I may have just lost my deposit
July 10, 2011 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do about this relatively small stain on my hardwood floors?

I've looked around at all the other similar questions and I didn't see anything that quite fits my needs.

I'm currently subletting an apartment and about a week ago I accidentally knocked over a bottle of laundry detergent - free and clear if that makes any difference - on some clothes and didn't notice for a day or two that it had soaked through and left a stain on my (continuous throughout the entire apartment) hardwood floors. The stain isn't too dark (maybe looks like a light burn) but it is noticeable. The shape is very odd because of the fact that it was spilled on fabric and thus not circular or continuous, but it's about 5 inches in diameter.

The stain isn't really that bad compared to what it could be, but my subleaser is bound to notice when she comes back since it's in a conspicuous location. Now I've done a fair amount of research and tried a lot of different home remedies - different kinds of vinegar, baking soda, Murphy soap oil - but nothing seems to have had any effect, especially since it was dry by the time I noticed it. I talked to some guys at Home Depot and was basically told that I would have to sand the entire room and refinish it.

Unfortunately, this isn't really an option. Because this is a a sublease - one that I'm fairly sure wasn't approved by the landlord - I doubt I would be able to sand and refinish the room without anyone noticing. Yes, this was stupid in retrospect, but I didn't expect myself to fuck up like this.

My overall question is: Is there a way to lighten this stain to make it far less noticeable? I read something about mineral spirits but I don't want to keep buying things and see them not work. It doesn't have to be perfect, as there is a fair amount of variance in the woodgrain to begin
with and the stain is fairly light, but I would love to be able to just lighten it up a bit.

If I wouldn't be able to do it myself, is this something that I could call in a professional to do, or would they have to redo the entire floor as well? Would I even be able to find a reputable professional to work on it without the permission of the landlord?

If not, any idea how much can I expect to pay out of my deposit? Right now I'm imagining the worst-case-scenario where I just lose the whole deposit, so pretty much any non-invasive solution under $1500 I'm happy with.
posted by gregoryg to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What is the finish on the floor? Probably polyurethane, unless it's a pre-1960s-ish house.

I'm not really sure what in detergent would react with polyurethane to cause darkening. Some detergents have enzymes... Have you tried sanding at all? Polyurethane is like a coat of clear nail polish -- if there's a stain, it's just on the surface. You can't put polyurethane in one spot, even if you do manage to sand the stain out, but maybe the stain doesn't go all the way through.

If it is an older finish, there's something called like, oxalic acid or something like that, for lightening dark stains.

I'd like to see a photo, if you have one.
posted by thebazilist at 8:46 AM on July 11, 2011

Response by poster: Sure thing, here's a fairly blurry picture (sorry, bad cell phone camera).

I'm pretty sure it's polyurethane, but then again I've never had to deal with this sort of thing so I can't be sure. I scratched off a tiny spot to see if it got into the floorboards and it looks like that's the case, though maybe I didn't go deep enough to tell.
posted by gregoryg at 2:24 PM on July 11, 2011

Have you tried calling the manufacturer of the detergent? They might have some information about what specific chemical could have caused this reaction, and how to counteract it. You'll probably have to be pretty persistent and threaten to sue them, though. That's a nasty looking stain for something that's supposed to be safe for contact with your skin.
posted by Corvid at 4:01 PM on July 11, 2011

Best answer: Yeah definitely polyurethane. Unfortunately oxalic acid won't work.

That is really strange. I see what you mean about it being a weird shaped stain.

Agreed, try a call in to the detergent manufacturer. There's usually a toll-free number on the back, or you can try emailing them. Or Twitter: tweet the photo and be like "crazy detergent can stain polyurethane, what kind of Harmful Chemicals are in here??? @Tide." A lot of big corps are pretty responsive.

Actually.... what color was the piece of clothing that was lying on the floor? Some Googling is showing that polyurethane readily absorbs dyes; the buzzword is "color transfer." Previously, actually.
posted by thebazilist at 6:57 PM on July 11, 2011

Response by poster: Damn, it was a brown shirt so that's gotta be it. I'll try a few of the methods listed but at least now I know what the stain actually is.
posted by gregoryg at 7:11 PM on July 11, 2011

Response by poster: Holy shit, that was it. Rubbing alcohol is cutting it pretty well. Even if it doesn't get it out completely, it's at least making it way less noticeable. Thank you for saving me hundreds of dollars!
posted by gregoryg at 7:18 PM on July 11, 2011

posted by thebazilist at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2011

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