19 May Close up of a person using a brush to apply varnish on wood

How to Fix Water Damage on Wood

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Whether you’ve recently dealt with indoor flooding or something more minor like a pipe leak, the moisture or direct contact with the water can impact wooden items in your home like your furniture, floorboards, and other structural parts of your home.

In this article, we will shed some light on what water damage looks like on wood, what damages you can fix, and what you can do to fix them.
Woman fixing water-damaged furniture

What Does Flooding or Moisture Do to Wood?

Wood naturally absorbs water. This is why water can cause wood to swell, weaken, rot, fall apart, and have the formation of mould. But do all types of wood respond the same way to water damage? Certainly not.

The density of the wood greatly affects how much damage it will sustain upon contact with water for a given time. Hardwoods tend to be highly resistant to moisture. A few examples of moisture-resistant hardwoods include cedar, white oak, teak, ipe, California redwood, cypress, and pine. Apart from the type of wood, certain finishes can also fortify wood against water damage. These finishes can come in the form lacquers, waxes, oils, varnishes, shellacs, and the like.

What are the Signs of Water Damage on Wood?

After reading the above section, you may be aware by now which wooden structures in your home are prone to water damage. It could be your ceiling, your flooring, or certain furniture. Now it’s time to look for the signs of water damage.

This inspection phase is particularly important if you are not yet sure if there is water damage to begin with- such as in the case of undiscovered pipe leaks. Without further ado, here are the signs to look for.

Stains & Discoloration

This can happen to wooden ceilings, walls, and furniture. The stains would tend to be darker than the original colour. These stains are usually dark brown, dark yellow, orange, or even green. These unsightly discolorations are caused by the salt and minerals left behind as water evaporates. White discoloration can also be observed on wooden furniture if the finish reacts with the water.

Change in shape or texture

Water damage on floors would cause it to warp, become soggy, or sink. Boards may begin to rise up like a tent. Any unevenness that wasn’t there before is a tell-tale sign of water damage. As for walls, they can become soft and discoloured. They may even begin to feel sponge-like in severe cases. As for wooden furniture, aside from swelling, sogging, and other changes to its texture, the glue or binding holding the furniture together can be ruined, causing it to fall apart.

Mould Growth

Wherever mould grows, there is excess moisture to be found. If you find mould in any wooden part of the house without other signs of water damage, it may only be a matter of time before more signs show up.

Water-damaged furniture showing a white discoloration on its finish

What Sort of Damage Should I Leave to the Experts?

Any water damage to wooden structural parts of your home is best left to the experts. The most urgent of all would be water damage to the ceiling since this part of your home is most likely to give in to gravity and cause injuries if it falls.

Water damage to the floor, especially ones that are not caused by indoor flooding (meaning the source of water damage is from underneath), would tend to have damage that extends deeper than what you can see (e.g. damage to the sub-flooring).

And lastly, water damage to the walls could mean that the walls will no longer be sturdy, causing baseboards to break.

Please remember that any sort of water damage without an obvious cause (e.g. indoor flooding) should be brought to the attention of plumbing experts as they can be manifestations of a problem that can quickly get worse.

What Sort of Damage Can I (and Should I) Fix?

What you can fix is water damage on wooden furniture. You might want to salvage furniture that has monetary or sentimental value. But before we talk about the steps on how to do that, here’s what you need to consider.

Sanitation

What has caused water damage to your furniture? There are basically three types of water damage:

  • Clean Water Damage – This type of water comes from a pipe such as leaky faucets or running water. However, if cleanup is delayed, this can escalate to the next category, Grey Water Damage. Furniture that has undergone clean water damage would still need to be cleaned up and dried.
  • Grey Water Damage – Aside from stagnated clean water, this type of water damage also encompasses water from flooded toilets, burst pipes, sump pump failures, and the like. Grey Water Damage, when left for 48 hours, escalates into Black Water Damage. Furniture damaged by greywater needs to be cleaned more thoroughly to eliminate contaminants.
  • Black Water Damage – Aside from stagnated grey water, this type of water damage also includes sewer backups. If your furniture has been damaged this way, it is considered non-salvageable and is best thrown out for sanitation purposes.

The Extent of Damage

How long has the wooden piece been left to set in the water? If it’s been for a few days or more, the piece is likely to be permanently damaged and it would be best to throw it out.

Cost

If you are fixing water damage on wooden furniture to save money, you may want to go through your insurance company first. A cost analysis from them will help you determine if restoring the furniture is more cost-effective than just replacing it.

How Do I Restore Water Damaged Wooden Furniture

In the section above, we’ve talked about why other types of restoration/reconstruction are best left to the experts. We also discussed what factors to consider when deciding if you should or should not restore wooden furniture in another section above.

So if you’re decided to push through with fixing your water-damaged wooden furniture, let’s look at the steps:

Step 1: Cleaning

  1. Put on gloves and inspect the furniture for mould and mildew.
  2. Take the furniture outside to clean it.
  3. Mix two caps of bleach with half a bucket of warm water.
  4. Next, add three caps of mild dishwashing soap and stir the mixture.
  5. Use a scrub brush to scrub the furniture thoroughly.
  6. Rinse off the soap with water and repeat the steps if necessary.
  7. Allow your furniture to airdry.

Step 2: Removing the Stains

  1. Apply wood furniture cleaner on a soft white cloth. You can also add a few drops of orange oil to this.
  2. Rub this onto the stains of the furniture, using circular motions, until the stain lifts.

Note – Alternatively, you can try mayonnaise or salad oil dressing if the above mixture does not work. If none of these work in getting rid of deep stains, sanding and stripping would take care of those.

Step 3: Sanding and Stripping

  1. Put on a dust mask to avoid inhaling wood dust.
  2. Using a sander with 220-grit sandpaper, sand the furniture in the direction of the grain. Remember to sand the water-damaged areas first.
  3. Continue sanding the remainder of the furniture to make an even layer.
  4. Remove the wood dust using a clean paintbrush.
  5. Next, use a clean paintbrush to apply a chemical stripping agent on the wood.
  6. Wait for the chemical agent to oxidize or bubble.
  7. Take a putty knife to scrape the surface of the furniture.
  8. Use a 100- to 150-grit sandpaper to remove the excess stripping agent.
  9. Remove excess wood dust with a clean paintbrush.

Step 4: Glueing Loose Joints

  1. Remove old glue from damaged joints using a 150 – grit sandpaper.
  2. Remove the wood dust using a clean paintbrush.
  3. Place wood glue to reattach the loose joints.
  4. Secure the joint in place and allow it to sit overnight.

Step 5: Painting

  1. Using a latex enamel-based paint of your chosen colour, apply the first coat of paint using even strokes.
  2. Once the first coat is dry, apply a second coat on top of it.

Step 6: Applying Varnish

  1. Choose a waterproof and insect repellent type of varnish.
  2. Once the paint has dried from the previous step, apply the first coat of varnish to your wooden furniture.
  3. once the first coat of varnish has dried, apply a second one and allow it to dry.

And voila! You have successfully brought your water-damaged furniture back to life.

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