Q: Do you have any idea on how to remove water stains from rough-sawn cedar without replacing the wood? I have cedar trim around my skylights and leaks have stained the wood. I have tried bleach, and even light buffing with a wire brush, to no avail. — John, Dexter Michigan

A: Steve Thomas replies: Once the stain has gotten into the wood, it's very tough to remove it. The stain penetrates through a deeper layer of the wood than sanding will remove. It leaves a black stain that's pretty much impossible to remove.

One strategy is to stain the wood. There are a lot of paint companies that make stains that will cover the discoloration. You do the whole piece, and it lightens it up and ameliorates the stain. Another tactic is to paint. Thin some oil-based paint down, paint it on, then wipe it off. That in effect stains the wood. You won't actually get rid of the water stain, but you will even it out a little bit, and you'll also still get the grain of the wood showing through. I had the same problem around skylights in my house. I have cedar, and there's just no way to get rid of it without sanding so deep you ruin the wood. So that's the strategy to deal with it. And don't forget to have your skylight fixed.
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