Part of hardwood flooring is damaged. How to fix it or who to call?
September 10, 2013 5:39 AM   Subscribe

I have hardwood flooring. Part of it got messed up by dye leaking into it, another part seems to have dark stains that I think may have been caused by drink spillage. I need to fix it ASAP. Are these things I can fix myself easily, or should I call a contractor? And if I do, what type of contractor/which one should I call?

The area of dark stains is actually just dark enough that it looks like, oh, dark oak instead of light oak. I think these might have been from spilled pitchers where the spill got mopped up but somehow something soaked in anyway. I have tried wood soap, but it hasn't worked - maybe taken up a little of it, but mostly just made the not-stained parts a little brighter.

The area where there was dye happened because laundry detergent was spilled inside a gym bag, and so the dyes from the gym bag left the gym bag and soaked into the floor. I may have screwed up already - I tried (via the googles) sanding it down, with the intent to varnish over it. I got a bit down sandingwise, but not past the stain. Right now, it looks like, wel, just sanded light oak with a slightly sanded down stain on it. It looks lighter than the rest of the wood, but if I wet it, the parts that are not stained but have been sanded turn back to the regular wood color.

tl;dr: Are these stains fixable by me? Or does the wood need to be ripped up and replaced? Can they rip it up and replace it just in that section? The floor seems to be made of two-inch-thick pieces of varying length. And do I call a contractor, and if so, who handles flooring?

in advice for others, if you have hardwood floors, never have children. ever.
posted by corb to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless it's severely water damaged or rotten, I'd have a hard time believing that they'd need to rip it out unless the dye has penetrated so deeply that there's too much to sand away without leaving a low spot.

What you're looking for in a contractor is a hardwood flooring specialist. I'd hit up Angie's List in your area and start there, or ask around for recommendations from people you know. The trick will be sanding down a large area and finishing it match the rest of the floor. A hardwood expert should be able to tell you how close they'll be able to get it.
posted by jquinby at 5:47 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sanding and re-staining is pretty easy, especially if your floors are a standard color. You can YouTube it for a demo.

Otherwise this is a quick job for a pro.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 AM on September 10, 2013

The floor is almost certainly finished with polyurethane varnish. To repair, you will have to remove the finish, remove the stain, and re-varnish. You've already done step I, sanding through the finish. Since you've gotten that far, you might as well try bleaching it out - this site recommends chlorine bleach, oxalic acid, and hydrogen peroxide, depending on the type of stain. If that works, you should be able to re-apply polyurethane to match the rest of the floor - get gloss, semi-gloss, or satin depending on what you've already got on the floor.

A flooring contractor could try to sand out the stains & then refinish, or if the stains are deep enough, they can remove & replace a small number of boards.
posted by mr vino at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2013

The problem is your floors sound old and the finish (varnish? urethane?) is mostly worn away, but most of the color (wood stain) remains.

Is this for a rental?

I would (a) bleach the trouble spots repeatedly and with patience (NO MORE SANDING) then (b) with q-tips, surgically re-apply wood stain that matches, doing several coats in needy places, building up the color so that it effectively masks the imperfection and/or looks like natural wear and tear.... (c) the last step (maybe, see below!) is to recreate the worn-off finish by dilituting water-based polyurethane in a SATIN finish with water, and apply scant amounts of that by using a old piece of cotton bed sheet (anything cotton, tight weave, that isn't losing fibers) and I would rub on the urethane and "buff" until dry. Your looking to replicate the worn off finish. If it's too glossy, knock back the gloss with some super ultra low grit sand paper (you can find this in the hardware store, I forget what number it is, but it should feel almost like regular paper, that's how low the grit is.)

I would not call in a pro because I'm handy. YMMV.


The damage would not have occurred at all (or been extremely minimal) if the floors had been sealed in the first place. It sounds like your landlord let the floors maintenance lapse, which is not your fault.

If I'm correct about the condition of the floors, your landlord really really needs to have the floors entirely redone and refinished. Check with your jurisdiction, there are laws governing this, and your floors are likely long overdue for overall professional attention. In this situation, spot sanding might really really screw up the floors, and you don't want to be on the hook for that repair.


Be very very wary if you hire a professional. Generally, hardwood floors can't be spot sanded and re-finished. Anyone who told me that was their plan, I'd assume they didn't really know what they were doing. You could end up with a bigger repair (refinishing ALL the floors so they match) and that would be a shame.

Likely, this damage could be argued as wear and tear, so I suggest you minimize it as much as possible and hope no one notices. Doctor the imperfections without crazy sanding or painting. Use a light touch.

Bleach, stain, mimic the worn finish. That's it.

The bleaching will take the most time. Be patient with that step. You'll know when you're ready to re-apply the color (wood stain) because when dry, the spot will look like it matches other worn areas of the floor, not like a drink or ink stain.

If the imperfection looks good enough when it's dry, you might skip applying the watered down urethane finish. That part will be the trickiest, and done wrong, it might invite more attention to those spots you're seeking to mask. You'll know what to do once the bleach and color steps are complete.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:05 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try oxalic acid.

It is used to remove rust stains, wood stain, ink spots, etc. It WILL not affect the natural color of the wood but should take the stains out.

Regular chlorine bleach won't work and may lighten the wood making it harder to match the stain of the rest of the floor.

Two part wood bleach will bleach the wood but leave the stains, DO NOT USE.
posted by Max Power at 7:42 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is totally for a rental - thus the reason it needs to be done ASAP. I don't think I can play off large dye stains on the floor - like, literally, we're talking almost a square foot of floor space - as normal wear and tear.

I am super not handy. I'm going to try the oxalic acid route, but if it doesn't work, jbenben, is that wood stain stuff that a flooring guy could do or would know how to do?
posted by corb at 7:45 AM on September 10, 2013

Max Power has your answer for the ink stain!!!

Then apply color, maybe a little urethane.

Come to think of it, I used the apply/buffing trick using a matching combo PolyStain product (minwax makes one) and it very very successfully matched the existing finish that way.

Do not sand out the ink stain on a square foot spot. Do use the oxacilic acid. Rub on some polystain.

Keep it simple. Your goal is to get it to look like wear and tear, or like a natural imperfection.

Don't panic.

No. I really can't think of anyone I would trust to fix this that would not cost more than your deposit. There's a 15% chance someone affordable might fix it, and an 85% chance they would damage it worse.

Call actual flooring places for estimates, take some pics and measurements so they can give you a decent quote without coming out to your place.

Likely by calling actual floor refinishers, you'll get some decent tips.

I dunno. I live in LA where people slap a magnetic sign to the door of their pick-up and say they're professionals when they have ZERO actual proper skills, so maybe I'm jaded.

Call for quotes, why not!! But be very wary if anyone tells you they are sanding out the stain. Down that path lies a lost deposit.
posted by jbenben at 8:59 AM on September 10, 2013

Here's the bag. You're looking for a quick fix, so first make sure all the finish is off off the affected wood.

How long are the planks? Any plank with the unwanted stain should be taken care of.

Tape off the planks around the affected planks, you want to treat the entire plank, dunno why, just the rule using oxalic acid. If they are like 10 feet long forget it, but it will be harder to match the stain ( you'll get overlapping color when applying). You can try feathering if the planks are too long otherwise just soak 'em if ya can.

Apply the OA according to directions. Let dry completely, check the unwanted stains, if still too visible apply one more time. 2 is always as much as we ever do, more is just futility. Let dry completely means over night.

Pull the tape to make sure your applications didn't F up adjacent planks. If not, reapply tape and try to match color, any stain, you put on will dry lighter than how it appears wet, so don't worry if it doesn't look spot on when dry. YOU HAVE to let it dry though to apply what ever finish you will top coat it with.

Apply the top coat, let dry completely, check sheen, apply more until you have no raw wood and an even sheen.

Peel tape, check sheen with surrounding boards and buff with 0000 steel wool if necessary.

Depending on your finishing coat the drying time could take days. You will also spend more time waiting for things to dry than doing actual labor.
posted by Max Power at 11:27 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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