Expert advice on how to deal with dark or dirty wood floors, including how to test for the source of the problem and how to deal with specific finishes such as urethane.
Dirty wood floors that don’t come clean usually result from one of two things: The surface finish (Swedish oil, wax, varnish, polyurethane, etc.) has not been stripped in too long a period or the surface finish is missing entirely.
Test an inconspicuous area with a few drops of water—if it soaks into the wood, the finish is gone. If the water turns white, there is wax on the surface. If the droplets bead up, the floor has probably been oiled or coated with polyurethane or varnish.
The best way to prevent wood floors from getting this dirty in the first place is to use a quality cleaner on a regular basis. Be sure to choose a cleaner that is gentle enough to be used regularly without damaging the finish but strong enough to remove dirt and stains.
Use a commercial wood floor cleaner to strip away oil or wax finishes that have become discolored by ground-in grime. Dark stains in the wood may have to be sanded out using a professional floor sander.
Surface finishes like varnish and urethanes sometimes can be revived by buffing with steel wool or a special pad made for this (rental stores have the machines and replacement pads). If that works, recoat the floor with the same type of finish. If the dirt doesn’t come out, the floor may have to be sanded to remove the topcoat and then refinished.
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