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How to Tone Down Red Tones in Wood

When you first selected a wood color for furniture or even paneling, you hadn’t noticed the red, but now that you see it, you want to tone it down. How do you do that? We did the research to bring you an answer.

Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

You can reduce red tones in wood in the following ways:

  • Use a green-toned aerosol toner
  • Apply bleach to the wood
  • Add raw sienna and raw umber glaze
  • Mix green into the paint stain

This guide will investigate in much more detail your options for toning down red in wood without replacing the wood outright. There’s lots of great information to come, so don’t miss it!

applying wood care oil on wood very glossy finish, How To Tone Down Red Tones In Wood

4 Options For Toning Down Red Tones In Wood

Some types of wood are screaming red (we’ll talk more about those later, so keep reading for that) while others are subtler. You might not have noticed until you got home and saw your new hardwood flooring or wooden dining table in natural lighting how red it is.

Since it’s hard to return wood once it’s already bolted onto the floor or your walls, what you should do is neutralize the red instead.

Per the intro, here’s what we recommend.

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1. Use A Green-Toned Aerosol Toner

Let’s begin with what is by far the easiest method, and that’s purchasing an aerosol wood toner. As you shop around for wood toners, you’ll notice they come in many shades of brown, but that’s not what you need. Your toner has to be green, or it can’t effectively neutralize the bright red.

Blue toner works to this end as well. You don’t have to do anything special to prep the red-toned wood. Just stand a good distance away, and apply the aerosol toner directly to the wooden surface.

To get a feel for the consistency of the toner, you can spot-test on a corner or underside of the wood.

Since toners can sometimes give off fumes, we recommend ventilating the room well by turning on a ceiling fan and opening windows.

If you develop symptoms like headaches, throat and/or eye irritation, dizziness, nausea, or breathing trouble, then stop what you’re doing immediately and take a break!

2. Apply Bleach To The Wood

The next option is a lot heavier-duty, and it’s to apply bleach to the red-toned wood. Do keep in mind that bleaching will lighten the color of the entirety of the wood, not only the red. If you apply too much, you can strip the color altogether.  

Of course, then you can always stain the wood to the desired color. You can use either store-bought or homemade bleach for this job.

With Store-Bought Bleach

If you have bleach in your cabinets, then you can always use it to neutralize the red in wood.

The primary ingredients in the bleach are lye and peroxide. You don’t have to add anything to the bleach unless you want to dilute it with water.

Don’t simply apply store-bought bleach to finished wood. First, you need to remove the finish as best you can. That will require you to rub sandpaper all over the wood surface. First, use 150-grit sandpaper for the job, then switch to 220-grit sandpaper.

Click here to see 220-grit sandpaper on Amazon.

If you don’t feel like rubbing at a wood surface all day, then rent or purchase an orbital sander.

  1. Once the wood is stripped of its varnish, transfer the bleach into a plastic container. Glass is okay too, but not metal, as the bleach can easily chew through it, leading to corrosion.
  2. Protect yourself by wearing long sleeves, long pants, goggles, and gloves. A face mask or respirator mask isn’t a bad idea, either.
  3. Take a clean foam brush, dip it into the bleach, and then gently blot it onto the wood. Cover the entirety of the wood surface that you want to neutralize.

If the foam brush can’t get into every crevice and corner, then putting bleach in a plastic spray bottle and misting those areas works just as well.

  1. Once you’ve applied the bleach, give it adequate time to dry. Ideally, you should move the wood item into the sunlight to let it dry, but that might not always be possible depending on the wood item in question.
  2. When the bleach is dry, take a soft cloth and wet it, wiping it over the entirety of the wood surface. You might need to add vinegar to the water if the wood looks yellowish at this stage. Vinegar’s malic acid will take care of that yellowing.
  3. Allow the wood to air-dry, and it shouldn’t look nearly as red!

With Homemade Bleach

If you’d rather make your own bleach, that’s another option at your disposal.

This method requires you to purchase lye and hydrogen peroxide separately. You’ll need to combine it with water.

classic vintage dining room white red

Make sure you’re taking the proper precautions, especially when working with bleach ingredients. Keep the room ventilated and wear protective equipment!

  1. In a plastic container, pour in a quart of water. Mix in three tablespoons of lye one at a time and stir, but go slow. If you rush it or add the ingredients in the wrong order, you’ll trigger a potentially dangerous chemical reaction!
  2. Cover the red-colored wood with hydrogen peroxide. Don’t miss even a square inch, or the bleaching will come out streaky. A foam or bristle brush is a good tool to rely on.
  3. Take the water and lye mixture and coat the wood using a foam brush. Again, make sure you get the entire surface.
  4. As you did before, allow the wood to dry in natural sunlight if possible.
  5. Once the bleach has dried on the wood, you can again use white vinegar to treat any yellow spots on the wood. Be sure to rinse away the vinegar residue with water when you’re done.
  6. Otherwise, you can skip this step and wipe the entire wood surface down with a wet soft cloth.
  7. Give the bleached wood time to dry.

3. Add Raw Sienna And Raw Umber Glaze

If you’d rather not touch bleach (which is fair!), you can always use natural pigments such as raw umber and raw sienna.

Raw umber is an earthy brown pigment comprised of manganese oxide and iron oxide.

Click to see raw umber on Amazon.

Raw sienna is another pigment that has the same ingredients. Its hue is yellow-brown rather than brown. The undertone of raw umber is green, and the shade of brown is cooler than it is warmer. If you have to pick between raw sienna or raw umber, the umber might produce better results.

After all, sienna’s undertone is yellow, and the brown is warmer. You can also combine the two into a glaze. You’ll need a glazing stain and the two powders, which you’d combine and then stir into the glaze.

You can apply the glaze directly over the finished wood without having to strip it. We’d recommend using a paintbrush or a foam brush for an even, thorough application.

You might have to apply the umber and sienna glaze twice to see noticeable results. After each coat, wipe away any excess glaze with a rag. 

4. Mix Green Into The Paint Stain

The last option for reducing red tones in wood is to add green to the paint stain and then apply it.

There are so many shades of green to choose from if you look at the color wheel, so how do you select the right shade?

Darker greens are more effective than lighter and brighter greens. Think more forest green or hunter green than lime green. This will be a lot less jarring.

Red-Toned Wood Types To Avoid

3d render image warm red brick

Phew! You finally got the red out of your wooden floors or table (or whatever your wood project is), and it was admittedly quite an ordeal.

To prevent that kind of strife again, it helps to know which types of wood are naturally redder from the outset. Be sure to avoid these woods if you don’t want a repeat of last time!

Red Alder Wood

With its average lifespan of between 40 and 60 years, red alder wood is durable and hardy, but it’s also got an orange-ish, reddish tint that goes against your design aesthetic.

Red Oakwood

Between white and red oak, the latter is the less expensive, but it’s also so purely, darkly red that removing the tint from the wood would be an awfully big endeavor!

Redwood

As a name like redwood implies, this softwood is indeed as red as the day is long. Known for its lightweight qualities and strength, redwood comes in handy for a lot, just not your project. 

African Padauk

The Pterocarpus soyauxii, or African padauk, is also referred to by some as the African coralwood. Its appealing bright red color is a little grayish around the trunk but still too red for your liking.

In Closing

applying wood care oil on wood very glossy finish

Neutralizing red tones in wood is doable in a variety of ways, from stripping the color with bleach to toning it down with green. If you have a wooden object in your home that’s too red, try these options first before you write it off!

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