Hardwood Floor Help
March 10, 2006 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Hardwood Floor Filter -- How can I spruce up my hardwood floor without a major refinishing project?

We have wood floors that have seen better days. They were installed in about 1991 and I do not believe they have been refinished since then. I do not know what type of wood or finish was used (it was before we bought the place), but the guy who rehabed the house before us generally went with basic (not expensive) stuff from a Home Depot-type store. My best guess is that it's a basic maple or pine with a poly coating. If it helps, the wood is like a light brown/honey color. Nothing exotic.

The floor has a number of spot areas that are dulled with grey scuffing, nicks, and a few black gouges in places. I'd like to do something to make these areas look nicer, short of sanding and refinishing. I imagine we will have someone refinish the entire floor in about five years, but now is not the right time for us.

The web is full of contradictory advice about what to do. It seems that some products can somehow damage the wood and wreck future refinishing. There's also a giant assortment of different products at the store that all claim to do different things.

Has anyone done this? Thanks.
posted by Mid to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Clean them extremely thoroughly. My wood floors are very old, and I've cleaned with ammonia to remove old wax. Then a few days later with TSP/Spic-n-Span, which is full of phosphates, which are bad for the water supply, so don't overuse. Then I reapply the toughest wax I can get at the hardware store. Bowling alley floor wax, or whatever is closest. It starts out incredibly slippery, which makes for fun* with the dog, and will harden over time. It has to be applied, then dry, then be polished. I put on old socks, and put a towel over a mop, and play good dance music for this, which must provide entertainment for the neighbors.

It protects the floor from abuse, and looks nice. In my tenant's apartment, I've only done the clean/wax cycle a couple of times over 10 years, and the floors look pretty good. If you ever refinish, you must remove all wax.

Where the floors are really scuffed and gray, the finish has been worn off, and the wood is dirty. You may be able to spot sand and re-poly these areas after cleaning/before waxing. Some black areas are caused by water damage and appear to be permanent.

The floors in my house that have old oil-based varnish have held up much better than the floors that have been refinished and polyurethaned. That matters not at all to you, but I was compelled to add it.

* Sometimes the dog has to wear booties because he scratches his skin raw. Freshly waxed floor + dog in socks = hilarity.
posted by theora55 at 8:32 AM on March 10, 2006

If the floors had a urethane finish, they should not have wax on them. You can try theora's cleaning methods, which may improve things, but don't wax urethane.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:44 AM on March 10, 2006

Murphy's Oil Soap does wonders for our floors.
posted by agregoli at 10:19 AM on March 10, 2006

Some friends had their floors "screened" instead of sanded which I guess is gentler and removes less. Apparently it didn't produce as much dust and grime either.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:56 AM on March 10, 2006

You not sposed to wax polyurethane? I routinely do, with no ill effect. Any details? thanks.
posted by theora55 at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2006

Response by poster: I've read that too; hence my confusion at what to do. Supposedly the wax makes refinishing difficult.
posted by Mid at 1:38 PM on March 10, 2006

I have a good deal of experience with wood finishing. In the floor finishing biz, "refinishing" means sanding all the way down to the wood, and then putting on 3 or more coats of polyurethane.If you just clean and recoat the floor, that's refurbishing, or renewing, or recoating... you get the idea.

I know that wax makes it very difficult to recoat OVER existing polyurethane, because it's terribly hard to remove every trace of the wax. But I've never heard of a case where normal floor refinishing -- i.e., sanding to the bare wood and then coating with poly -- was hindered by wax.
Murphy's Oil Soap is said to leave residue as well. I don't know.

If the black marks are on the finish or on the wood, like heel marks, you can remove them with a solvent. I try Formula 409 or TSP first. Then I try mineral spirits/paint thinner, because it takes off rubbery and oily marks. If that fails, I use Goo-gone or another adhesive remover. The Mister Clean miracle sponge (without a solvent can be quite good, as well, since it's slightly abrasive. You can just start with the Goo-gone, but the fumes are strong.

If the black is in the wood, that's a water stain. Sanding might remove it; bleaching is a waste of time.

If you're willing to recoat, then screening floors is a good things to do. You clean with a solvent or a TSP substitute, and then rent a buffing machine and use a round piece of window-screen-like material (get it at the rental shop) to scuff the finish. It doesn't remove the coating; it just gives it some tooth so the new stuff can adhere. You can hire someone to do this; if your floor needs one coat, it's probably worthwhile.

If you don't want to do that, then wax can make your floor look pretty nice. When it gets dull again, you can buff. But if areas of the floor have the poly completely worn off, wax won't help. If the floor is down to bare wood in places, consider recoating in those areas.
posted by wryly at 2:26 PM on March 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

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