I made a kitchen table from oak wood, and oiled the surface. It's a great looking piece and I'm very proud of it. Yesterday I must have stained it with a cleaning product, I unfortunately do not know, which one. See the picture - this is the inner stain, which is actually quite dark.

In an attempt to remove it, I seem to have made thing worse by using a fat solvent (used to clean ovens); that's the outer stain.

stain on table

Any ideas on how to undo this? :/ In the past, on red wine stains, I've successfully applied salt and/or dishwashing soap. This removes the oil finish, but that can easily be reapplied.

Edit: the oil used is a food-safe countertop oil made from "natural linseed oil, sunflower oil, soy oil and carnauba wax". It was applied by rubbing on with an old cloth (wax on/wax off), in about 3 layers, 2 years ago. Reapplied oil twice since then.

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    Don't have an answer for you, other than the usual "remove finish and reapply, feathering into old finish, hope for a close match" but this is probably why finishing experts will tell you an oil is a bad finish for a kitchen table unless you want that rustic stained look over time. Just wash, live with it, and re-oil as necessary.
    – user5572
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 13:39
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    Could you give us more detail about the oil you used, and the application process (including times) please? These are all very important details for properly relevant suggestions.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 13:43
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    Thanks for the comments. I've edited the question with the requested information.
    – ElRudi
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 17:44
  • Thanks for the extra details! We get updates on Questions after requesting additional info far less frequently than you'd imagine (many Qs are abandoned after being asked regrettably).
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 13:12
  • Sometimes the only easy solution is to build a new table. That looks like a permanent stain to me, only fixable by removing the affected timber. Even if you apply exactly the same stain again, it won’t look the same as it changes the months/years since it was originally applied. Personally I’d just put a flower vase or some ornament over the stain and eventually it will be an old table with many marks so it won’t matter so much. Commented May 2, 2020 at 22:43

1 Answer 1


Any ideas on how to undo this?

As I suspect you already fear the only reliable way to deal with this is to go back to bare wood and then finish again. Since you used an oil finish blending the new finish back in with the old should be possible (this is frequently given as one of the main selling points with oil finishes of all kinds).

Unfortunately this may not be a simple matter of just spot-sanding/scraping the affected area because the stain might have penetrated deeply enough that you will create a visible low spot. You'll have to be guided by what you discover once you start to sand or scrape.... you might get lucky :-)

One additional point to note is that the newly worked wood is likely to be noticeably lighter in colour than the wood around it. The colour will even up eventually, but it will take some time and you'll need to be patient.

For both the above reasons you may want to bite the bullet and just refinish the whole surface. I've done this myself more than once to treat localised staining.

Note: oils (and waxes, and all mixtures of them) are relatively poor surface protectors and it can be prudent to embrace minor stains here and there as a natural aspect of the finish choice.

This isn't anything related to your main query but I wanted to include something on it.

Edit: the oil used is a food-safe countertop oil made from "natural linseed oil, sunflower oil, soy oil and carnauba wax".

The "food safe finish" thing is a great con in woodworking circles and does a lot to distract from the truth in this area. In reality it appears one can safely assume that all regular wood finishes are food safe (once fully dried/cured in the case of drying finishes) because there is not, and never has been, any evidence to the contrary.

In practice one of the main takeaways related to this is that there is no reason to prefer a "food-safe" finish over one that isn't sold as such, but which may be a better (and frequently also cheaper) finish.

  • I think the food-safe pseudo-labelling came out of some historical situations where some finishes could have a significant amount of heavy metals that were added as drying agents, etc. You are correct that these are perfectly safe once cured, but the problem with heavy metals is that moisture, pH, and time would conspire to turn those metals into metallic salts, which are easily absorbed by creatures trapped in closed rooms over humid winters. I can't think of any modern finish that still uses metals like this, but it was a concern for previous generations.
    – user5572
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 14:34
  • @jdv, oil-based finishes still have "significant" presence of heavy-metal driers, for a given definition of the word significant :-) All oil-based finishes use driers, most of them metallic salts, and while lead is largely a thing of the past (unfortunately, because it's just not that dangerous, and has desirable properties) others that are fairly unpleasant (cobalt arguably being the main concern) their presence is in tiny amounts, in a finish present in a thin to very thin layer. There simply isn't enough potential exposure to concern oneself with, even imagining worst-case scenarios.
    – Graphus
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 12:14
  • More or less I agree, though there are historical reasons for minimizing even safe metals, as it was the interactions with the chemistry of real life that is the problem, not the existence of those metals. Since we can't always be sure how these compounds age or under what circumstances, it was prudent to limit their use. Lead is really great for many applications, but it ages terribly, and the results of that aging affect the poorest and youngest of the population years or decades after application. I'm saying that the desire for safer finishes came out generations of such consequences.
    – user5572
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 13:47
  • @jdv, yes but that isn't directly relevant to the question of food safety, i.e. from food in direct contact with a dried or cured finish in good shape. The issue with lead paints was a lot less subtle than people realise, it actually produces a slightly sweet taste so kids who were poisoned by lead white pain in interiors were actually nibbling on it! That level of exposure is worlds away from the potential of a foodstuff to pic up a heavy metal salt from the surface of something it is in contact with briefly, when said heavy metal salt is safely locked away [contd]
    – Graphus
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 7:01
  • in the matrix of the film, or within the wood itself in the case of penetrating finishes. While there is undoubtedly the chance for some transfer the amount is critical, because as the saying goes "the dose determines the poison".
    – Graphus
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 7:03

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