Expert advice on how to repair wood flooring scratches, stains, squeaks, damage, and more
Even the best wood floors are subject to problems. For starters, wood is more likely to scratch than other flooring. Other problems range from minor surface damage to serious structural defects to the most annoying problem wood floors fall prey to—squeaks.
There is no easy way to avoid surface scratches and gouges—they’re the inevitable result of daily wear and tear. Nor can you prevent problems caused by expansion and contraction. Wood, as a naturally fibrous and porous material, expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity. As it does so, boards can separate or warp and nails can loosen.
The natural settling of a house can also cause separations between the joists and the subfloor. If your floor is sagging or uneven, there could be a serious structural problem causing it; in this case, consult a professional.
To maintain wood floors, vacuum or dry-mop them about once a week.
Minor scratches in wood floors often can be buffed away using steel wool or progressively finer sandpaper grits. Restrict your sanding to the scratched area, feathering only slightly into the surrounding surface. Sand or buff only in line with the wood grain.
Polyurethane finishes are difficult to sand. Try using a scouring pad dipped in mineral spirits or use a sanding screen.
HomeTips Pro Tip: Don’t ever wax a wood floor that has been coated with a polyurethane finish—this will make it impossible to recoat in the future without having to sand the floor first.
If paste wax will adhere to the finish, you can use it to hide scratches, and the wax is available in clear, honey tone, or brown to match most any wood floor. Wood-repair wax sticks may help to fill deeper scratches and dents.
Dents. You can sometimes raise small dents by placing a few drops of water on them and allowing the wood to swell back to its original shape. Applying mild heat with an iron or heat gun helps this process along.
In general, water is an enemy to wood floors. If someone has left a water-mark ring from a hot coffee cup or cold glass on the floor, you might be able to extract the stain. Fold a white cloth or rag in half and lay it over the stain. Then set an iron to medium heat and use it to iron back and forth over the stain area. Do this gradually, checking frequently to see whether the stain is disappearing and to make sure you don’t cause further damage.
Larger stains on wood floors are typically water marks, caused by spills or over-watering house plants. The area must be sanded, sometimes bleached, and then refinished to match the rest of the floor, which is the trickiest part. It’s a good idea to hire a professional for this work, particularly if the stain is in a highly visible area.
If you do decide to take on this project yourself, this is how the process goes:
1Sand the area with a vibrating sander, first with 100-grit sandpaper and then with 150-grit.
2Vacuum the area.
3Wipe the area with mineral spirits for an oil-based stain and water for a latex stain.
4For a dark stain, apply bleach or an oxalic-acid solution to lighten the stain, and then lightly sand with 150-grit sandpaper.
5Mix up a stain to match the existing floor color. This process usually requires testing possibilities on a piece of wood that’s the same species as your floor. If you can’t find replacement pieces, cut them from a closet or another inconspicuous part of your existing floor and then replace that cutout with newer flooring.
Badly damaged or rotted sections of flooring must be removed and replaced with new pieces. This involves cutting out a section of the finish flooring, gluing or nailing replacements to the subflooring, filling cracks to match, sanding the surface, and refinishing. If you’re not experienced with this type of work, you’ll find the most difficult part is getting the new to match the old. This job is usually best left to a wood-flooring professional.