You’ve finally saved enough to put a down payment on that gorgeous Victorian house down the street, the one with the stained glass in the front door and the huge porch. And the vintage hardwood floors!
Oh dear … those floors …
If it looks like the prior owners held break-dancing sessions or food battles every weekend, all is not lost! You can do plenty to restore the original luster and beauty of hardwood that has seen better days.
Cleanup on Aisle Three
Let’s say the main problem is staining, water marks, spills or other mishaps. Provided the problem doesn’t go too deep into the fiber of the wood, here are basic rescue techniques for cleaning an abused wood floor.
But before you do anything, you need to find out if your floor is sealed and, if so, how well the seal is holding up. Sprinkled a little water on the floor. If the water beads up, your seal is okay — you’re clear to use regular cleaning products. If the water sinks in, the seal is damaged or missing. Better to do some refinishing work. (See below.)
- If your floors are pre-finished by a manufacturing company, consult their cleaning instructions first.
- Clear up water marks with a dab of mineral spirits. Apply with a clean, white cloth or extra-fine steel wool. Gently scrub and let dry.
- Wipe up spilled food and drink with a warm, damp cloth. Blot dry and apply a little floor wax if needed. For sticky messes, try Goo-Be-Gone.
- Scuff marks usually will come up with a little water on a clean cloth and light rubbing.
Refinishing on a Dime
The problems with most older or abused floors are scratches, dings and gouges. If an ounce of prevention didn’t happen (no stiletto heels, no scraping furniture across the floor), you have a few cures at your disposal that are relatively easy and inexpensive.
- Note that wax-sealed floors need to be stripped and re-waxed twice yearly. This may take care of surface scratches and imperfections all by itself.
- For minor surface scratching, you can blend in the scratch using a wax wood-filler crayon from the hardware store. You could even use a matching crayon from your kids’ school supplies. Buff with a cloth to finish.
- You can literally use walnut or pecan meat to fill in scratches. Just don’t use nuts that are fresh off the tree — the tannin level is too high and it could stain the wood.
- Mix two parts olive oil and one part lemon for an ad hoc floor polish. Apply generously and polish until scratches disappear.
- A little extra-fine steel wool or fine-grit sandpaper can smooth out scratches and minor dings. Scrub in the direction of your wood and then polish.
- A dab of the original stain or paint used on the wood can seal up damage. Use a cotton swab or small paintbrush to apply.
You’ve Got Bigger Problems
If the damage is over a wide area — or the above methods are not doing the trick — the entire finish may need to be redone. This doesn’t have to be a huge, expensive job. You may simply need to rent a buffer and then refinish the floor to get it back to its beautiful shine. Just be sure and research and talk to your local flooring expert before embarking on a big job.