removing water marks from antiques

Removing Water Marks from your Antique

The upcoming blogs are going to be about the care, restoration or repair of your precious antiques.  While it’s always best to let a professional handle these delicate matters, these blogs should answer some questions about whether a piece is salvageable or ready for donation to your local thrift store.

First we are going to investigate the ‘water stain’.  While usually all water stains are treatable, some can be much more difficult than others.  If a water stain is white, that’s a good sign.  If it’s dark, well, that’s a different story

Water and other kinds of liquid can cause ring stains in finish and wood. Shellac finishes are more susceptible to this problem than other types. Stains that are in the finish are usually white, while stains that have gone through the finish and into the wood will appear dark or black.

Dark water stains can’t be removed without refinishing, and even then, they are difficult to get out. You may be able to remove the finish, bleach the stain, and refinish the surface.

White water stains, or those still in the finish, can often be removed without stripping the finish. The longer the stain is in the finish, the deeper it will penetrate into the surface. The deeper moisture penetrates into the surface, the harder the stain is to remove, so it’s important to remove water stains as soon as possible.

Finish discoloration that’s caused by moisture is a result of moisture being trapped in or under the finish. To remove water stains, you must get rid of the trapped moisture. This can be done in one of two ways: Use a chemical called an amalgamator to soften the finish long enough for moisture to evaporate before the finish hardens, or use an abrasive to cut into the finish to the depth of the moisture, allowing moisture to escape and causing the stain to disappear.

Remove water stains using amalgamator

Amalgamator is an alcohol-based mixture sold by finish and touch-up supply stores to soften an area of the finish and cause the moisture stain to dissipate. The technique for applying the amalgamator to the finish surface is similar to that used for French polishing. If you can’t get amalgamator, try using denatured alcohol instead, but be careful not to cut too deeply into the finish.

Removing Water Marks from Antiques

1) Apply amalgamator to a pad
Use a soft cotton rag to make an applicator pad. Ball or roll up the rag in a comfortable size to hold in one hand (about the size of a large egg). Smooth out the part of the rag that will make contact with the finish surface. There should be no wrinkles or creases. Apply amalgamator to the pad, allowing it to soak into the rag.

2) Disperse the amalgamator
Tap the padding rag into the palm of your other hand, causing the amalgamator to spread into the rag until the surface of the rag is damp, but not wet.

3) Pad the stain
Pad over the surface of the finish on top of the stain with a pendulum-like stroke in the direction of the wood grain. Briefly touch the padding rag to the stain surface, and then lift it off, keeping the pad in motion when it’s in contact with the finish surface. The water stain may not immediately disappear, so continue to pad the area, adding more amalgamator to the rag if necessary. The trick is to keep your padding rag damp enough to soften the finish but not wet enough to cut through the finish to the wood surface.

4) Blend-in the repair area
When you finished to remove the water stains, allow the area to dry. Next, rub the finish down with #0000 steel wool to blend the sheen. Paste-wax the finish if necessary.

Remove Ring Stains Using Abrasives

You can use any of a number of fine abrasives to remove water stains from the finish, including #0000 steel wool, rottenstone, pumice, and 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper. Adventuresome refinishers have even used toothpaste or cigar ashes as abrasives. The depth of the stain will determine which one will work for you. Start with a mild abrasive. If that doesn’t work, go to sandpaper. However, the less cutting into the finish to remove water stains, the better.

Removing Water Marks from Antiques

1) Rub the stain area using steel wool 
Rub #0000 steel wool over the stained area of the finish, rubbing with the grain and using firm pressure. If the stain is shallow, this may remove water stains. If not, go to Step 2.

2) Rub the area using sandpaper
Use 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper and a felt block to sand the stained area if steel wool doesn’t get the stain out. A little soapy water or mineral spirits will work as a lubricant for the sandpaper. Use firm pressure and sand the area well, rubbing in the direction of the grain. If the stain doesn’t disappear, go to a coarser wet-or-dry paper (500- or 400-grit), but remember that coarser papers may dull the sheen in the repair area and can even cut through the finish to the wood, so be careful. If you use a coarser paper, follow it by sanding with 600-grit paper to try to bring back the sheen.

3) Rub the area, again using steel wool
Rub out the finish using #0000 steel wool and paste wax, if it’s needed to blend the repair area with the rest of the finish.

As a last word of advice, all these techniques require skill and a delicate touch.  While I have posted these methods, I assume no responsibility if you damage a piece.  Consult a professional and let them do the work.

At the Antique Warehouse we can fix almost anything.  If you like, send us a photo by email no larger than 100K, and we can estimate how much it will cost to have your piece looking great again.

Happy Holidays to you all.

Mark LaFleur