How To Protect Wood Table From Heat Marks

After you’ve found that perfect slap of wood, or dimensional lumber you’ve joined with biscuits and glue, and assembled your new dining room tabletop, you’ve lovingly sanded it and attached legs and an apron to it.  You’ve applied finishing oil or shellac, and because the kids are still a little young, a protective film coating of polyurethane in the event of spills.  

It’s in the dining room now, and you’re a little worried about heat marks, though.  That hard work could be ruined by white heat stains or water rings, and something needs to be done.  Kids will be kids, and you can’t always count on guests being as careful at your table as you are.  

It’s time to play some defense and shield that new table from the evils of water stains and heat marks.  What to do, though?

Some of the easy solutions will end up hiding the beauty of the wood, the grain you let show through, or the workmanship you put into the project.  Although unfortunate, circumstances outside your control will make it necessary to dine defensively, if you will.  

Let’s see what we can come up with to help.

What Can Cause Those White Heat Stains On Your Table?

Obviously, heat is going to be involved.  A casserole dish right out of the oven, or a hot skillet right off the stovetop are going to do some damage if the table is not protected.  They’re also just dumb and avoidable mistakes.

The stains are the reaction of heat and moisture.  Moisture can come from hot dinner plates, coffee or tea mugs, or ice-filled drink glasses placed directly on the table’s surface.  The moisture from them penetrates into the pores of the finish and gets trapped as the table’s surface cools.  The result is a white heat stain.

The solution?  No hot dinner plates, coffee or tea mugs, or ice-filled drink glasses directly on the table.  That’s an easy one.

How To Protect a Wooden Dining Table

Wooden Dining Table

Now that we know where those heat stains come from and how they can be caused, here are some obvious but tasteful suggestions to help protect the table top from them:

Trivets.  There are as many types of trivets as there are imaginations to create them.  Metal trivets of all shapes and sizes, can be found at houseware stores, yard sales, and online, and won’t run you a lot of money. 

Natural cork trivets are a nice change of pace, though, and will look great on your table.  A simple solution with a modern taste to them, natural cork trivets make an attractive addition to the table and will protect the surface from the heat of that stew pot or casserole dish.  They are inexpensive and readily available at leading houseware stores.

Placemats and Tablecloths.  Yes, we know…you don’t want to hide the results of your hard work.  You also don’t want it damaged, though, through carelessness.  

Placemats can add a bit of color and design to the dining experience and will protect the surface from hot plates.  You can find heat-resistant placemats that will offer protection at up to around 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re a wise investment.  But, don’t stop there.  

Serving bowls will get passed around, or an overreach for that last slice of roast can lead to a mishap.  The risk of hot food spills is too great.  A tablecloth is the solution. You can choose PVC table protectors that provide protection against high temperatures up to 250 degrees today.  They come in a range of weights and will do the job for you.  

Choose cloth, though, rather than plastic or some other synthetic material, as the latter may give off undesirable gasses when heated.  Cloth materials can add lovely color and aesthetics to your table when entertaining.

When dinner is over, remove the placemats and tablecloth to reveal the beauty of the table and show off the fruits of your hard work.

Wooden Table

Glass Tops.  Yes, you can use a glass top to protect the table.  A custom-made glass tabletop will protect the wood beneath from heat and spills.  Be sure to use clear spacers on the bottom of the glass top to allow the flow of air to the tabletop beneath.  Because glass can be slippery, you should use placemats on the glass surface to keep plates in place.  Coasters are advisable, too, especially those with non-slip bottoms, or even natural cork coasters if the placemats are also cork.  

Condensation.  While we’re talking about coasters for drinking glasses, coffee mugs, etc, let’s remember condensation.  Coasters are always a good idea no matter what other protective steps you have taken.  That condensation can introduce moisture to the tabletop and leave a white ring stain.  

The flower vase and bottles of chilled wines also need to be protected in the same way and for the same reason.  Each can bring moisture to the table’s surface that will lead to water rings and stains.  

Wax From Candles.  If you adorn your dining room table with candles when entertaining, or maybe even when it’s just you and your partner, they can be as dangerous as a hot pan or dish.  A PVC table pad, tablecloth, candle holder trivet, or some other protective element will be needed to avoid that hot wax damage either from a dripping candle or a strong breath to blow the flame out.

If that does happen, though, don’t use a knife or any other metal object to scrape off the cooled wax.  You will run the risk of damaging the wood.  Instead, use a plastic credit card or driver’s license to remove it.  

For any lingering wax after that, put a clean lightly damp cloth over the area and run a slightly warm iron over the cloth.  The wax will stick to the cloth and come away from the table.  

What To Do with a Heat Mark On Your Wooden Table?

In the event your tabletop does end up with a heat mark, it’s not necessarily the end of the world for the table.  There are some cures to try before you decide simply to refinish it.  

  • Damp Cloth/Warm Iron.  We’ve already mentioned the damp cloth/warm iron cure for the removal of any lingering wax after a spill.  It works well with wax, and it might also work with a white heat mark, too.  Follow the same procedure we outlined for wax – a damp towel, or a dry towel and the steam function from the iron – on the affected area.  Wipe with a clean dry cloth after.
  • Hair Dryer.  Grab it from the bathroom and put the nozzle close to the affected area and heat it to evaporate the moisture that got trapped when the surface of the wood cooled.  
  • Toothpaste and Baking Soda.  Some sources suggest mixing them in equal parts and apply to the affected area with a clean cloth.  Let it sit for an hour, and then gently wipe it off with another clean cloth.  
  • Refinish.  If nothing works, you may face the prospect of refinishing the tabletop.  It’s the last resort, and it certainly will work.  

We found a couple of helpful videos that demonstrate some of our suggestions.  The first is the Cloth/Warm Iron method.

The next one demonstrates a variety of the suggested methods.

We’ve written about resolving a cloudy polyurethane finish in a past article, dealing with moisture that got trapped beneath the plastic sheet that poly provides when it’s used as a top finish on wood projects.  You’ll find it here.  

While the cause of that may be different, the results and cure may very well be the same.  We mention this because the cure we wrote about was something far less drastic than a complete refinish job.  You may want to review that piece to see if the remedy for fixing a cloudy poly finish might also work for white heat stains on your tabletop.  It may save you a lot of time and effort.  

As we’ve suggested, there are measures you can and should take to protect your new dining room table.  None of them will break the bank, and all of them will defend that tabletop from the risk of white heat stains.  

Trivets, tablecloths, placemats, table pads, and coasters will go a long way toward eliminating that risk.  They can add an aesthetically pleasing appearance to the table when entertaining, and they can also protect you from the inevitable mishaps of your kids.  An ounce of prevention, a pound of cure.  

Your tabletop doesn’t need to be hidden all the time.  All of those suggestions can be removed from the table when it’s not dinner time.  The beauty of the wood and your work can still be appreciated for the rest of the day and evening.

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