Fixing Water Damaged and Swollen Wood Furniture

March 23rd, 2023 Blog

A person from the neck down wearing a grey striped shirt. They're dusting furniture using a green spray bottle and a green cloth.

Wood, like any porous material, is susceptible to atmospheric changes like shifts in humidity and temperature. If a space is humid, wood can swell as it onboards water. In a dry environment, moisture will be pulled from wood, causing it to shrink and crack. Likewise, different types of wood can respond differently to these changes.

Changes in atmospheric moisture may be evident in wood furniture if a drawer or a door won’t close properly. Some specific reasons for furniture swelling are listed below.

Why Has My Furniture Swollen?

If you’ve not experienced an obvious flood, a burst pipe, or a spilled drink, it might be troubling to find that a piece of furniture has swollen.

Wooden furniture may swell if the space is poorly ventilated, your home has poor insulation, wet clothing is consistently dried in the same room, or extractor fans in kitchens or bathrooms aren’t operating correctly.

Older wooden furniture may be more prone to swelling if the finish has eroded, leaving raw wood exposed.

Why Has My Furniture Cracked?

Furniture may crack if a room is dry, if the furniture is sat above or next to an HVAC vent or a radiator, if it’s sat in consistent sunlight or if it’s dried out too quickly following a period of swelling.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat swelling and dryness in wooden furniture before it happens, including opening doors and windows regularly to allow fresh air to circulate, checking the efficiency of extractor fans, and keeping furniture away from a heat source.

Keeping furniture in a climate-controlled space and out of direct sunlight will allow you to safely take care of family heirlooms that hold sentimental value and newer pieces of furniture for many years to come.

That said, if a piece of wooden furniture has swollen, there are some ways to remedy the problem and any consequential water marks or damage. This needs to be done carefully and gradually — rushing the process, as mentioned above, may cause the wood to crack or warp.

Reduce the Effects of Swelling

The goal here is to dry the piece of furniture out slowly; this will gradually reduce the effects of swelling.

  • Carefully wipe the unit down with a soft microfibre cloth.
  • If you’re able to remove drawers, pull them out.
  • If the drawers are swollen, don’t force them; instead, remove the wooden panel on the back of the unit so air can flow through.
  • If it’s a dry, non-humid day outside, open the window.
  • Silica gel packs can be added to drawers and shelving to help speed the process.
  • Run a fan nearby to circulate air and use a dehumidifier to moderate humidity.

Time is your greatest tool. Be patient and allow the piece to dry slowly — some pieces may take multiple weeks to dry out completely.

Once the Swelling Has Subsided …

Once you’ve countered the effects of swelling, and drawers and doors can fit properly into place, you can turn your attention to any areas that need to be repaired. These tips may help not only fix the effects of water damage following swelling, but they may also help remove water marks on a solid wood coffee table or a sideboard with water rings from a coffee mug.

If The Wood Is Rotten …

In areas with extreme water damage where the wood may have started to rot, carefully remove any pieces beyond repair. Pack the area with wood filler, gently sanding with fine sandpaper between layers until you have a smooth and even finish. Once the filler is completely dry, prime and paint it.

If The Water Mark is White …

This means the damage is surface-level, and the water is trapped in the furniture’s finish. Here are some tips and tricks that may help you remove water marks.

  • Mayonnaise: This condiment has been proven effective in removing white water marks. Gently rub a tablespoon of mayo onto the damaged area, leave it overnight, then remove it with warm water. The oil in the mayonnaise displaces the trapped water.
  • Olive Oil and Vinegar: Using equal parts olive oil and vinegar, wipe the mixture in the same direction as the wood grain using a soft cloth until the ring is gone.
  • Irons: If the water damage is still damp, lay a cloth on top and put the iron on a very low setting with no steam. Gently rub the iron across the damaged area, checking every five seconds until the mark has gone.
  • Toothpaste: Following a similar process to the one used for oil and vinegar, gently buff toothpaste onto the damaged area. A note: use non-gel and non-whitening varieties.

If The Water Mark Is Dark …

This means that the water has leached through to the surface of the wood. If this happens, total surface refinishing may be necessary. This task is daunting, especially if the piece is valuable or a family heirloom. In cases like this, you’ll want to connect with a professional.

Connect with a Specialist

If you’re struggling to combat water damage on your wood furniture, perhaps you simply don’t have time, or if you’re worried about making the problem worse, connect with a specialized wood furniture store like Woodcraft. We are happy to offer refinishing services based on years of expertise to help you bring your furniture back to life.