How to Lighten Up Wood Finish

Updated April 17, 2017

Wood finish is a common element of home decor, but as styles change there may be a need to lighten the colour of items like a piece of furniture, picture frame or fireplace mantel. Wood finishing is the process of enhancing or changing the colour of natural wood using stains or varnish, which are available at home improvement stores. Old layers of stains and paint must be removed before the wood's finish can be lightened.

Remove any existing finish from the wood using a paint and varnish remover.

Wash the wood with white spirit to clean off the paint and varnish remover. Allow the wood to dry completely.

Mix and apply the wood bleach according to the manufacturer's instructions, and then neutralise the wood bleach according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Wash the wood with a sponge, taking care not to oversaturate the wood. Allow the wood to dry completely.

Sand the wood with 120 grit sandpaper, and then sand again with 180 or 220 grit sandpaper.

Clean all of the sanding dust off the wood using a dry paintbrush and a tack cloth.

Stain the wood the desired colour and varnish.


Wood can take up to 2 days to dry completely. Always sand wood in the direction of the grain.


Perform all steps in a well-ventilated area. Wear protective gloves and eye ware. Never mix bleach with any other chemicals. Never reuse bleach. Follow all manufacturer's instructions carefully.

Things You'll Need

  • Varnish remover
  • White spirit
  • Wood bleach
  • Wood bleach neutraliser
  • Sponge
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint brush
  • Tack cloth
  • Wood stain
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About the Author

Alane Michaelson began writing professionally in 2002. Her work has appeared in Michigan publications such as the "Detroit Free Press" and the "Flint Journal." Michaelson graduated from Oakland University in 2006, earning a Bachelor of Arts in journalism.