How to Restore Water Damaged Wood Furniture!

Aug 6, 2022

Damaged chair - Mainland Furniture NZ

Whether it got damaged in a freak flood, or you accidentally left the window open while watering the garden, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing that timeless piece of wood furniture soaked and damaged! In this guide, we’ll discuss ways to help repair water-damaged furniture while showcasing ways to prevent it from happening again and other alternative solutions.

Accepting the Damage

While we would love to say this guide will restore your damaged furniture to ‘like new’ condition, we’re also realists and understand that sometimes repairing something doesn’t necessarily mean returning it to ‘how it was.’ However, all this doom and gloom doesn’t mean that this process should be the end of the world if it doesn’t go to plan. Take this as a chance to either try a fresh new look or alter the use of the damaged item to give it a whole new life and role in your home. We already have a great blog post discussing some great alternative uses for various pieces of furniture around the home and should easily be applicable for the situation at hand.

Understanding How Water Damages Wood Furniture

Being a natural material, wood is designed to absorb water rather than simply ignore it like materials such as plastic or metal might. As such, this absorption of water means that the furniture can swell with too much water exposure. This can also lead to watermarks from where the water entered, with lighter watermarks meaning the stain is on the surface and can be easily removed, while darker stains mean the water has already infiltrated deep into the wood. Wood is also susceptible to mould and rot from too much exposure to a damp environment and is in itself its own issue. We’ve already written a blog post on how to remove mould from wood furniture that can quickly be summarized as such: Remove the furniture from the area, Vacuum the affected area then kill the mould with a household cleaner such as dish soap or vinegar, hot water and a hard bristle brush.

Different Wood Reacts Differently to Water

 Wet Furniture - Mainland Furniture NZ

The final thing to understand before attempting to fix water damaged furniture is how different types of wood react. If the piece that got drenched is made from MDF, you’re best to cut your losses and purchase a new piece entirely as that piece is now gone. MDF is a cheap material that essentially acts as a thicker cardboard, using small wood chunks to make up the body of each panel. What this means, however, is that once this material is exposed to water it expands and puffs up like popcorn. This expansion is incredibly hard to repair without replacing the entire panel as any integrity the wood had has now gone into a powdery, brittle mess. 

As such, if you’re dealing with a piece of furniture made from a more solid type of wood, such as Oak or Pine, your chances of restoring the piece in question are much better. This is due to wood being used maintaining some of its natural grain, which better handles the expansion that comes from over-exposure to water, and thus allows a little more leeway into how much water it can absorb before needing to have urgent repair.

Drying the Furniture

If this is a situation where you’ve accidentally soaked a family heirloom sideboard or the dining table that was in the same room as the flooded sink. The best thing you can do is immediately remove the furniture from the offending area and to somewhere where it can dry itself out. Whether this is into a dry garage space, a sun-exposed deck, or just a spacious room with the heat pump on full blast, having somewhere to let the furniture air out can help immensely with stopping the piece from absorbing too much water and ballooning.

If the piece also has water visibly on it, definitely give it a thorough dry with a towel. This will help prevent the watermarks as mentioned above while also aiding in airing out any surface possible. If the cloth in question is now soaked from the amount of water cleared, we’d definitely recommend replacing it with a new one and letting it dry out, as this may turn the drying process into a Sisyphean process.

Add more fixings

Fixings - Mainland Furniture NZ

If the unit in question has started to puff up any amount, we would recommend apply some additional fixings to any areas that may have bowed out from the additional moisture. We would mainly focus on back and bottom panels alongside anything else structural as the integrity of the unit is crucial. If we’re talking about a chest of drawers, we wouldn’t stress too much about any individual drawers as these are relatively simple to replace for the most part, whereas the body of the unit is the irreplaceable part.

Sand and Finish

If the unit in question is something such as a dining table, that’s either been overly waterlogged from a flooded floor or the top has been ruined from a lack of coasters. A quick way to rejuvenate the table top to as new is to use a belt sander and a finishing sander (e.g. sand paper of a very high grit). The belt sander is to remove just a small layer from the surface that should ideally remove any ring stains, scuffs and scratches, while the finishing sander helps restore the smooth finish before you coat with your chosen paint or varnish. This is also a great time to tweak the look of the unit if you want to, as you can easily apply a lighter or darker varnish to the unit in this process. Give that Oak coffee table a rimu look, or make that white bedside black, the choice is yours!

Fill in the Gaps!

If your piece has expanded any amount after being exposed to water, when drying it you may notice the wood may start to split and crack once it begins to shrink to its regular size. If this the case, for smaller cracks we would recommend applying some wood filler to the affected area. Wood filler does as the name states, fill in the bits between the wood to make the surface seamless again. Take note of the type of filler you’re purchasing also, as different fillers are made for different types of woods, and the wrong kind of filler can stick out like a sore thumb. For larger cracks, however, we would recommend first trying to push the edges of the crack together, either with wood glue and a clamp or in worse scenarios screwing the two sides together. Then we would apply the filler for the shrunken gap space (note: if you’ve had to screw the piece together, you can use a bit of wood filler to conceal where the screw went in.)

Apply a Protective Layer

If you’ve gone the route of repair and restore, we would definitely recommend some form of protective layer for your furniture. This should ideally mean that if your roof ever leaks or any form of liquid is spilled on the piece, it should ideally sit on top rather than absorbing into the wood. It’s a simple step but can quickly cut out any headache from any unexpected leaks and spills.

Cut Your Losses

As mentioned above, sometimes the process of repair can be an absolute mountain compared to what it is that you’re trying to repair. If something seems far out of your realm of expertise or is too precious to trust in your clumsy hands, we would definitely recommend calling an expert. It’s ok to call for help, especially in a situation where you may be stressed out and have other, more important, situations to handle. Make sure that the repairman you call for is someone who can be trusted to do a good job, no matter the situation, as there’s nothing worse than paying for an expensive repair job that truly does look like something you could have done yourself.

However, it’s again important to remember when something is too far gone. Flood damaged furniture that’s been fully submerged is often a sign that it is just easier to buy something new than to worry about the rigmarole of trying to find someone willing to fix something that may as well be a game of furniture hot potato. Nothing is really meant to last forever, and trying to repair something in a way reminiscent of the Ship of Theseus can cause all sorts of philosophical questioning on if it really is the same table.


Hopefully, this guide has helped alleviate some of the panic you may be feeling at this moment. Whether you’re pulling your pants up and giving the repair a shot or you’ve accepted your loss and are now looking elsewhere, this guide should help in clearing the racing thoughts that may be going through your head. Who knows? Maybe all you needed to do was just wipe off the watermark and call it a day! Wood furniture is excellent at being resilient in even the most harsh environments. Either way, hopefully, this guide provided the answer you were looking for in these stressful times.


All My Furniture is Ruined! Where Can I Buy High-Quality Wood Furniture?

If you’re in New Zealand and need to purchase high-quality wood furniture, we provide excellently made pine and oak furniture at great prices! However, outside of New Zealand, our best answer would be to look for a business similar to us. Make sure they have good reviews, staff that are happy to answer any and all questions and their products are made from real wood rather than cheap MDF. Large “big box” retailers will often sell you cheap, flat-pack furniture that may look nice, but is not designed to survive even the smallest amounts of wear and tear.

What About Furniture Made From Other Materials?

When it comes to furniture made from metal, plastic or glass, our best recommendation is to just keep an eye on them. These materials are obviously more resilient than wood against water, but each still has their own pitfalls in their own way. Glass’ appearance can be altered by water and metal furniture can rust if not taken care of quickly, but these have quick and easy remedies that at most just require some elbow grease. As such, our best recommendation would be to dry the furniture as much as possible, either with heat or towels. If you feel like it, you can also apply a coat of water-resistant paint if it helps keep your mind at ease.

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