As those who have suffered a flood or burst pipe probably know, wooden furniture does not take kindly to water. In fact, a few hours of exposure to water or even rain can cause wood furniture to warp, swell, stain or even rot.
However, not all hope is lost, even if your furniture is swollen or warped, there is a chance of saving it as long as the damage isn’t too severe. The worst of the damage happens from water staying inside your furniture for prolonged periods of time, in which bacteria and fungi can grow, causing awful smells, rot, and decay.
What happens when wood absorbs water?
Water damage worsens over time, so the more you wait, the harder it’ll be to salvage your furniture. However, the initial signs of water damage are not so easy to spot, so it is crucial that you learn to recognize them, while keeping a close eye, to give your furniture a chance.
Signs of water damaged furniture:
Stains and discoloration
Stains are one of the earliest signs of water damage, as a rule of thumb, the darker the stain the deeper the water has penetrated into the wood. This will come in handy later when sanding down your furniture.
These stains can appear in a variety of colors, green, brown, red or even white when the primer reacts to water.
Warping occurs when wood soaks up water like a sponge, which causes it to expand. It is most commonly seen in wood floors, but can also happen in furniture. Look for any bumps or unevenness that wasn’t there before.
Wood glue can sometimes break down in the presence of water, which can cause wood joints to fall apart and veneer to peel off. While a piece of furniture that is falling apart might seem beyond salvation, but sometimes all it takes is drying and some glue to make it good as new!
Mold growth can only happen in moist environments, so if it’s growing on your furniture, you’ve got a problem. You should be wary when dealing with mold, since it can easily spread to other damp spots in your house and before you know it you’re dealing with a mold infestation!
How to fix water damaged wood furniture:
Alright, now that you know how to spot water damage on your wood furniture, it’s time to get handy and fix it before it can get any worse. While the exact process for fixing YOUR furniture will depend on the kind and extent of the damage, here’s a general guide that will work for most cases:
Step 1: Drying
There’s no point in fixing water damage if you don’t get all of the water out first. Any moisture that remains inside your furniture will cause it to rot until it falls apart.
How do you remove moisture from wood?
There are several ways to go about drying wood furniture. The easiest and cheapest is to just leave them out in direct sunlight for about 24 hours. However, if it’s too cold, damp, or cloudy, then it might not work. That’s when you move on to using appliances like heaters or blow dryers.
A word of warning though, when drying wood with appliances, you should be careful not to dry it TOO fast, since it can cause the wood to crack or bend.
Step 2: Cleaning and Sanding
If you’re dealing with mild, surface-level damage, clean with a cloth soaked in bleaching powder and water. This will kill mold and bacteria, but it won’t fix deeper stains that have penetrated the wood, in those cases you have no choice but sanding.
If you want to, you can use sanding paper and a little elbow grease to sand it down in the direction of the grain until the stains disappear. Once that’s done you should sand down the rest of the piece to even out the finish.
The easiest option and our suggestion is to use a belt sander, it’s faster, easier and will give you a more even finish. As always, never sand in an enclosed space and use a dust mask to avoid inhaling wood dust.
OPTIONAL: Use Chemical Stripping
If you’re dealing with deep-set stains and don’t want to sand down your furniture too much, you can use a chemical stripping agent. Just apply it in even layers over your furniture and wait for it to bubble or oxidize, then use a putty knife or stripping tool to remove the top layer off of the furniture and 100 to 150 grit sandpaper to get rid of any chemical residue.
Step 3: Use wood glue on the joints
If any joints came loose or separated, it’s simple enough to glue them back together. Just sand down any glue residue with 150 grit sandpaper, apply a new coat of wood glue and clamp them overnight.
Step 4: Staining or painting
While not strictly necessary, it’s highly recommended that you stain or paint your furniture after sanding. If possible, use a waterproof paint or stain to avoid future mishaps. The painting process in itself is quite simple, just apply an even coat and let it dry, then repeat.
Step 5: Varnishing
One of the most important steps to prevent future water damage is to apply varnish, look for clear varnish that is both insect repellent and waterproof. Much like painting, applying varnish is not that hard, just use a clean paintbrush to apply an even coat, then let it dry and apply a second one.
Step 6: Finishing
Depending on the look you’re going for, you might have to polish your furniture after varnishing. In this case, look for the highest grit sandpaper you’ve got and sand it until it gets your desired look.