Home » How To Lighten Stained Wood? (3 Simple Ways!)

How To Lighten Stained Wood? (3 Simple Ways!)

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Wood finishing is important as it protects against harsh conditions and gives the wood a shine. However, the problem with staining wood is that there are fewer variations available since most stains cause the wood surface to darken.

Darkened wood surfaces after staining can be limiting as they may struggle to match your setup. Also, dark wood, especially on floors or walls, make the area look small and closed.

Since stains will generally make your wood darker, the demand for how to lighten stained wood will continue to be in vogue. So how do you lighten the color of stained wood? There are several options available to you, depending on your needs.

Improve customization by getting the exact shade for your wood, no matter its stain. Adjusting the wood stain color will immediately turn many out-of-place wood pieces into matching crafts. Here are some of the methods we’ve found that work to lighten the stain:

How to Lighten Dark Stained Wood?

Buying a new wooden piece and discovering that the stain is too dark for your space can be difficult. Luckily, you can change the tone to a lighter feel by following any methods in this guide.

1. Diluting Before Application

Diluting Before Application

Wood stains are often concentrated, which makes the tone darker than many would like. The several layers of stain usually required to get complete protection further increases the contraction and tone.

You can dilute the stain before applying it to the wood to lighten the wood. This method can only be used when staining the wood yourself. It will not be effective when you buy an already stained wood.

Materials You’ll Need

  • Natural wood stain
  • Bristle brush
  • Gloves
  • Standard wood stain
  • Face mask
  • Clean rag


Here are the steps to follow to dilute the stain before applying it to the wood surface:

Mix Natural Wood Stain and Standard Wood Stain

Use an empty bucket to mix the standard wood stain with a natural wood stain in equal proportions. The natural wood stain is clear and acts as a thinner to lighten the standard wood stain. Use a paint stirrer to mix the two properly.

Test on a Small Wood Surface

Stain a small wood surface to test the stain color. Testing will help you see the tone before application so you can adjust accordingly by adding thinner if you require a lighter tone.

This scrap piece for testing must be of the same material and color to achieve the goal. Use the brush to apply the stain on the scrap piece as you would on the main piece, and allow it to dry for at least 24 hours before checking the tone.

Adjust Accordingly

If you require a lighter surface after testing, add more natural wood stains to the mixture. Only add ½ cup of natural wood stain at a time, stirring properly after each addition.

Also Read: How to Paint Wood? A Step-by-step Complete Guide

2. Bleach the Wood

Bleach the Wood

Bleach is the primary material helping to lighten the tone of the stain. Using bleach to lighten stained wood surfaces is not new and is one of the easiest ways to achieve a lighter tone after staining. This method is effective for already stained pieces.

Materials You’ll Need

  • Wood bleach
  • Paint scraper
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Paint scraper
  • Chemical wood stripper
  • Paintbrush
  • Cold and hot water
  • Tarp
  • White vinegar (optional)

The bleaching method to lighten your stained piece requires several steps. Luckily, they are straightforward, and anybody can follow them to achieve a lighter tone.

Set up the Work Area

Choose a well-ventilated location for this method, as you’ll work with chemicals that can choke when saturated in the air.

Select a location with proper ventilation to ensure breathing is not impaired. Place a tarp under the workpiece to collect any spilled or dripping bleach and scraped pieces.

Strip Wood Surface

Most stained surfaces are finished with varnish or polyurethane, which act as a protective layer. Removing any protective layer on the wood will ensure you can adjust the stain tone accordingly.

A heat gun or paint stripper will make removing this extra layer on the wood surface easier. Apply the paint stripper or hover the heat gun over the surface and allow for some time. You’ll notice a scale-like surface on the top of the wood; this is the protective layer.

Remove its weakened layer by scraping carefully with a metal tripper to avoid damaging the wood surface. A plastic scraper is ideal to avoid damage to the wood surface; however, a chemical wood stripper may be too harsh and can melt the scraper.

Apply Wood Bleach

Before handling bleach, you must ensure good ventilation and wear the right protective gloves and face masks to avoid choking on the smell. Pour the bleach into a bucket and apply using a brush with natural bristles.

Applying bleach on the surface is not usually difficult, as you only want to apply a thin coat covering all wood parts. Ensure a uniform spread across the wood surface. Materials like a mop can help apply the bleach better on large wood floors.

Apply White Vinegar

Applying white vinegar to the bleached surface stops the bleaching and prevents the stain from becoming too light. Allow the bleach to sit for up to 45 minutes, depending on the level of lightness you want, before applying white vinegar diluted with warm water.

Leave the white vinegar to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before wiping it with a rag soaked in warm water to remove the vinegar from the surface.

Sand and Resurface

Before you can determine the color, you’ll have to leave the wood to dry overnight, after which you can see the color and move ahead with this step.

First, use fine-grit sandpaper of around 200 to 220-grit to sand the surface removing bubbles, uneven surfaces, and more. You want to sand lightly to avoid damaging the wood Surface since you’ve stripped it of its protection.

After sanding, use a dry rag to wipe the surface, removing all particles before reapplying the protective layer of varnish or polyurethane. These protective layers keep insects, heat, and moisture away from the wood.

Read More: Wood Putty vs Wood Filler | Which One is Best For Your Project?

3. Steel Wool

Steel Wool

Steel wool is rated #000 or #0000 depending on fineness, any of which is ideal for this process. It is hard enough to lighten the stain yet soft enough not to leave scratch marks while using it. The process is relatively slow and is best for smaller surfaces since a lot of energy goes into scrubbing the surface. It is also more suited to oil-based stains than water-based.

Materials You’ll Need

  • Steel wool
  • Warm water
  • Safety goggles
  • Mineral spirits
  • Gloves
  • Rag


Here is a short but effective process to use steel wool to lighten stained surfaces:

Scrub With Steel Wool

While putting on your safety goggles and gloves, soak the steel wool in a bowl of warm water and wriggle to remove excess.

Next, use the wool to scrub the surface of the wood, applying only enough pressure to lighten and not entirely remove the stain. Maintain the same pressure while scrubbing all the wood areas to ensure an even look.

Wipe with Mineral Spirits

Dampen a rag with mineral spirits and wipe the wood surface to lift the scrubbed stain. The steel wool has loosened some stains, and the rag soaked in mineral spirits will remove them from the surface.

By wiping along the grain, you’ll notice an instant effect, with the wood becoming lighter as you wipe.

Repeat Process

Using steel wool to lighten a surface is slow, so it may take several tries to lighten the stain enough to match your needs.

Alternate between cleaning with Mineral spirits and scrubbing with steel wool soaked in warm water till you get the desired tone. Take minutes off before repeating the process to avoid overworking the wood surface.

Clean with Rag

Use a clean rag to wipe out the mineral spirits once you’ve gotten your desired color. The rag will remove any effect of mineral spirits on the stain.

Read Also: What is Manufactured Wood? (Varieties, Usage, Advantages & All You Need to Know)

Tips for Lightening Wood Stains

Here are some tips you’ll find quite helpful when lightening darker wood stains:

  • The type of stain is essential. Some methods are more effective on oil-based stains than water-based, so knowing the type of stain beforehand will help you choose a better method.
  • You can also use mineral spirits as a thinner to dilute oil-based standard wood stains where the natural wood stain is not available. Water can serve as a thinner for water-based stains.

Final Thoughts

People can now lighten stained wood to their chosen tone by following any simple methods in this guide.

The process is simple, with easy-to-find materials helping even the least experienced DIY lover to complete the task. Always remove any protective layer on the stain before using specific wood lightning processes.