How to Remove Dyes from Finished Wood


Janice asked: I left some gel window clings on my wood china cabinet and they have left stains. How can I remove them? The china cabinet is a blond-colored wood.

Dyes can appear on wood from a variety of things. The most common seems to be dye that transfers from streamers, confetti, and hair dye. No matter what the cause of the dye, the removal process remains the same. Always use caution and observe the finish on your wood piece regularly to ensure it is not being scrubbed away along with the dye. Avoid any corrosive or abrasive cleaners as they can cause more damage while removing the stains. Follow these steps to lift the dye without damaging the wood or the finish.

You Will Need:

  • White vinegar or lemon juice
  • Baking soda
  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
  • Soft cloths or sponge
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Rubber gloves (optional)

Steps to Remove the Dye Stain:

  1. Begin by inspecting the stain to determine how deep it goes. If it is mostly just on the surface, it will be much easier to remove than a stain that has absorbed into the wood.
  2. If the stain has dried and is just on the surface, first try scrubbing it away with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
  3. If that does not remove the stain, or if it goes beyond the surface, it will take a bit more time and elbow grease to get it out.
  4. Begin by mixing baking soda with white vinegar or lemon juice to make a paste. It should be at least as thick as toothpaste.
  5. Spread the paste over the stained area and gently rub it with a sponge or your fingers.
  6. Spray the area with plain water, or white vinegar for an added cleaning boost.
  7. Wipe the area clean with a soft cloth.
  8. This may take several applications to remove the stain completely.
  9. When the stain is completely gone, wipe over the area with a clean cloth moistened with plain water to rinse away any residue from the cleaning products used.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Darker wood finishes will require more caution as they can become lighter in color only to make the stained area stand out more. Always test a small hidden area on all pieces before proceeding with the stained area.
  • Some dye stains can be easily lifted with insect repellent or spray on sunscreen. Simply spray the product on the stain and wipe with a clean cloth.
  • SOS pads (with lemon preferred) can also be used. These pads can be very abrasive so use caution to rub lightly so the finish on the wood does not become damaged.
  • Another option for removing the dye stain is rubbing alcohol. Moisten a cotton ball or cotton swab and gently rub it over the area. This works best on light stains, although it can dramatically lessen heavier stains.


  1. Meghan says:

    We stained our off white kitchen table with window clings – tried EVERYTHING (all the above listed fixes) and nothing worked (some removed a bit of the finish from the wood, so be careful). As a last option we tried hair spray (after trying just about anything liquid). It got lighter in color. We tried it again, let it set for a minute and it took the stain out!

  2. Cori says:

    I swore these things off years ago after I stained an end table with them. I made one exception for a birthday party and my 2 year old sneaked off with them and stained the coffee table. ARGHH!! BUT… The paste plus a good scrubbing with a dish sponge (scrubbing side) made the stain disappear without harming the wood!!! Thank you so much for the advice!!!

  3. Glenis says:

    How did you figure out hairspray? My daughter put dye all over our entertainment unit for a party, and I’ve tried the vinegar and baking soda, and the Mr. Clean sponge, and nothing works. It’s darker wood and I’m scared the color of it will change? Help!

  4. Robert says:

    Good day. I made a new cabinet of rose wood, and my customer put oil on it, but at a certain stage he used something blue that left a blue mark on the wood. I sanded the wood again but the blue is still there. Can anyone help?

  5. Adriana says:

    THANK YOU! Just finished dying my hair, and accidentally stained my parents’ bathroom wood cabinets, and am totally panicking! But then I tried the vinegar and baking soda, and some elbow grease, and it did the job great! No evidence of my hair being dyed in their bathroom at all. Thank you!

  6. Mary says:

    I used a Mr. Clean Magic Sponge (not because of the recommendation), and it removed the stain… and the finish. The finish can be fixed, but I noticed on the Magic Eraser box that it says not to use it on shiny or finished wood. Just a heads up.

  7. Tiffany says:

    My table is dark cherry wood with a finish on it. A bottle of hairspray leaked on the table and it sat over night and turned the table white. What should I do?

  8. Melanie says:

    Hairspray breaks down easily and can be removed from wood without damaging the finish by using rubbing alcohol. Moisten a sponge or rag with rubbing alcohol, apply the alcohol to the stain and allow the alcohol to soak into the stain. Rub the stain gently with the sponge, clean the area with soap and water and then dry the area thoroughly.

    Source: How to Clean Hairspray from a Varnished Wood Door
    Source: How to Clean Nail Polish from Dark Cherry Wood

  9. Beverly says:

    Thanks for the hairspray tip!

    Just tried it on my dining room table and it worked a treat with no damage to the wood surface.

  10. Julia says:


    We had a party and one of the kids put the red sticky blood stickers on my wood hutch and stained it red. It is dark with a clear coat; what can I do?

  11. Vania says:

    Julia! The same thing happened to me this past Halloween. Do you have any suggestions?

  12. Staci says:

    My daughter scribbled pen all over my wooden island in the kitchen. I believe it was some type of gel pen. I have tried all of the above. I don’t want to turn to finger nail polish remover or sanding the surface because obviously it will damage the finish on the wood. Please help

  13. Melanie says:

    This article might help: How to Remove Ink Stains from Wood. If not, perhaps this article can help: How to Remove Gel Ink from Upholstery. Since your ink is on wood, be sure to test any cleaning solution on a hidden area first to check for any adverse effects.
    If nothing is working, here is another idea (I don’t know if this would work – just an idea): it sometimes can be helpful if you ‘freshen’ the stain; for example, to remove hair dye from skin, it can help to apply fresh dye onto the older stain, etc. In this case, you could try to apply a wood stain dye over the gel ink with a thin paintbrush or perhaps an empty pen, let it sit a few minutes, then work on removing both the gel ink (hopefully ‘freshened’ by the dye) and the dye at once. If you can’t remove one or the other, perhaps the wood stain dye would at least hide the gel pen marks.

  14. Lez says:

    I killed a wood lice with Deathlac and a white area appeared! Tried washing with wood cleaner; no luck! Tried lightly rubbing and rubbing a bit harder on my wooden floor, but now white patches have appeared all over my floor!! Help please; thanks.

  15. Irene says:

    My daughter spilt her dark eyelash dye on my beech furniture. I have tried the Magic Eraser and the lemon/oil/baking powder; nothing works. I hope someone has a magic cure to help me, otherwise the furniture is ruined.
    Help, please; thank you.

  16. Melanie says:

    Use baking soda, not baking powder. (Baking soda is much stronger.) Also, you don’t need to use any oil. If that method still doesn’t work, try some of the suggestions in the Additional Tips section (rubbing alcohol, SOS pads, etc.). You could also try using makeup remover or cigarette ash, as described in the article, How to Remove Hair Dye from Skin. Keep in mind though that you should always test a cleaning solution on a hidden area of an item first to look for any adverse reaction.
    Source: Simply Recepies – The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

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