Trying to get the dark reddish stain off a bathroom door, hoping to make it look as light as possible. Looks like oak (veneer) to me.

I stripped door of (most) stain using Citrastrip twice. Then sanded with 120, then 180.

Remained darker in the middle 3-4 inches of outer boards but getting close to veneer. Raised grain in those areas with damp cloth and iron (heat). Let dry overnight.

Sanded a bit when dry the next day. Definitely helped it become uniform in tone.

Not light enough. Did a bleach coat on all. Let dry for 4 hours in the sun. Neutralized with vinegar/water. Let dry overnight. Did a very light 320 sanding by hand to remove a bit of grain raised by bleach. Used the 320 as I has already noticed veneer wearing away in a spot.

I'm an amateur, so watched lots of suggestion videos for lightening wood. Probably should have gone with one of the in-depth YouTubes rather than Home Depot paint person.

Ended up coming home with Behr water-based wood conditioner and Behr white wash pickling stain.

Applied and wiped wood conditioner as directed and ended up with some "water spots" after wiping. Does this mean I didn't do earlier steps well?

Went ahead and applied Behr white wash pickling stain per directions (I used a $4 dollar non-shed brush, btw, if that's my problem). By the time I'd finished applying to the full door as quickly as possible, let sit a couple minutes and started wiping. Some areas were already goopy (from drying?) and wouldn't wipe evenly. :(

One area looks good. the rest are uneven, gloopy/overcoated, or even look completely bare as if I wiped all the stain off.

Did the 320 make it too smooth to absorb stain? Did I wipe off too late in the gloopy areas? Too early in the areas that look like nothing took?

So frustrated. Any input is appreciated. Thank you!

  • Hi welcome to StackExchange. Sorry for your trouble here, but not sure how much help we're going to be here. This is a very open-ended problem, not a good fit for the SE model which seeks to provide concrete Answers to focussed Questions and there's so much that could be the cause here. (And numerous things that probably shouldn't have been done, but most of that was beyond your control.) At the end of the day it's likely (extremely likely IME) that some combination of factors worked together to cause various parts of this.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 9 at 8:48
  • One thing I want to highlight, and you've already identified this as a possible problem, is the "conditioner". Two problems here, the first being that in general (actually almost always) it should be used for the one problem it was made to solve — blotching in blotch-prone woods. Oak is not one of those. Second was out of your control — the instructions on nearly all such products are, unbelievably, incorrect about how to achieve the best result (in ALL cases it's almost a certainty that the product should be left to fully dry before overcoating with anything, regardless of what that is).
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 9 at 9:02

1 Answer 1


Sorting through what you have questions of regarding your efforts:

  • Your efforts stripping and sanding the door seem fine and your grit choices are good. For most applications it is not necessary to go much higher than 220 so your finish at 180 is adequate for the application.
  • The darker tone at the edges (bottom?) may be due to exposure to water or other things absorbed over time. The fact that it remained after stripping and sanding suggests that mold or other sources of discoloration have penetrated into the cellular structure of the wood.
  • The second sanding may have helped, or it might also be that dust on the surface makes the wood look more uniform.
  • Not sure if the bleaching would do anything other than raising the grain.
  • As Graphus mentioned in a comment, the conditioner has little effect on oak.
  • Pickling is simply a diluted paint coating (adds some white pigment to the outside). This will help lighten the appearance but does not remove the darker wood coloring.
  • It's unclear what the waterspots are or how to avoid them. Possible something in the surface of the wood prevented uniform absorption of the conditioner.
  • The brush had no bearing on the results. You got the whitewash on and distributed and since you are wiping it off at the end, it is getting well distributed over the surface regardless of what brush or rag you use to apply it.
  • Yeah, the 'gloopy' character of the whitewash means you let it dry too much. You will know how large an area and when to wipe better in the future:(
  • The bare areas of the surface may be the result of the whitewash being poorly absorbed due to the conditioner which is basically closing some of the pores in the wood to reduce the difference in absorption for stains in soft woods.
  • The 320 grit sandpaper had no bearing on the results.
  • The 'frustration'...yeah some days are like that in woodworking :)

What next? Since the veneer is thin, re-sanding and trying again is not an option. I think your options are painting it, you can try a woodgrain design if you are ambitious and adventurous, or getting a new door.

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