Improving the appearance of worn-out hardwood floors
March 14, 2019 6:26 AM   Subscribe

We're putting our house up for sale soon. It has hardwood floors with some damage ranging from minor pet scratches to some places (just one room, really) where the finish is pretty badly worn away. It obviously needs to be sanded down and refinished, but short of that is there any we can make it look better for sale, and protect it from further damage, without making it more difficult for the eventual buyers to fix it properly?

We've already talked to a contractor about getting a price on refinishing the floor ourselves, and may end up going that route; but that would obviously delay us being able to list the place for sale, and our realtor's opinion was that we should probably just leave it for the next owners. So I'm wondering if there's something simpler we can do in the short term just to make it look a bit better.

The worst of the damage is unfortunately in areas where a carpet or area rug would make no sense; it'd look really obvious that something bad was lurking under there. There are no pets living here currently. I have no idea what the current finish is made of; it predates us, could be from any time in the last 150 years or so, and likely isn't the same from room to room (it's an old house that has been added to and remodeled a number of times over its lifespan.)
posted by ook to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've never done it on a floor, but a good mineral oil and wax makes almost all wood look better. Especially if the wax is a similar shade to the varnish.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:31 AM on March 14

One option is to screen and recoat the floor. It's a light sanding designed just to remove the top layer of finish (not wood), followed by a new coat of finish. Quick and relatively cheap. Probably won't help a floor where the finish is literally worn away. Also it still makes a huge mess of dust, and just like a full refinishing basically requires you move everything out of the rooms to do.
posted by Nelson at 6:38 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

It won't make it look perfect, but this stuff temporarily fades scratching we have from dining chairs sliding around. Our floors are darker, and I'm not sure how it would work in the areas where larger amounts of finish are missing, so try a test patch before committing.
posted by defreckled at 6:43 AM on March 14

Boiled Linseed Oil will vastly improve the appearance of most hardwood floors. Just make sure to take proper precautions with the rags. You will probably need more than you think - my ~800^2 floors use up about 3/4 of a 5-gallon bucket.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:19 AM on March 14

Either get them done right yourself or leave them for the next folks, adjust the price accordingly. My concern would any temporary measure may make refinishing in the future more difficult.
posted by tman99 at 8:09 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]

Listen to your realtor. Get a couple quotes for refinishing. Be prepared to offer the lowest quote price to the buyer as a come-down on price. I think a nice cleaning with wood-safe cleaners and then leave it alone is probably best.
posted by amanda at 8:28 AM on March 14

I'd avoid mineral oil, as it doesn't cure ("polymerize"). It would feel oily until it wears off, which might not be great for when you are trying to sell.
posted by Poldo at 8:38 AM on March 14

I just watched my neighbor have the whole house done, all carpet gone, all floors sanded, refinished. I think one room would not be too expensive, shamelessly shop around for price, get bids for whole thing deep, to just the one room, lightly done, single sand and refinish. Stipulate the job includes sealing off the area, and cleanup, including dusting the ceiling and walls. If you are moving there is no time like that to do this. I watched the first broker clean the carpets. Then the previous renter, come back and clean the carpets; the new owner cleaned the carpets twice then just ripped all the carpet out, and did the floors. This was in the space of three months. If you have just had the beautiful floors redone, and done well, your price can go up, but the desirability of the place triples.
posted by Oyéah at 9:02 AM on March 14

Curing vs uncuring oils is a matter of preference in my book. Uncured oils and waxes are also very common floor treatments. I personally wouldn't want boiled linseed on my floor (though I love it for other applications) -- it's basically clear paint and hard/impossible to remove. But the point is, this is a choice that buyers may appreciate that you did not make for them. Even if you did a whole refinish, there are several ways that could be done, each with different pros and cons and final looks.

And whatever you pick is bound to be dis-preferred by a non-negligible amount of potential buyers.

I'd only clean it and maybe put on a very small amount of some very light oil, that has no real permanent effect but does improve the looks a bit. Then I'd tell the realtor that if anyone asks about the floor: you know the floor has issues but you know it's a highly personal choice and for now you want to keep buyer's options open.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:30 AM on March 14

We bought a 90-year-old house with mostly-mildly worn floors. In the photos online (the thing that hooks people) the floors looked perfect. When we toured the house in person there was one spot where clearly a rug had masked a spill until too much damage was done, but we've been here almost six years and we haven't done anything about that spot at all. There's some other visible wear in a few places that predated us, but it's an old house and the floors were, well, fine. Nothing about them was a deal breaker. The obvious spot was still an entirely livable obvious spot. I'd just make sure your floors are clean and as presentable as possible, and price accordingly.

Only now, after almost six years in the house, am I thinking we need to do something about some of the wood, and that's just because when you walk on it every day in bare feet you can tell where there's probably some underlying water damage outside that bathroom, but it's (still) not so bad I'm calling contractors.
posted by fedward at 9:50 AM on March 14

> I'd only clean it and maybe put on a very small amount of some very light oil, that has no real permanent effect but does improve the looks a bit. Then I'd tell the realtor that if anyone asks about the floor: you know the floor has issues but you know it's a highly personal choice and for now you want to keep buyer's options open.

This is exactly my advice.

You care about preserving these floors and would do them right, but are you really going to get that money back in the sale? Eh, doubtful. Potential buyers might not care if floors are worn, might be refinishing geeks who really want to be the one to supervise the work, might be planning to (tragically) rip it all up, might want to put in wall-to-wall carpet (weird but not quite as tragic), or might have unrealistic expectations of a picture-perfect un-scuffed-yet-charmingly-older house and are not going to buy your house anyway.
posted by desuetude at 10:20 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

maybe put on a very small amount of some very light oil, that has no real permanent effect but does improve the looks a bit.

So... yeah, that was pretty much my question: what "very light oil" would you suggest we use? I definitely agree we don't want to do something that would cause problems for the next people, I just don't know what to use that wouldn't either soak into the wood too deeply, or be too difficult to remove when it's refinished properly.
posted by ook at 1:15 PM on March 14

Here’s a decent guide I just googled up.

They say mineral oil, teak oil or petroleum/motor oil. One advantage of motor oil is it will come with a “weight” rating that describes its viscosity. Better mineral oils will also describe their characteristics, as will waxes and grease products. You can also go by feel. Honestly I would consider canola oil, but please don’t do that based on me alone: I’ve used it for years for tool handles and cutting boards and found that it’s ‘semi-drying’ nature is a nice compromise between hard curing and wet soaking oils. I’ve seen lots of advice warning against plant-based oils due to rancidification, but it’s literally never been an issue for me personally.

Wood finishing is a bizarre mix of art, science, folk wisdom, insanity, superstition, and heritage. That makes it hard to get any one ‘best’ answer.

On balance I would say something sold as “light mineral oil” would strike a good balance of doing no harm, being readily available and not too expensive. You shouldn’t have any problems with wetness of the oil as long as you apply it lightly and thinly and buff off excess.

Finally I’m not an expert on floors but that almost looks more like softwood to me. You may want to double check with someone who can see and touch it in person and be confident of their answer, because while you would treat it similarly softwood is expected to be far more scuffed and dinged than hardwood. Hope that helps.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:57 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Please, please test this oil idea on a small patch first. An oil-finished floor is a very, very different thing than a polyurethane finished floor.
posted by Nelson at 6:03 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

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