How to Remove Stains from Hardwood Floors

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This guide will give you general tips and tricks for removing bad stains in your hardwood flooring.  There are some simple...and interesting things that can be done to get those bad marks out of your floors.

For floors with polyurethane or similar surface finishes, many stains can be prevented by simply wiping up the spilled liquid immediately. For waxed floors, most stains can be prevented or minimized by keeping the floors waxed as previously suggested, and by wiping up any spilled liquid immediately. Here are some "first-aid" suggestions for common accidents.

When removing a stain, always begin at the outer edge and work toward the middle to prevent it from spreading.

  • Dried milk or food stains: You may remove the superficial dried material with a sharpened blade. Be careful not to scratch the finish. Rub spot with damp cloth. Rub dry. Re-wax for waxed finish.
  • Stains and spots caused by standing water: For wax finish- Rub spot with No. 1 steel wool and re-wax. If this fails, sand lightly with fine sandpaper 90 to 120 grit. Clean spot and surrounding area using No. 1 or 0 steel wool and mineral spirits or a wood floor cleaner. Let floor dry. Apply matching finish on floor, feathering out into surrounding area. Wax after finish dries thoroughly. For surface finishes- use recommenced cleaner and buff vigorously with clean towel.
  • Dark spots: For wax finish- (a) Clean spot and surrounding area with No. 2 steel wood and a wood floor cleaner or mineral spirits. (b) Thoroughly wash spotted area with household vinegar. Allow it to remain for three or four minutes. (c) If spot remains, sand with fine sandpaper, follow the grain pattern of the wood, feathering out 3 to 4 inches into surrounding area, re-wax and polish. (d) If two repeated applications of vinegar do not remove spot, apply oxalic acid solution directly on the spot. Proportions are one ounce oxalic acid to one quart water or fractions thereof.
  • CAUTION: This is a poison; use rubber gloves. Pour a small amount directly on the spot and let solution stand one hour. Sponge spot with clear water. A second treatment may be helpful if spot refuses to yield. (e) If second application of oxalic acid fails, sand area with No.80 to 120 grit sandpaper, follow the grain, and apply matching finish, feathering out into surrounding floor area. Let dry. Buff lightly with No. 0 steel wool. Apply second coat of finish, let dry and wax. If spot is still visible, the only remaining remedy is to replace the affected flooring. (Note: Oxalic acid is a bleaching agent. Whenever it is used, the treated floor area will probably have to be stained and refinished to match the original color.) For surface finishes. Remove finish and treat as above, but do not wax. After area is thoroughly dry coat with surface finish.
  • Heel marks, caster marks, etc: For wax finish--Rub vigorously with fine steel wool and wood floor cleaner. Wipe dry and polish. For surface finishes--Use cleaner to wipe off mark. Some marks may be carefully scraped up with a sharpened blade.
  • Ink stains: Follow same procedure as for other dark spots.
  • Animal and diaper stains: Spots that are not too old may sometimes be removed in the same manner as other dark spots. If spots resist cleaning efforts replace affected strips, sand and finish.
  • Mold or mildew: A surface condition caused by damp, stagnant air. After seeing that proper ventilation is provided for the room--For waxed finish-The mold can usually be removed with a wood floor cleaning liquid and No. 1 steel wool. For surface finishes--If mold is on the surface, wipe up with appropriate cleaner. If mold is under the finish, refinishing is necessary.
  • Chewing gum, crayon, candle wax: Scrape the major residue with a razor blade. Apply ice until the deposit is brittle enough to crumble off. Cleaning fluid poured around the area (not on it) can seep under the deposit and loosen it.
  • Cigarette burns: For waxed finish--If not too deep, steel wool will often remove them. Moisten steel wool with soap and water to increase effectiveness. Re-wax. For surface finishes--Scraping the affected area only with a sharpened blade. Apply a dab of finish where the finish has been scraped away.
  • Alcohol spot: For waxed finish-Rub with liquid or paste wax, silver polish, boiled linseed oil, or cloth barely dampened in ammonia. Re-wax affected area. For surface finishes-Generally not affected.
  • Oil and grease stains: For waxed finish-Rub on a kitchen soap having a high lye content, TSP (tri sodium phosphate) or saturate cotton with hydrogen peroxide and place over stain; then saturate a second layer of cotton with ammonia and place over the first. Repeat until the stain is removed. NOTE: Ammonia may discolor the wood. For surface finishes-Wipe up with mineral spirits or TSP (tri sodium phosphate). Buff with clean pad or towel.
  • Wax build-up: Oak floors that have not had proper care may acquire wax build-up. Strip all the old wax away with mineral spirits or a wood floor cleaner. Use cloths and fine steel wool to clean and remove all the residue before applying new wax. It's a good idea to perform this complete stripping job every now and then. Stripping removes all the old wax and dirt that partially hides the beauty and color of the wood grain and builds up inevitably over a period of time.
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