How to protect hardwood floors
Polyurethane protects your floor from many of the stains and blemishes that waxed floors are vulnerable to, but when they do get stained, removal is more difficult. Still, even perfectly finished floors suffer the slings and arrows of everyday life. In most cases, you can repair minor mishaps – or even bigger ones – yourself, with a little care.
Hardwood floors and stains
Most everyday stains – milk, food, wine, minor pet stains, grease, salt from winter boots – will come up with careful scrubbing with a damp cloth and cleaner specially made for sealed hardwood floors. Do not use Murphy’s Oil Soap, wax cleaner, or all-purpose floor cleaner on sealed hardwood; it can dull the finish, leave a residue or even damage the finish.
If that doesn’t remove the stain, try rubbing the stain with superfine (000) steel wool. If that doesn’t get it out, you may have to spot-refinish the area (see below).
Gum, wax, or crayon marks can be removed by first placing a bag of ice cubes on the spot to make it brittle, then scraping it up carefully with a spoon, credit card or butter knife. Finish with hardwood cleaner and a damp cloth.
Stains that have penetrated the polyurethane and gotten on the raw wood require a little more elbow grease and patience, but all is not lost. Start by spot-sanding with superfine (220 grit) sandpaper. (Only cut as much of the wood underneath as absolutely necessary; superfine sandpaper takes longer, but allows you to control how much you remove.) Once the finish has been removed and the surface is absolutely smooth, vacuum and rub with a tack cloth to remove all traces of dust. If the floor finish is natural (no stain), apply a thin coat of oil or water-based (to match the original) urethane with a foam brush, feathering the edges with a small brush. Allow to thoroughly dry before letting anyone walk on it.
Stained hardwood floors and stains
If the floor is stained (i.e., coloured), you may have to test a hidden area to get a perfect match before you refinish the area. Inside a closet, a little-seen corner, or under a large piece of furniture might work. Expose a one-inch square of wood and use a Q-tip to test the colour on the bare wood. You may have to mix a couple of shades to get the right one; be sure to mix enough to cover your entire repair.
Laminate and presealed hardwood floors
Laminate or presealed hardwood floors cannot be refinished at home, but in some cases, you may be able to replace the damaged board, and any difference in colour between the new and old board will eventually blend in as the new board ages.
Minor scratches on hardwood that don’t penetrate the wood can be repaired with touch-up sticks, available in a range of shades at the hardware store, or in a pinch, with a crayon. Slightly deeper scratches can be repaired with wood stain sticks or wood filler, also available at the hardware store.
Larger worn or damaged areas require more work, but there are still alternatives to refinishing the whole floor (which is usually not possible with previously sanded floors anyway). The first is to purchase a hardwood renewal kit, which includes several grits of sandpaper that you attach to a floor sander that looks like a Swiffer broom, tack cloths and polyurethane resealer. While nowhere near as messy as a full resanding, this is a big job and requires that the room be cleared of furniture and blocked off till the new finish dries. The final, and biggest alternative is called screening, and should be done by a professional, but can produce an effect on a previously sanded floor that can make it look brand new again.