How to fill in deep scratches on wood

I can’t be the only one who tries cool internet hacks, only to be disappointed. So today I tested five of the most common ways to hide scratches on wood furniture to see which ones actually work! Spoiler alert:

A 1:1 mixture of cooking oil and white vinegar is the most effective way to remove scratches from wood furniture. Dip a rag in the mixture, and rub it on the scratch. Allow the mixture to sit for 1-2 minutes before wiping away excess liquid.

Don’t have cooking oil or white vinegar on hand? Keep reading!

Note: This blog contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive compensation (at no additional cost to you.)

Experiment Methodology

So first, lets talk a bit about what a scratch actually is.

Scratches occur when something scrapes away the finish and top layer of wood. This exposes the unstained/unfinished wood underneath, which is frequently a different color and therefore really obvious to see.

Therefore, the goal of any scratch repair is to stain the underlying wood, and if possible, fill in the scratch/dent.

All the methods tested are therefore intended to stain the wood underneath.

I purchased an end table that’d seen better days from my local goodwill for about $2. Note that this end table was finished with wood finish, so when I was testing, I didn’t have to worry about my solutions staining the surrounding wood.

How to fill in deep scratches on wood
How to fill in deep scratches on wood

If you’re working with unfinished wood (if you’re not sure, it’s probably finished,) you’ll need to be a bit more careful not to stain the surrounding wood. I applied everything with a rag, you might need to apply with a cotton swab for more precision.

(If something does happen to go wrong, check out my post on fixing wood stain mistakes!)

As a thorough individual, I scratched the end table up a bit more just to make sure I had plenty of scratches to test on.

I tested five different hacks:

  • A Walnut
  • Black Tea
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Iodine
  • Oil and Vinegar

I wish I could say I was super methodical, and gave each attempt two minutes to sit before giving up on it. I didn’t, but I don’t think it really mattered. If you’re really curious, you can watch the whole experiment in-action in this Youtube video.

Method 1: Walnut

The walnut method goes something like this: take a walnut, crack it in half, and rub the inside of the walnut on your scratch. Theoretically, the walnut oil both stains and expands the wood, filling the crack and blending it with the surrounding wood.

How to fill in deep scratches on wood
How to fill in deep scratches on wood

This method actually worked pretty well, although it took a few minutes for the walnut oil to actually stain the wood. When I first looked at the scratch, I thought it was mediocre, but five minutes later the scratch was barely visible at all!

Method 2: Black Tea

I brewed a cup of black tea (and by brewed, I mean I heated some water in the microwave until it was boiling, then added a teabag.) I made it as strong as I could; the teabag sat in the hot water indefinitely, which was at least 20 minutes while I got everything ready for the experiment.

How to fill in deep scratches on wood
How to fill in deep scratches on wood

Before applying the tea, I stirred it a bit to make sure the tea was thoroughly dispersed throughout the water.

Then I dipped a rag into the tea, and applied it to the stain.

AND… nothing happened.

Like, the wood got wet. That was it.

I unfortunately didn’t take a picture of the unchanged before and after, but you can check out the Youtube video if you’re really determined to see it.

Spoiler alert: the scratch looks exactly the same.

Method 3: Coffee Grounds

For the coffee ground method, I grabbed some instant coffee grounds, and mixed them with water to make a paste.

Then I used my fingers to apply the paste to the scratch.

How to fill in deep scratches on wood
How to fill in deep scratches on wood

This wasn’t a complete bust – the coffee grounds definitely made the scratch a little darker. But it was still visible, even from far away.

Comparatively, walk a few feet away, and you can’t see the scratch that I applied walnut to at all.

Method 4: Iodine

This method works exactly how you’d think: take a rag, dip in in some iodine, then rub the iodine onto the scratch. Theoretically, the iodine should stain the wood, although I don’t think there’s any reason the wood would expand to fill the scratch.

How to fill in deep scratches on wood
How to fill in deep scratches on wood

Like the coffee grounds, this method wasn’t totally ineffective. The scratch is a little bit darker, but it’s still pretty easy to see.

This method is fine, but I’m not shouting at you to go buy a thing of iodine in order to hide all your wood scratches.

Method 5: Oil and Vinegar

I’ll admit, I was really skeptical of this method. In theory, the oil expands the wood to fill the hole, while the vinegar stains it. The internet (and this article) have treated oil like some kind of magical wood expander, but honestly, the wood shrinks back down after the oil evaporates, so I’ve been a skeptic.

I shouldn’t have been. This method is magic.

I mixed a tablespoon of canola oil with a tablespoon of white vinegar. You can probably use whatever cooking oil you’ve got, and the amount you mix up doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a 1:1 ratio of each.

Oil and vinegar don’t really mix that well (adding to my skepticism,) but whatever, just go with it.

Then dip a rag in the mixture, and apply it to the scratch. Here’s what my scratch looked like beforehand:

How to fill in deep scratches on wood
How to fill in deep scratches on wood

Here’s what it looked like after:

How to fill in deep scratches on wood
How to fill in deep scratches on wood

As you can see, it’s barely visible. It hasn’t disappeared completely; if you run your finger over the scratch, you can feel it.

But from a few feet away, the scratch is almost invisible!

Special note: I’ve heard that this method can be repeated over and over again until you get the desired result (for example, if your wood is really dark.) I obviously found this unnecessary, but it’s an option if this method isn’t doing enough for you.

Final Results

Obviously, the oil and vinegar method was the clear winner. And just for the record, I tested it a couple more times on other scratches just to confirm it wasn’t a fluke, along with my 2nd place winner… the walnut!

Both did a pretty good job of hiding the scratch so it was barely visible. The oil and vinegar did a better job, but if all you have is a walnut, and your super judgy friends will be at your house in an hour, the walnut will be good enough.

The coffee grounds and the iodine did something, but honestly, the scratch was still really visible, so I wouldn’t waste your time with those unless they really are your only options.

How do you fill deep gouges in wood?

If the hole is small, you can use a putty knife or a ball of epoxy to fill it. For larger holes, you can try mixing sawdust or wood shavings to create a paste. This paste can then be applied to the hole and smoothed out with a putty knife.

Can deep scratches Be Fixed?

Most light scratches can be fixed by polishing the clear coat with a rubbing compound. It will remove the damaged layer and leave your paint looking good as new. If the scratch is deep, you may need to sand the area before polishing it. It will remove any rough edges and make it easier to apply the compound evenly.