Wood stains come in various tints that can protect the wood and make its grain pop. If you choose to go lighter with your stain, you will want to know how to make dark stained wood lighter. If this is true for you, look no further.

In this post, I’ll share the three most effective ways to stain dark wood lighter or lighten wood stain.

  • How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter by Bleaching
  • How to Make Dark Wood Lighter With Steel Wool
  • How To Lighten Dark Wood Stain By Diluting It Before Applying 

But first, let’s start with a quick snippet answer for those who are in a hurry.

How to Lighten Stained Wood

To make dark wood lighter, wipe away any dust on the wood. Spread a thin coat of 2-part wood bleach solution across the wood surface and let it sit for 30 mins. After that, use a white vinegar solution to neutralize the wood bleach before wiping it clean with a wet cloth.

How to Lighten Wood Stain by Bleaching

Bleaching wood will require using chemicals that can produce potentially harmful fumes, so ensure you work in a well-ventilated area.  

Tools and materials to make dark wood lighter

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

Step 1: Set up your workstation 

Assemble all the items you will need and wear your safety gear, including hand gloves and goggles. Then cover the floor or ground with a drop cloth.

This will help collect any spills and the old finish that you will scrape off your workpiece.

Step 2: Apply the chemical stripper to the dark wood to remove the topcoat

Your wood furniture is likely to have a varnish or polyurethane finish on top of the stain layer. You want to remove this layer before bleaching the dark wood stain for the best results. 

To do this, dip a natural bristled paintbrush into the chemical stripper and apply it onto the wood you are lightening. Ensure you create an even coat of the stripper on the surface, covering every inch where you intend to lighten. 

Leave the chemical wood stripper on the surface for 20 minutes to set.

Step 3: Use a plastic scraper to remove the topcoat

Hold a plastic scraper at a 45-degree angle to the wood surface and run it gently along the wood grain to lift off the finish. We recommend using a plastic spatula and not a metallic one since the latter could scratch the wood surface. 

Continue along the grain until all the old finish has come off. Then, pour some water on the wood to see if it has any lighter or darker spots.

The idea is to get the wood evenly colored as confirmation that you have removed all the topcoats. 

Step 4: Prepare your wood bleach solution by mixing it

Mix your wood bleach with water in a plastic bucket as directed on the packaging. The packaging should have a label with instructions on mixing the wood bleach; follow them to the letter. 

Alternatively, you could use oxalic acid for this purpose if you only want a mild treatment. Otherwise, ensure you have your gloves and safety goggle on when mixing the bleach. 

Unlike oxalic acid, designated wood bleach is a powerful solution that will remove much of the color and lighten dark wood’s natural color. 

In any case, you should be able to get any of these products in your local home improvement or hardware store.

Step 5: Apply the wood bleach onto the wood surface

Cover the entire surface of the wood with a thin coat of bleach using a natural bristled paintbrush. Once you cover every area you want to lighten, let it sit for approximately 30 minutes.

You can also use a mop to spread the bleach across the work surface to bleach a wooden floor.

Step 6: Use a white vinegar solution to neutralize the bleach

Once the 30 minutes have elapsed or after achieving the desired color, create a mixture of white vinegar and water in a bucket or large bowl in equal parts.

After mixing well, dunk a clean cloth in the mixture, wring out the excess liquid, and use it to wipe the wood surface. The vinegar solution will stop the bleach from reacting with the wood any further.

Step 7: Clean the surface thoroughly with a clean, damp rag

Next, use another rag dampened with warm water to wipe the wood clean. Ensure you wipe every inch of the surface to remove all traces of bleach and vinegar. Then let it dry overnight. 

If you are not happy with the wood color after drying, you can repeat the bleaching process once or twice more. Just don’t exceed three bleach treatments as this may dull the wood or cause it to grey.  

Step 8: Sand your wood 

The wood will be a bit coarse after this treatment. Sanding will help restore its smoothness and level the grain of the wood.

In this case, 180-grit sandpaper should get the job done. Here too, work along the grain to get the best results and sand until the surface is smooth to the touch. 

Step 9: Refinish the wood surface

Now that you already stripped out the old protective finish, you will need to apply another one to restore the surface protection of your wood furniture. 

We recommend a polyurethane finish for this purpose. Use a natural bristled brush to apply a thin coat of polyurethane finish to your wood. 

Consider doing a quick once-over on the finished surface with the paintbrush in long strokes to even out the surface. 

Caveat: Do not shake the polyurethane container, as this could form air bubbles that might ruin your wood finish when you apply it.

How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter With Steel Wool

A more straightforward way of staining dark wood lighter is to use a ball of fine steel wool. These have the 000 grading for fine options or 0000 for super fine. You may use either grade. 

Supplies to stain dark wood lighter

  • Fine steel wool 
  • Mineral spirits 
  • Warm water faucet
  • Safety goggles 
  • Protective hand gloves 
  • Rags for applying stain

Steps to lighten dark stained wood cabinets, furniture, and beams

Start by wearing your safety goggles and protective hand gloves. Once that is done, follow these steps to make dark stained wood lighter with steel wool. 

Step 1: Rub the wood with the steel wool  

Soak a ball of fine steel wool in warm water, wring out the excess, then lightly rub it against the wood. Be sure to keep the pressure even while rubbing along the wood grain to lighten the stain. 

Step 2: Wipe the wood with a clean rag dampened in mineral spirits to lift the stain

Soak a clean cloth with some mineral spirits and rub the wood with it along the grain. This should help lift the wood stain. 

Observe how the color changes while you wipe. The area should slowly become lighter than the rest of the surface.

You may have to wipe for several minutes to cover the entire stained surface. Also, you can use more rags if one gets too dirty. 

Step 3: Switch back to rubbing with steel wool and keep alternating between the two

Put aside the mineral spirits for a bit and continue rubbing with the steel wool. After that, switch back to the mineral spirits and a rag.

Keep alternating between these two methods until you have achieved a lighter color that you are happy with. Notice that the steel wool and mineral spirits may lighten the stain color slowly, so you may work for several minutes before getting the color you want. 

Once you have managed to lighten the stain, wipe the wood using a clean cloth to remove all traces of the mineral spirits. This method works best for getting a lighter color on oil-based stains than water-based stains.

Rub with Steel Wool

How To Lighten Dark Wood Stain By Diluting It Before Applying 

To avoid working backward, you can dilute a dark wood stain to lighten the color before applying it to the wood surface. This proactive approach can save you a lot of elbow grease. 

List of supplies to lighten wood stain

  • Natural wood stain 
  • A standard stain of your choice 
  • Natural bristled brush 
  • A clean rag or two
  • A pair of hand gloves 
  • Protective face mask 

Step 1: Assemble the items you will need 

Put together your standard and natural stains with the same base as the one you want to lighten. 

Natural wood stains are clear-colored, so you can use them as thinners when mixed with other tinted options to create a lighter product. 

Ensure that the two products are both either water-based or oil-based. They have to have the same base to be compatible.

Step 2: Mix your standard stain and natural wood stain in equal parts

You can use a sealable metal container, or empty paint can mix these two.

Pour the same amounts of each stain into the empty container and mix them well. We recommend using a paint stirrer to ensure the two are thoroughly mixed. 

Read: How To Get Paint off Stained Wood

Step 3: Test out your new wood stain on a scrap piece of wood

You want to know if the color is what you were hoping for, so apply some of the new stain you have created on a piece of wood. Ensure the scrap piece has the same color or type as the piece of furniture where you want to use the lighter stain. 

Dip your staining brush in the mixture and rub it into the scrap piece. Then wipe out the excess the same way you would wipe the actual piece of furniture, and let it stay overnight. 

This should give you a sneak peek of how your furniture will look with this stain on. 

Step 4: Add More Natural Stain to the Mixture if you Want a Lighter Color. 

If you are not satisfied with the stain color yet, you can add more natural stain and stir thoroughly. Then test the stain on the scrap wood to see if you have got the color you want. 

You may repeat this process until you achieve your desired stain color.

How to Lighten Wood Stain

To lighten the dark wood stain, mix equal amounts of the stain you intend to lighten and natural wood stain. To determine the hue of the stain, test it on a scrap piece of wood. Add more natural stain if you want the color to be lighter.

If you still want to make it lighter, add 1⁄2 cup (120ml) of natural stain at a time and stir thoroughly with your stir stick until the mixture is uniform.

Some Important Tips for DIY Enthusiasts

Now that you’ve known how to stain wood a lighter color, here are few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Start by buying your standard stain and checking if it is oil-based or water-based. Then, proceed to look for a natural stain with the same base before buying.
  2. Use mineral spirits to dilute oil-based stains if you cannot find the natural wood stain.
  3. Use water to dilute water-based stains if you cannot find a natural wood stain. 


Will mineral spirits lighten wood stain

Yes, mineral spirits will lighten a dark stained wood without removing the stain entirely. For example, you can soak a clean cloth in mineral spirits or turpentine and rub it on a dark stained wood firmly along the grain to make the wood lighter. 

How do you remove dark stains from wood cabinets?

To remove dark stains from wood cabinets or furniture or your log cabin, wipe the stains with a rag soaked in a two-step wood bleach solution or liquid laundry bleach. You can also use mixed with water, which is more potent than laundry bleach for this purpose. 

Related Read: Best Exterior Stain for Log Cabin or Home 

How to lighten dark stained wood floors

To lighten dark stained wood floors, use a mop to apply and spread wood bleach on the floor where you want to lighten. Then use a white vinegar solution to neutralize the bleach, and clean the surface thoroughly with a clean damp rag. 

Can you stain wood lighter?

Yes, you stain dark wood to be lighter. But because lightning covers the wood’s grain and natural color, it’s unsuitable for fine woods. You will not lighten the color of a dark stain if you apply a light color of stain over it. Before lightening wood, strip down the existing stain on the dark wood using a petroleum-based solvent to completely alter the color and make it lighter before you can add a lighter colored stain.

Can you lighten stained wood?

Yes, you can lighten dark wood for an interesting light-dark contrast. For fine stained woods, lighting is not advised. This is because the stain covers up the wood’s natural hue and grain; however, it might be useful as a last resort.

Related: Does stain lighten as it dries?

How to lighten dark stain on wood

To lighten the dark stains on wood, you need a clean cloth or rag and mineral spirit or turpentine. Soak the cloth in a mineral spirit and carefully rub along the grain of the wood to lighten the stain.

It will only lighten the stain on wood, but it won’t remove the stain.

How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter Summary

Learning how to lighten wood stain isn’t rocket science.

Always start the task of making your dark-stained wood lighter by stripping down the existing wood finish and dark stain using a petroleum-based solvent, then let the surface dry before sanding and refinishing it. 

See the best wood for dark stain here.

What to Do Next?

Even if you took precautions like using gloves, you might still find that some stains got on you while you are lightening your wood. So, check out our guide on How To Get Wood Stain Off Skin

3 thoughts on “How to Make Dark Stained Wood Lighter”

  1. Thanks for these instructions. What’s an example of a petroleum solvent for lightening the dark stain? In other words, what specific product should I look to purchase?


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