied. Once you’ve clearly marked the area in which you want to apply the toner, you can move on to the spraying step with more confidence.

Step #3: Apply the Aerosol Toner Within a 12-inch Distance

To apply the aerosol toner, hold it about 12 inches away from the wood and spray it toward the grain of the wood.

This will help the toner to spread uniformly across the surface of the wood without accumulating in any particular area. It’s important to apply the toner in a thin-coat manner entirety of the wood to ensure that it penetrates evenly and dries quickly.

Step #4: Leave it to Dry Completely

Once I’ve applied the aerosol toner, I always give it a good 24 hours to dry. This drying period is crucial for the toner to do its job, neutralizing those red hues. It’s important to avoid applying another coat before the previous coat is completely dry to avoid creating a sticky surface.

How Do You Tone Down Red Oak Wood?

To make red oak wood less red, you can use bleach to neutralize the red tones and lighten them up. But be careful when applying bleach to red oak furniture as it can damage other surfaces, and ensure to sand the furniture first if it has a surface that is glossy.

How Do You Tone Down the Red in Douglas Fir?

To neutralize or get rid of the red tone in Douglas fir wood, you can use mineral spirits and oil-based paint. Start by wiping the surface of the wood with mineral spirit, then apply the oil-based paint in the same amounts with three or just one coat.

Let the wood dry, and you will see that the red tint has been neutralized, and the wood has a lighter color now. This method is a good alternative to staining or bleaching.

toning douglas fir wood

What Color Tones Down Redwood and What To Do If The Stain Is Too Red?

To cancel out the red color in redwood, you can use a greenish tint finish or stain. Alternatively, you can also bleach the redwood to fade the red color.

If your stain is too red, adding brown stain in a small amount can help neutralize the reddish tone. Just add the brown stain slowly and gradually for the best possible results.

What Green Shade to Use When Neutralizing Redwoods?

When trying to neutralize the red color in redwood using pure green paint, it’s important to note that no shade of green will completely eliminate the red.

While bright shades like neon green or lime may seem like a good option, they actually ineffective in neutralizing red tones. Darker tones like forest green or hunter are better as they blend well with the redwood’s color and effectively diminish the reddish tone.

Wood Types With a Reddish Color: What to Avoid

Red Alder Wood

Red alder wood is a long-lasting and tough material that usually lives for around 40 to 60 years. However, it has a reddish-orange hue that may clash with your preferred style or design.

staining alder wood


Redwood is a type of softwood that is named after its distinct red-toned wood. It is well-known for being strong yet lightweight, making it useful for many purposes. However, it may not be suitable for your project despite its advantages.

African Padauk

African Padauk, also known as African coralwood or Pterocarpus soyauxii, has a vibrant red color that some people find attractive. However, the color may not be suitable for you since it appears slightly grayish around the trunk and is still too red for your preference.

How To Remove Red Stains Off the Wood

preparing your chosen wood stain

Sometimes, red stains can appear on woodwork, whether they are caused by food or chemicals. These stains are different from the natural red color of certain types of wood. 

Although there are methods to neutralize or remove these stains, vinegar is an effective and the easiest method. 

Just mix warm water and vinegar [1], and sprinkle some baking soda to create a paste. Apply it to the stained wood area and let it sit for a while. After that, wipe and remove it away with a rag, and repeat the steps if necessary until the stain disappears. 

Suggested Readings

Can Stains Sheathe a Red Tint?

Stains can be a real lifesaver when you’re trying to mask that reddish tint in wood. I’ve often turned to darker shades like espresso or ebony, which do a decent job of masking the red. 

However, don’t be surprised if a hint of that red still peeks through. If you’re aiming for complete coverage, a touch of green tint added to your stain usually does the trick.

Why Consider Neutralizing Your Red-Hued Wood?

neutralizing red hued wood

Having red-colored wood items in your home can be nice, but sometimes it can be too vibrant and strain your eyes or look odd with other decors.

In those cases, you may want to remove or neutralize the red. Sometimes, even a small change can make a big difference in achieving the desired look for your finished workpiece.

More for you


Red tones in wood can be a beautiful addition to any home, but there may be times when it’s necessary to neutralize or remove the red color.

Fortunately, there are effective methods how you can neutralize red tones in wood. By following these techniques, you can create a finished workpiece that complements your personal style.

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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