Your mom always told you to use a coaster and while we definitely agree you should protect your furniture, the dreaded white ring mark doesn’t need to scare you. You don’t have to panic when a steaming cup of coffee, condensation or some other liquid leaves a mark on your wood furniture.

Most of the time, getting the piece back to its original condition is fairly easy. The first thing you have to do is determine how deep the damage is. You can tell that by the color of the stain or water mark.

Stains and marks made by liquid or steam are usually white or light-colored. That means that they haven’t penetrated much deeper than the waxed or polished surface. When the stain is dark, however, it indicates that the liquid has penetrated through the finish on the wood and possibly through to the wood itself. If this is the case, you have more of a fix on your hands.

There are several ways to go about fixing white rings. Here are some that work well:

1. Rub the area with an oily furniture polish, mayonnaise, or petroleum jelly. The goal is to displace the water mark with the oil.

2. Put a little toothpaste on a wet cloth and rub the stain gently until the spot disappears. You can also try a mixture of toothpaste and baking soda for a stronger, yet mild, abrasive. Depending on the size of the stain, 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon of each should do the trick.

3. Denatured Alcohol (also know as shellac thinner) can be applied to the water ring area using a soft, white cotton cloth. Apply the alcohol in the direction of the grain keeping it confined to the water ring area. The alcohol will displace the water and the ring should disappear. After using the alcohol it may be necessary to apply a light coat of lemon oil polish for a uniform sheen appearance.

4. Another method that has excellent results is to place a soft cloth or towel over the spot and iron it carefully for 10 to 20 seconds at a time with the iron at a medium setting. You can turn the iron up a bit if needed or use the steam setting. Always keep the iron moving and check your progress frequently.

After the water mark is gone, wax your table, chest, or chair. Use a thin layer of paste wax and a clean, soft cloth. Although paste wax takes a little more work to apply, it leaves a nicer, longer-lasting finish than a liquid or cream wax. After the paste wax thoroughly dries — give it half an hour — buff the piece with another soft, clean cloth until you have a rich, smooth patina.

If the mark is still there or is the deeper dark kind that has penetrated the wood you may have to seek a professional and maybe suck it up and hear an “I told you so” from your mother.

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