How to Repair Water Damaged Wood Veneer Cabinets

  • 3-24 hours
  • Beginner
  • 50-150
What You'll Need
Liquid furniture polish
Clean white rags
Denatured alcohol
Cigarette ashes
Linseed oil (light mineral oil, vegetable oil)
#0000 steel wool
Hard furniture wax
Oxalic acid

Water damaged wood veneer cabinets can usually be repaired without the services of a professional refinisher. Generally, water damage, when caught early, will only damage the surface of the veneer. Left for a period of time, however, the water can actually penetrate the finish and damage the veneer. Caught early, you will be able to salvage the wood veneer cabinets with a little know-how and a lot of patience.

Step 1 - Identify Damage

If there is a specific area of white spots on your cabinets, it is usually a result of splashed water. If the entire surface is ‘blushed’ with a white haze over the entire surface, it is likely that either the wood veneer cabinets were sealed while there was water present in the surface. This can happen if the piece was washed with water, rather than using a tack cloth for surface preparation. Blushing is common in older pieces as condensation permeates the lacquer or shellac finish. If your cabinet has black spots, the water damage has permeated the protective layer and has damaged the veneer and stained the area.

Step 2 - White Spots

Buffing the surface vigorously with liquid furniture polish will sometimes remove white rings. If polishing does not remove the spots, use a clean rag with the corner dipped in denatured alcohol, rub the spot lightly. Be careful when using alcohol, as it can destroy the finish on the wood veneer cabinets. If the spot still remains, make a paste with cigarette ashes and linseed oil (or any vegetable oil or mineral oil). With your finger, rub this very fine abrasive in the direction of the grain, wipe clean with clean rag. For especially stubborn spots, use a mixture of rottenstone (a fast-cutting abrasive) with linseed oil. Very carefully rub the spot, with the grain, checking often. Once the spot is gone, stop and wipe with a clean rag. After spot is completely removed, hard wax the entire surface 2 times and polish the entire surface.

Step 3 - Blushing

Blushed surfaces are very similar to the white spot problem. Start by using #0000 steel wool dipped in linseed oil. Buff the entire surface lightly and evenly, following the grain of the wood. Wipe the surface clean with a clean rag. Buff the wood veneer cabinets to a shine after applying 2 coats of hard furniture wax. If the finish is still blushed, try re-amalgamation of the finish. First, test a small inconspicuous area of the finish to determine what was used: if denatured alcohol dissolves it, the finish is shellac; if it dissolves with lacquer thinner, the finish is lacquer. To re-amalgamate the finish, use the appropriate product to dissolve the finish. Using either a natural bristle brush or #000 steel wool dipped in the appropriate solvent: brush or gently rub into the stained area until blushing disappears. Feather the edges of the repaired area with a natural bristle brush, applying with light, long strokes in the direction of grain. Allow surface to dry for 24 hours. Apply 2 coats of paste wax and buff with clean rag.

Step 4 - Black Spots

As black spots on your cabinets indicate damage to the veneer, beneath the finish, there is no quick fix. You must remove the finish completely from the damaged area. If the damaged area is very large, you may do better to refinish the entire piece. The damaged finish must be completely removed and refinished. It may be necessary to seek a professional with experience in wood veneer cabinets.