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Wood floors are a sound investment -- but over time scratches, scuffs and squeaks can dull out their shining good looks. Check out cleaning tips and fixes to touch up floors without calling the pros.

With a proper upkeep, you can maintain beautiful wood floors for years to come. Photo: National Wood Flooring Association

From a classic oak or maple to an exotic acacia or Brazilian cherry, wood floors add envious glamour to any home. While carpet is a popular go-to option for bedrooms, elegant wood floors still take first prize in other areas of the home. So much so that homes and apartments with hardwood floors often sell quicker and net more money. "Wood floors look rich, clean and are actually healthier," says Rusty Swindoll, assistant technical training director at the National Wood Flooring Association. "Compared to carpet, wood flooring is easier to clean, making it ideal for people who have allergies."

Beauty and convenience aside, wood floors certainly take a beating over time. High heels, foot traffic and pet accidents all threaten and damage polished flooring. We have solutions for all of the scuffs, scratches, indentations and wear that life throws at your beloved wood floors.


Photo: Anderson Ross, Getty Images

Abrasive particles like dirt, sand or gravel gather on the surface of your wood floors, making them look dull and causing scratches. Mats, runners or area rugs placed near entryways help catch dirt where it enters. In fact, doormats can eliminate 80 percent of the dirt tracked inside a home.

To start, clean up food and water spills immediately. Then make sure to mop and vacuum frequently. Mop the floor with a cleaner especially made for the type of hardwood floors that you have installed. "If you use the wrong cleaner," Swindoll warns, "it won't adhere to the finish as well and could cause the floor to peel." Looking for a chemical-free approach? Invest in a steam cleaner. Or kick it up a notch with a combination vacuum/steam mop.

To protect the finish, never use silicone-based polish, cleaners that contain oil, wax or ammonia, or vinegar solutions to clean the floor, Swindoll advises. Vinegar may be the worst offender, as it contains acid that will dull out floors.


- Water spots: Water can cause white spots to form on a wood floor's finish. Apply a small amount of mineral spirits to an extra-fine steel wool pad and rub the spotted area in a circular motion.

- Food stains: Wipe the area with a damp cloth, then rub dry and wax.

Photo: a440, Flickr

Place glides or pads on the bottom of furniture legs to prevent scratches, dents and other forms of damage on the floor finish. To keep wood floors looking their best, put down rugs and runners in high-traffic areas. Take care when moving heavy objects to avoid scuffing.

For an inexpensive, easy solution: slide socks onto chair and table legs so that they don't scratch the floor when moving furniture around. If you have pets, trim their nails or claws regularly so they don't damage the floor over time.

Use a soft-haired broom when sweeping floors to prevent scratching. If vacuuming, make sure to turn on the switch intended for flooring.

"Scuff marks clean right up," says Swindoll. "Use a little water and rub the scuffed area." For stubborn marks, you can spray a cloth with hardwood floor cleaner and lightly rub clean. Or gently stroke with an extra-fine steel wool pad.

A beautiful stiletto heel can turn heads, but destroy your hardwood floors. To fix the pockmarks that pointy heels create -- as well as gouges left by furniture -- you may need to sand the floor down to the raw wood and refinish it, Swindoll says. Follow these steps to refinish wood floors.

Photo: ArcaHeradel, Flickr

If your floor is the victim of scratches that don't penetrate all the way through the wood, you can repair it in a few hours. Known as a "pad and recoat," use a buffer to scuff-sand floors and apply a coat or two of wood finish. This process is easier and less expensive than sanding and refinishing.

You can rent a buffer from your local home center. After buffing and roughing up the surface, apply a polyurethane stain. Follow directions for recoat time. Generally, water-based stains need to be recoated in 3 hours; oil-based in 8 or more hours.

For minor scratches, there are a variety of ways to conceal scratches in wood floors. Here are a few quick and easy fixes:

- Grab a marker. Hide surface scratches by touching them up with a stain-filled marker.

- Rub the scratch with the edge of a quarter. If this doesn't conceal the scratch enough, rub a small amount of paste wax and buff it with a soft cloth.

- Walnuts are more than just a snack. Repair shallow scratches by rubbing shelled nuts on the surface. The natural oils in nuts help conceal the flaws.

- Spot sand it. Use extra-fine sandpaper or steel wool to gently buff scratched or chipped areas, then use a cotton swab or small paintbrush to restain wood.

Photo: Rust-Oleum

For floors that are lackluster or contain mere surface scratches, you can actually skip the sanding and simply recoat the wood. Refinishing kits, such as Varathane No-Sanding Floor Refinishing Kit, contain supplies to condition and refinish floors. Remember these kits are best for minor scuffs and scratches in the floor's finish -- not the wood itself. Extensive blemishes and deep-penetrating scratches will need to be sanded and refinished.

Squeaky floors make it hard for someone to sneak up behind you, but so ends their list of benefits. To silence squeaks, turn your attention to the subfloor, which acts as backing to hold the flooring in place. Secure the subfloor to wood flooring from below by driving screws at a slight angle. Use screws short enough not to break the surface of the face of the wood.

Another easy solution is a Counter-Snap Kit that utilizes a screwdriver bit, depth-control fixture and breakaway screws. When drilling, the screwhead automatically breaks off when you drive the screw to a certain depth. This will leave you with non-squeaky floors and undetectable screws.

Also, sprinkling talcum powder, baking soda or candle wax on floorboards can help quiet squeaky floors.

Wood naturally expands. Gaps in between hardwood floorboards often occur due to the moisture levels in the wood and the air temperature in your home. Dry winter air and heating sucks out moisture, causing boards to shrink and gaps to form in the floor. Fix this problem by using a humidifier to control the air inside your home. "During the wintertime use a humidifier to add moisture to the wood," advises Swindoll. In the spring and summer, higher humidity levels will cause the wood to expand, closing the gaps.

Generally temperatures between 60 degrees and 80 degrees and a humidity level in the range of 35 to 55 percent is optimal for wood floors. These levels will help retain the proper moisture in the floor's wood fibers.

Another option for repair is to apply wood filler in the gaps. However, when the floor contracts and expands, the filler can easily pop out or fall into the gap. Thus wood filler is only a temporary fix and not an ideal option. If you find that a humidifier is not minimizing the gaps, it's best to call a professional for a lasting repair.

What's So Great About Bamboo Flooring?
Remove Dried Paint From Wood Floors
Dos and Don'ts of Cleaning Hardwood Floors [ShelterPop]

Watch this video from our partner for more on hardwood floor care:

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  • Chase S.

    OLD ENGLISH. If you get the right shade, it can make a big difference in fixing scratches. Also simple and eco-friendly OLIVE OIL can bring a nice shine and moisture rich look to woods. Check out the ideas and FREE SAMPLES on HTtp://Bit.LY/FreebieHomepage

  • seamus darragh

    Thanks for the article - I leave in New England and our wooden floors are 100 year old oak. My wife wants a new fireplace but I'm worried about damaging the floor with all the builder activity. (our kitchen floor was badly scratched by the counter people) They say prevention is key - I've being researching protective products for wooden floors and came across a protect called builder board - found it here

    Has anyone else used it - is there a better cheaper way of protecting old floors?


  • Hardwood Floor Water Damage Repair

    Once the water has subsided, it’s time to figure out how you are going to handle water damage cleanup. Using the proper equipment is essential to cleaning up in order to improve air quality, prevent mold, and repair damage. A variety of equipment is available from dehumidifiers to air movers to your Hardwood Floor Water Damage Repair

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