How to Repair Water Damaged Wood – A DIY Guide for Homeowners

Updated: | Author: Brad Javernick | Affiliate links may be present.

Water damage is a serious business. It can create long-lasting issues if not dealt with correctly.

From issues of being structurally sound to mold that can make a homeowner sick, it is essential to get the right solutions.

Here we will discuss different types of water damage to wood and what you can do about it.

How Does Water Damage Wood

Wood is naturally porous. When water comes in contact with wood, it does not take long at all for it to soak in, weaken the wood and possibly start rotting it or growing mold. Water will weaken it, which can cause structural integrity problems in buildings.

The wood you may use for exterior shingles, shutters, patios, and stairs is commonly weather treated to avoid water damage. The untreated wood in the walls of your home is vulnerable when it comes in contact with water.

Structural Water Damage

If you have water in your home, it is important to catch it as fast as possible! The sooner you catch it, the less damage you will have.  Remove wet drywall as soon as possible so it doesn’t mold and so you can see the structural wood behind the drywall.

Regardless of how your wood structure becomes wet, you must stop the damage by drying out the wood. This can mean using artificial methods like blow dryers, blowers, dehumidifiers, and fans. Sunlight is also a great option if you can expose the structure to it.

The key is to get the wood completely dry slowly and thoroughly. You may want to use a product like Damp Rid. While allowing structural walls to dry thoroughly, Damp Rid can help absorb any excess moisture in the air.

Wood that is wet for too long can start to grow mold in as little as a few hours. If the home’s structure has been in water for more than a few hours and is dried out completely, look for signs of mold or do a simple test for mold.

If you have mold, remedy it as quickly as possible before you start other projects. You don’t want to breathe in any of the mold spores. Many products on the market can do this or hire a professional.

Once the wood is dry and safe to work on, you will cut out the rotted wood and replace it. Be very careful of the structure and what it needs to stay steady. If in doubt, you can hire a professional to handle this.

Once the structural wood is replaced, you can close up the wall with drywall or other methods you choose and paint as usual.

Wood Flooring

If you have real hardwood floors they can be damaged by water if not properly sealed. The key with floors is to get water spills up as fast as possible. Any water left can cause lifting from the swelling of the wood and will cause floors to be uneven.

Once cleaned up and properly dried you will treat the wood floor much like the wood furniture in the next section.

The instructions below will not remedy issues with engineered flooring that swells. If you have this problem, you may have to replace some planks of your flooring since the lamination will not stand up to sanding and finishing products like polyurethane.

Water Damage to Wood Furniture

If you have spills, leaks, or flooding, wood furniture is sure to have damage and it will happen very quickly.

Remove water and dry the wood furniture as soon as possible. This will keep the problem from getting worse.

Once the furniture is dry, you can see what part needs help. Allow at least 24 hours.

Sunshine is the best drying method for wood because it takes time.  The wood should be dried slowly so that it gets deep into the grain, and the wood will expand and contract with changes from wet to dry.  The wood must stay as stable as possible, so further damage is not caused.

The exception to sunlight being the best remedy is if you live in a humid climate or are having bad weather.  In this case, take the furniture indoors.

Swollen Wood Furniture

Once you have dried your furniture completely, you can make sure that the structure of the furniture is in sound shape. Place screws, nails, brackets, or other hardware to return the furniture to its original sturdiness.

Using a hand or electric sander you can smooth out and shape the parts of the wood that are swollen, cracked or warped. If you do have cracked wood be sure to use wood filler and let it dry according to instructions before sanding.

Now you can stain or paint the wood as you like. To make sure you protect your furniture and the color you add, choose a polyurethane top coat that is for marine or bar top finishes. This will protect your furniture from sun damage and fading as well as future water damage.

Cracked Wood Furniture

Be sure you have plenty of supplies and tools to do the job of repairing cracks in furniture. If the cracks are from water damage or if water has been in the cracks, dry the furniture completely in the sun.

The supplies you will likely need may include wood glue, a wood putty, wood filler, epoxy, a putty knife for small areas, a sander, sandpaper, tack cloth, stain, paint, and a top coat such as polyurethane.

Clean the area and the cracks as well as you can so that the various products will adhere to the wood. Then add filler, putty, or other product to fill in the gaps of the cracks. Use the small knife or applicator to get as detailed as you can.

Once the crack filler dries you can sand. A belt sander may be great for large surfaces like the top of a table but a hand sander will be better for curves, edges, and finer details.

Use a tack cloth to remove all the fine dust from sanding. Be sure to remove all the dust so it doesn’t end up in your paint or stain.

You are then ready to paint/stain and add your top coat!

Water Rings and Heat Marks on Wood Furniture

We all have that family member or friend that comes to our home to visit and sets a drink down on the wood furniture without anything under it to protect the wood. This creates awful cloudy rings in furniture.

On the other hand, maybe you set a hot dish on your dining table without enough protection and have heat marks on your furniture.

These problems don’t have to be permanent if caught quickly and not allowed to get too deep.

Drying the wood is the first order of business. Since these marks are generally on the top of tables you can use a blow dryer or a low-heat, dry iron (not on any steam setting). If using the iron, be sure to place a wet towel between the wood and the iron. Make sure you do not leave this on the wood too long or you will cause further damage.

Gently rub some oil into the mark with a soft cloth. The oil you use can be different things and many people have different opinions. I recommend mayonnaise or Vaseline (any petroleum jelly will do).

Gently buff a small amount of the oil into the furniture. If this does not work to remove the stain you can leave a small amount of the oil on the furniture for 12 to 18 hours and then buff it out.

If the oil does not work or you don’t have those products you can make a paste of baking soda with a bit of water. Gently rub this paste into the stain going along the grain. Buff it out.

I have heard of people using plain white toothpaste to achieve the same results.  The reason this would work is that it is a soft abrasive that won’t damage the wood.  It could be worth a try if you have some on hand.

Avoiding Expanding and Shrinking Wood Furniture

Because wood is so porous it will expand and shrink simply because of the amount of humidity in the air.

The remedy to this is to keep the humidity in your house at about 40%.

I have a full-size grand piano that is made of beautiful wood and the first thing I was told to do was to get a humidifier to put near it (not close) so that the desert air would not cause problems with the wood. I did this and have never had a problem with the wood.

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About Brad Javernick

Brad is a licensed home inspector and the editor of Home Oomph. He's a massive DIYer, and loves to take on new home renovation projects!

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