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Removing Stains

Hardwood floors are porous and thus prone to stains. The best habit to adopt is to wipe up any spill, even plain water, immediately, before it has time to penetrate the finish. If your finish has been worn away, however, spills may penetrate faster than your sponge can collect them. And with pets, kids and parties, even the most diligent among us can't get to every spill every time, so stains are an inevitable fact of life.

First try cleaning your floor using the methods described in Cleaning and Restoring Hardwood Floors. Some stains will be cured or at least minimized simply by employing a few restoration tricks. Some, of course, will not.

Sanding and refinishing may remove more stubborn stains, but others may be too deep to be attacked in any way other than bleaching them out.

For this project, you'll need:

  • Oxalic acid crystals (available at home improvement, paint and hardware stores)
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Wood restorer (available at home improvement stores)
  • Rubber gloves
  • A disposable plastic cup
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Soft white cloth

How To Remove Stains

1. Sand off any hardwood finish using fine-grade sandpaper. Be careful to sand off the finish only and not dig into the wood itself. Don rubber gloves. In a plastic cup mix according to the instructions a small amount of oxalic acid crystals with water.
2. Apply the mixture only to the stained section of floor–if some gets on unstained wood by mistake, wipe it up immediately using a white rag dipped in white vinegar. Careful application is the key, so use a disposable plastic spoon or similar conveyance to pour the chemical over the stain until the entire section is wet. Allow it to penetrate for one hour. If necessary, apply more solution to the stain and allow it to sit for another hour.
3. Once the stain is gone (or as close to gone as it's going to get) wipe the area thoroughly with a clean white rag dipped in white vinegar. Then rinse with water and dry with a clean dry cloth. When the wood is completely dry, sand it to a smooth finish using fine-grade sandpaper. Apply wood restorer one coat at a time until the bleached area blends with the surrounding wood. If your floor has a shellac, polyurethane or lacquer finish, apply a comparable coating to the area to seal it.

What Type of Floor Do You Have?
Not sure what kind of finish your floor has? Try these tests on a small, hidden section of floor using a Q-tip or cloth:

  • Denatured alcohol: rub a small circle in the wood; if the finish dissolves, it's probably shellac
  • Lacquer thinner: this will dissolve a lacquer finish rather quickly
  • If your finish remains in tact after trying both, it is most likely polyurethane
  • Pre-finished and manufactured hardwood floors are pretreated with special sealants. Contact the manufacturer for details on cleaning and sealing these floors
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