How to fix your damaged hardwood floors

fix worn hardwood floor

There’s nothing quite like the gleam of a hardwood floor. Durable, warm, and less prone to attracting dust than other flooring types, hardwood is popular for a reason. With a little TLC, hardwood will stay gorgeous for a lifetime (and beyond).

That’s not to say that hardwood is indestructible. Wood can be prone to scratches, gouges, and dents, and can stain or warp. Thankfully, many of the fixes a hardwood floor may need are DIY jobs. Though some require a little know-how and some tools, these fixes can be easily tackled by DIY rookies.

Scratches and gouges

Whether you’ve got dogs or kids or just forget to take off your stilettos, your floors will likely end up with scratches or gouges. Fortunately, the fixes for these are fairly simple. For light scratches, you can apply wax or acrylic floor polish, but there’s a drawback: these can darken and dull over time (especially with multiple applications) and will need to be removed. This isn’t an easy job—there’s lots of scrubbing and chemicals involved—so think carefully before going this route. Wood renewal formulas can also work to disguise light scratches, but make sure to clean the floor thoroughly before application, and let the treatment dry completely.

For deeper scratches—ones where you can see bare wood—coat the scratch with wood stain that matches your floor. It won’t get rid of the scratch, but it will disguise it. If you don’t feel like using liquid wood stain, blending pencils and stain markers are good options.

For a deep gouge, fill the hole with coloured latex wood filler in the shade that most closely matches your floor. Use a plastic putty knife—with a metal one, you run the risk of more scratches. When the latex is dry, use fine-grit sandpaper to even out the patch, then apply thinned varnish over the repair.

Squeaky floorboards

As wood shrinks during the dry winter months, floorboards can pull apart from each other and away from the subfloor, leading to a symphony of squeaks and creaks. There are a few different ways to address squeaks, some simpler than others. If you have access to the underside of the floor, have someone walk on it above you and determine where the squeak starts. Insert a shim with wood glue on it between the joist and the subfloor, and you’ll reduce the bounce in the floor that’s causing the squeak. If you’ve found a gap and it runs the entire length of the joist, try applying construction adhesive, working into the gap to stop the squeak.

If you’ve found a warped joist, you can nail a straight block of wood along the crooked joist. Run a line of adhesive along the edge that hits the subfloor, then affix with nails or screws.

Creaks are sometimes caused by the subfloor becoming detached from the finished flooring. You can fix this from underneath by using short screws to reattach the two floors—just make absolutely sure your screws are short enough to avoid penetrating the finished floor.

If you can’t access the floor from underneath, try lubricating the problem area with powdered soapstone, baby powder, or powdered graphite. Sprinkle your material on, cover it with a cloth, and walk on top of it to work it in, then vacuum up the remaining powder.

Water damage

If you’ve had a flood or a leak, chances are your hardwood has suffered—either with stains or warping or both.

If the floor is stained, first make sure the floor is completely dry—wipe up any puddles, then use a heater or hairdryer to ensure that all the moisture is gone from the finished floor and the subfloor. If you’ve got a white film on the surface, rub it with a soft cotton cloth and something that’s gently abrasive—think toothpaste or polishing compound, not sandpaper. Gentle polishing may be all you need to get rid of a white stain.

Black stains, on the other hand, are a little more challenging. Mark out the stained area with painter’s tape, then get rid of the finish by either sanding it with 60-grit sandpaper, working up to 120-grit or using an application of mineral spirits on steel wool. Follow this with repeated applications of vinegar, bleach, or oxalic acid (you can get this at the hardware store). If the stain doesn’t lighten, your floorboards are permanently stained and may need patching or replacing.

If your floor has warped slightly, you may be able to correct it by placing something heavy on the area that has curled up. You may also be able to nail the warped edge down, counter-sinking the nail then filling the hole with coloured wood filler. Severely warped boards will have to be replaced.

Refinish floors

Refinishing hardwood floors doesn’t have to be a lengthy, multi-day affair involving hours of sanding. As long as you’re not dealing with deep scratches, heavy traffic paths that have worn away the finish, or a wax finish, you can use a chemical etching product to take the finish off your floor easily. (If your floor is deeply scratched, has patches of bare wood or water stains, or has a wax finish, sanding is your best option.)

If you’re just looking to refresh the look of a lightly worn floor, remove any furniture and start by cleaning the floor with a vacuum, followed by a wipe with a damp cloth. Turn off ceiling fans and close windows, ducts, and vents to limit any dust being carried on moving air. Also, don’t let the sun shine directly on the floor—this can cause sections of the floor to dry too quickly.

Apply liquid etcher using the materials provided in the etching kit. Work in small sections—scrub  a 4×4 section of floor, then wipe up the excess. Let the floor dry for 30 minutes once you’re done, then run over the floor with a damp mop. Once the floor is dry, paint any scratches with stain, dry it with a hair dryer, then cover with a very thin layer of finish. Apply the finish according to the instructions, working quickly so you can smooth out any imperfections before the mixture becomes sticky.

Embrace the patina

If you just don’t want to invest the effort into having shiny hardwood, never fear. Distressed wood floors are seriously trendy right now—hand-scraped finishes on hardwood are major selling points in homes, and distressed laminates are big sellers. If your hardwood floor is scraped or worn, consider embracing the patina of age and simply living with the wear. After all, it’s a home, not a museum.