How to Lighten Wood Like a Professional? 2023 Updated Guide

Wood has an innate beauty that can be truly captivating when treated with care and skill. But as they age, wear and tear can take a toll on their inner beauty by darkening their stain.

But that doesn’t mean you have to throw away something you once cherished as a valuable part of your house.

So, if you’re eager to remove years of wear and tear from a cherished piece of furniture but got in a fix about how to do it, I got you.

Bleaching is the best method to lighten wood and restore its original stain. However, you can also use the sanding method to lighten wood if you are not a fan of bleach.

At the end of this blog, I will also show you some other DIY methods for ‘how to lighten wood’ that will blow your mind away!

How to Lighten Wood With Bleach?

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

  • Wood stripper (chemical paint remover) for removing the old finish.
  • Plastic or glass container to mix and apply the bleach.
  • A clean rag for applying the bleach.
  • Quality paintbrush to ensure even application.
  • Clean water for rinsing and cleaning.
  • White vinegar for neutralizing any remaining chemicals.
  • Clean cloth or sponge to help you wipe and apply vinegar.

Step 2: Safety First

Your well-being is a top priority. Before diving into the work, gear up with the following:

  • Rubber gloves: These will shield your hands from the chemicals.
  • Safety goggles: Protect your peepers from any unexpected splashes or fumes.

Step 3: Prepare Your Workspace

Choose a workspace wisely:

  • Find a well-ventilated area, ideally outdoors, to keep those fumes at bay.
  • Select a workbench or a surface that doesn’t mind getting a bit messy.

Step 4: Apply Wood Stripper

Now, let’s kick off the transformation:

  • Ensure your wood stripper is mixed and ready to roll. Give the container a good shake or stir to wake it up.
  • For the application, go for a high-quality paintbrush. One with synthetic bristles is often your best bet.
  • Dip your paintbrush into the wood stripper, ensuring it’s well-soaked, and start applying it generously to the wood’s surface. Be generous to achieve even coverage.
  • Pay close attention as you apply. The goal is a consistent layer covering every inch of the wood. No dry spots or clumps are allowed.
  • If your wood is sizeable, working in sections can be more manageable. Apply the stripper section by section, ensuring each area gets its fair share.

Step 5: Wait for the Stripper to Work

This is where patience pays off:

  • Follow the instructions on your wood stripper product. Different products have different wait times. Typically, you’re looking at around 20-30 minutes for the magic to happen.
  • While waiting, resist the urge to start scraping or scrubbing. Let the stripper do its thing; aggressive action now can harm the wood.

Step 6: Scrape Off the Old Finish

Time to reveal your wood’s potential:

  • Once that waiting period is up, you’ll notice the old finish is bubbling or blistering. That’s your cue.
  • Select your tool of choice: a scraper or putty knife will do the trick.
  • Start at an inconspicuous spot to practice your technique. Once you’ve got the hang of it, move on to more prominent areas.
  • With gentle pressure, begin scraping the softened finish. Think of it as peeling off a delicate layer, not a wrestling match.
  • Work in small sections, keeping the tool at a low angle for smooth, even removal. Keep a close eye on your progress.
  • If some spots are stubborn, apply more wood stripper.
  • Keep a cloth or paper towel close to clean up. It keeps your workspace neat and shows your progress.
  • Don’t rush; be patient. Rushing or using too much force can damage the wood.

Step 7: Mix the Wood Bleach

Time to switch gears:

  • Follow your chosen wood bleach product’s instructions to create a bleach solution.
  • Typically, it’s a mix of one-part bleach and four parts water. This solution will work its magic in lightening the wood.

Step 8: Apply the Bleach

The moment of transformation has arrived:

  • Grab a clean, lint-free rag, or choose between a sponge or a paintbrush, depending on your preference.
  • Dip your chosen applicator into the bleach solution, ensuring it’s soaked but not dripping.
  • Begin applying the bleach solution evenly across the wood’s surface, starting at one end and working methodically.
  • Aim for consistent coverage, applying medium pressure and a moderate amount. No need for aggressive scrubbing; a gentle, even touch is what you’re after.
  • If you’re aiming for significant lightening, applying multiple coats is an option. However, allow each coat to dry before adding the next. Gradual layering is key.
  • Keep in mind that the number of coats you need depends on the wood’s natural color and your desired lightness. Darker wood may require more coats.
  • Continue applying coats until you’re satisfied. The more coats, the lighter and more washed-out the wood will appear. You can always go lighter, but going darker is trickier.
  • After your final coat, let the wood air dry completely. This might take a day or more, depending on the wood and your environment.

Step 9: Rinse the Wood

Post-bleaching, ensure a thorough rinse:

  • Use clean water to rinse the wood meticulously, removing any residual stripper or bleach. Keep the wood clean and chemical-free.

Step 10: Neutralize with Vinegar

For added peace of mind:

  • Mix a solution of one part white vinegar and three parts water.
  • Wipe the wood with this vinegar solution using a clean cloth or sponge. This neutralizes any remaining chemicals and adds a pleasing touch to your wood’s finish.

Step 11: Let it Dry

Back to patience:

  • Allow the wood to air dry completely. Depending on the wood and environmental conditions, this might take a day or two.
  • Ensure the wood is entirely dry before moving on to any finishing touches.

How to Lighten Wood Without Bleach?

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

  • Various grits sandpapers, ranging from coarse to fine, for sanding the wood.
  • Rubber gloves to protect your hands during the sanding process.
  • Safety goggles to safeguard your eyes from any wood dust or debris.
  • Clean water for rinsing the wood.

Step 2: Safety First

Prioritize safety for a smooth wood-lightening experience:

  • Put on your rubber gloves and safety goggles to protect your hands and eyes during sanding.

Step 3: Prepare Your Workspace

Set the stage for your wood-lightening project:

  • Work in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, to avoid inhaling dust.
  • Place your wood piece on a workbench or a surface you don’t mind getting dusty.

Step 3: Remove Any Veneer

If your wood furniture has veneer, it’s best to remove it:

  • Start by using a chisel to peel up the veneer carefully. It should come off relatively easily.
  • Removing the veneer ensures a smoother and more even wood-lightening process.

Step 6: Counteract The Orange

To tackle any unwelcome orange or brassiness in the wood:

  • Apply a water-based stain with a neutralizing tone that can counteract those unwanted orange hues. You’re not aiming for a green stain; you just want one that can handle those warm, orange tones.
  • Dilute the stain with a generous amount of water, creating a gentle stain that can neutralize the wood’s warm, orange tones.

Step 4: Start Sanding

With the dried light stain in place:

  • Begin sanding with coarse-grit sandpaper (around 80-100 grit) in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Apply firm but not excessive pressure to avoid gouging the wood. Keep the sandpaper flat against the surface for even results.
  • Continue sanding until you’ve lightened most of the old finish, revealing a refreshed wood surface.
  • Progress to finer-grit sandpaper (around 150-220 grit) to smoothen the surface.

Step 5: Clean the Wood

After sanding, ensure a clean surface for the next steps:

  • Use a clean, dry cloth or brush to remove any wood dust left on the surface. A clean surface ensures the finish adheres properly.

Step 7: Apply White Wax

Here’s the secret to achieving a white, bleached look without resorting to bleach:

  • Grab some white wax and evenly apply it over the sanded surface of your wood furniture.
  • This simple step will give your wood piece that distinctive white, bleached appearance, rejuvenating its look.

Additional DIY Methods to Lighten Wood

What would you think if I told you that you can even lighten wood using household items? That would be wild, right?

Well, hold that thought for a while. Here are some methods that you can use with common home accessories to lighten wood.

Steel Wool and Vinegar

Soak steel wool in white vinegar. Then, rub it on the wood gently. The steel wool and vinegar mix makes the wood lighter by removing its top layer.

Oxalic Acid

Mix oxalic acid crystals with water. Apply it to the wood and wait. Oxalic acid lightens the wood and removes stains.

Baking Soda

Mix baking soda and water to make a paste. Spread this paste on your wood, let it sit, and then gently scrub with a soft brush or cloth. Baking soda helps lighten the wood and remove stains, giving it a weathered look.

Sunlight Exposure

Put your wood in the sun for a while. The UV ray from sunlight naturally bleaches and lightens the wood’s color. But be patient; this method takes a few weeks to show results.

Bottom Line

And there you have it. By following any of the methods mentioned above, you can lighten your wood like a professional woodworker.

And not just that. You can even create the appropriate finish for your wood if you are on a woodworking or wood carving journey.

So, put your creative hat on and start getting your hands dirty right away!


Can you lighten dark wood?

Yes. A 2-part bleach solution can lighten the color of dark wood. It can also remove any water or oil-based stain from the wood.

Does sunlight make wood lighter?

Yes. Direct sunlight can fade wood’s color by washing away its rich particles and making it lighter.

Does water darken wood?

Yes. Over time, moisture leads wood to discoloration. These are usually black or dark brown, known as dark water stains. But you should keep in mind that these stains are not surface-level marks; they get deep into the wood fiber. So, removing them is much more difficult than lightening wood’s color in traditional ways.