How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter (3 Ingenious Tricks)

If you want to make your wood’s grain even more beautiful on your woodwork creations, the best thing you can do is highlight it is use a wood stain.

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These wood stains are available in a number of stunning shades to give you a massive variety of choices, so you do not have to compromise on the appearance of your wood’s grain.

How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter (3 Ingenious Tricks)

One thing which many woodworking enthusiasts need to know when staining wood is how to turn a darker stained wood a lighter shade.

Doing this sounds like it should be difficult and potentially damaging to the wood, but it is possible and can even be done in a variety of ways depending on the tools and resources you have available!

This article will go over the 3 most affective methods of doing this in detail, so you can fully assess which method will work best for you! These 3 methods we will be going over are lightening dark stained wood through; bleaching, steel wool, and diluting the stain pre-application.

If you want a quick answer before we go into deeper detail, here is an abridged answer:

A quick and easy method of lightening stained wood is first to wipe off any discarded dust that is on the surface of your wood.

After you are sure there is nothing which should not be on the wood on it, you should spread a relatively thin layer of 2 parts wood bleach solution on the grain of the wood’s surface and proceed to let it rest for half an hour.

Once this time period is up you should utilize a white vinegar solution for neutralizing your wood bleach you have used, and then you can wipe off the excess solution using your wet cloth making sure there is none left on the wood to potentially damage it.

If you want more details however, keep reading to make sure you are well versed in every easy method of lightening a dark stained wood!

How You Can Lighten Dark Stained Wood Through Bleaching

Before you begin this method, keep in mind that this method uses a lot of potentially harmful chemicals.

As well as being as careful as possible throughout this process, make sure to not skip any of the protective equipment and to make sure to carry out this process in a properly ventilated area to avoid the accumulation of any harmful fumes.

What Tools Do You Need For This Method?

  • A chemical stripper for wood finishes
  • A paint scraper
  • A naturally bristled paintbrush
  • Protective hand gloves
  • Well-fitted safety goggles 
  • Wood bleach
  • A plastic bucket
  • Acces to water
  • Access to a warm water faucet
  • Some 180-grit grade sandpaper
  • A tarp to cover your workspace

1st, Prepare Your Work Area

This step is simple but should not be skipped as it will save a lot of mess if done correctly. Make sure you have easy access to every piece of equipment you need for each stage of the process. The tarp is especially important for collecting the inevitable spills and getting the scraped off parts of your work.

2nd, Apply Your Chemical Stripper On The Topcoat Of Your Dark Wood

If you are working with a pre-stained piece of wood furniture you will want to remove the polyurethane finish or the varnish which is already on it. If you want the best results possible and for your wood to look good you will need to achieve this before bleaching your stain.

The easiest way to do this is to dip your paintbrush in your chemical stripper you have prepared and put it on the wood that you are working with. Make sure to make the coat of stripper than even as possible, so it does not have messy results.

There are many brands of stripper available so make sure to find a well reviewed one that will work well with the type of wood you are working with as well as the type of finish you are removing.

Follow the instructions on your particular brand of chemical stripper, but generally speaking they will need around 20 minutes for it to do it’swork.

3rd, Use Your Scraper To Get Rid Of Your Topcoat

Working at 45 degrees, use your scraper on the surface of your wood’s grain to get rid of the stripper and the finish it will have removes. It is recommended to use a plastic scraper over a metal one as the metal one is much more likely to damage the surface of the wood.

Continue doing this along the wood’s grain until you have gotten rid of all of the finish. After you have done this pour water over your wood to spot any areas that may be discolored as this may be an area that has not has its topcoat removed correctly.

4th, Mix Your Bleach Solution

The wood bleach will usually come in a concentrate and for correct usage it will need to be mixed with water. The best way to do this is in your plastic bucket.

Make sure to carefully follow the instructions provided with your wood bleach as if you do not the bleach will be too concentrated and could damage your wood or will be too diluted and be ineffective and waste your time. 

If you want a more mild treatment for your wood you can alternatively use an oxalic acid. Whether you are using this or bleach make sure you are wearing all your protective equipment while mixing including the gloves and goggles. 

Both oxalic acid and bleach are available at most hardware stores, but if you are looking to significantly lighten the appearance of your wood, using wood bleach is the best option.

5th, Use Your Wood Bleach Solution On The Wood’s Surface

Once you are happy you have properly mixed the bleach solution. Use a clean paintbrush to paint the surface of your wood using a thinner coat of the solution. Make sure that if you are using the same brush from using the stripper that there is no chemical stripper residue in the brush.

After you are sure that you have gotten an equal application of the solution you should leave the wood to sit for around 30 mins.

Depending on the surface size of your wood you may want to use something larger than a paintbrush to apply your solution like a mop.

6th, Use A Vinegar Solution For Neutralizing Your Bleach Solution

After your solution has been sitting for about 30 minutes and the desired color of the grain is visible you will need to utilize a white vinegar solution for the purpose of neutralizing your bleach to stop it from discoloring the wood grain.

Mix this solution while the bleach solution is sitting, so it is ready once you need it. 

In another bucket mix equal parts of white vinegar and some water, and after you are sure this has been well mixed, use the solution to wipe down the surface of the wood with a damp cloth. Make sure to get as equal coverage as possible, so you can stop your bleach from further reacting to the wood.

7th, Clean Up Your Surface With A Damp Rag

After you have rubbed over the vinegar solution using another rag soaked in warm water for wiping the wood’s surface clean. Make sure you have gotten rid of all the vinegar and bleach to make sure they do not react any further with the wood.

After you have done this it is recommended to let the wood dry overnight, this will slightly change the appearance of the wood so keep this in mind when looking at the wood throughout the process. 

If you think the color of the grain is still too dark after the wood has dried it is possible to repeat this process a couple more times but try to not do this more than 3 times as by this point the wood will start to look grey.

8th, Sand The Wood Surface

While this treatment is effective, it is very likely to make your lovely smooth wood quite coarse so sanding it after you are done will help the wood go back to its best state. Using your 180-grit grade sandpaper is the best tool for this process.

Make sure to sand in the same direction as the grain on the surface to get achieve the best possible results.

9th, Finally Refinish Your Wood’s Grain And Surface

Now you have adjusted the color and gotten rid of the old topcoat you will need to add another layer of protection to retain the color you have gotten. 

A polyurethane type finish is usually the best choice for this process, and you can use a clean brush for applying this to get the best even results possible.

You may need a couple coats to properly coat the surface of your furniture so make sure to be patient during this step and carefully follow the steps listed on your finishing product.

How You Can Lighten Darker Stained Wood Through Using The Steel Wool Method

How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter (3 Ingenious Tricks)

A simpler, but occasionally less effective method than the previous method is to use a fine steel wool to lighten a dark wood stain. The best grade of steel wool to use would be either a 000 or 0000 super fine option. Both of these options will work fine for this process.

What Tools Do You Need For This Method?

  • A fine grade steel wool at either 000 or 0000
  • Mineral spirits for lifting the stain
  • Access to warm water
  • Protective gloves and safety goggles
  • Rags to apply a stain

1st, Rub Your Wood With Your Steel Wool

Firstly, you will want to soak your chosen ball of steel wool in warmer water and wring out any excess water in there. After this start lightly rubbing it on the wood and keep as even a pressure as possible to make sure that you are lightening the stain as evenly as possible.

2nd, Wipe Your Wood With Your Clean Rag That Has Been Soaked With Mineral Spirits

After the previous step, soak your clean cloth in the mineral spirits then rub your wood following the grain with it. This will start to lift the stain that is already on the wood. Stay observant of how this changes the appearance of the wood as you wipe it.

This may take a few minutes, but you should start to see results quite quickly. Depending on the size of the wood you are working with, you may need multiple rags as one will likely get dirty from all the excess stain.

3rd, Alternate Between The Previous 2 Steps Until Satisfactory Results Have Been Achieved

After this put aside your mineral spirits and start rubbing using the fine steel wool again. And once you are happy with this go back to your mineral spirits. Keep going between the two stages until you are satisfied with the appearance of your wood grain.

Once you are happy with the results use a cloth to get rid of all leftover traces of mineral spirits. Using this method will work best a lighter stain and oil based wood stains instead of water based ones.

How To Lighten A Darker Wood Stain Before You Have Applied It To Your Wood

If you have not already applied a stain, but you know the stain you have is too dark for what you want you can follow this guide to brighten the appearance of your stain to avoid having to fix it after. This method saves significant amounts of effort but requires that you have not already applied stain.

What Tools Do You Need For This Method?

  • A wood stain
  • A standard wood stain of a shade you can mix with the wood stain
  • A natural bristled paintbrush
  • A couple clean rags
  • Protective hand gloves and face mask

1st, Put Together What Item You Want To Stain

Start mixing your standard and natural wood stains using the base as what you are aiming to lighten. Most wood stains are mostly clear, so it is possiblie to mix them with a tinted option to get the shade you want.

Make sure your products are either both water or an oil based as if you mix these they will not combine properly.

2nd, You Will Mix Your Natural Wood Stain In With Equal Parts Of Your Standard Stain

The best way to mix these two products is in a resealable metal container like an empty clean paint can. Try working in equal parts to reach an easily trackable result. Using your paint stirrer will get the most satisfactory results.

3rd, Test The Newly Mixed Stained On A Discarded Piece Of Scrap Wood

Make sure that your scrap wood is the same color as the wood you are looking to stain. Make sure to let the stain fully dry, so you will get an accurate impression of the shade you will be getting. Use your brush to apply it on and leave it to dry overnight.

4th, Adjust The Mixture Of Stains As You Need To

If you need to adjust the color use more natural wood stain to get a lighter appearance or more standard stain for the opposite. Keep testing on scrap wood until you are happy with the color to be able to use it on your actual furniture.

How Do You Lighten A Darker Wood Stain

For lightening your darker wood stain you will need to mix equal parts of your stain you are lightening to a natural type wood stain. Once you have done this you can test it out on scrap wood and adjust the color accordingly once it has dried. If you want to turn it even lighter keep adding ½ a cup of natural wood stain at a once and stir it thoroughly until you have a mixture you are happy with.

Tips For Woodwork Enthusiasts To Follow

  • Make sure that both the natural wood stain and standard stain are both oil or water based so that they will mix well
  • Utilize mineral spirits for diluting oil-based stains if you do not have access to a natural wood stain
  • You can use water for diluting water-based stains if you do not have access to a natural wood stain

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Mineral Spirits Lighten A Wood Stain?

Yes, these spirits are used to lighten darker stained wood but will not remove all the stain. Just soaking a cloth in mineral spirits will lead to a lighter grain if you apply it properly.

How To Remove A Dark Stain From A Wooden Cabinet?

The best way to do this is to wipe the stain with a wood bleach solution or with liquid laundry bleach. Alternatively you can use an oxalic acid and water solution that will work better than laundry bleach.

Is It Possible To Stain Wood Lighter?

Yes, you can do this by mopping with a wood bleach solution and then follow up with a white vinegar solution. Make sure to clear up any excess once you are done and keep the room well ventilated.

Is It Possible To Lighten An Already Stained Wood?

Yes, you can do this with most woods, but it will likely damage more fine woods. Before lightening, you will need to get rid of the topcoat using a solvent fit for purpose and then choose one of the methods in this guide to lighten the color.

Is It Possible To Lighten A Dark Stain On Wood?

To do this you will need a clean rag and turpentine or mineral spirits to rub on the grain of the wood to lighten the stain.

This will lighten the stain but will not remove all the stain. Make sure to get rid of the topcoat before trying this and make sure to follow the instructions of all the products you are using!


So that is all you need to know on how to lighten a dark wood stain! These methods should work well if you follow them properly and use all the correct techniques and equipment. Follow all the tips mentioned and if you have any more questions they might be answered in the FAQ!

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