No matter how carefully they are cleaned, hardwood floors lose their luster over time. Dirt, scratches, wax buildup, board separations and general wear and tear can leave hardwood floors looking dull and old. In many cases, a few dollars and a bit of elbow grease are all you need to breathe new life into aging hardwood floors.
Begin by giving the floors a thorough cleaning. Choose a commercial cleaning product designed for the type of finish you have on your floors, such as wax or urethane. Spot test the product in an inconspicuous area and allow it to dry thoroughly. Plain water and vinegar solutions do little to remove dirt buildup or stains. Mopping with commercial cleaners is sufficient for regular maintenance, but to remove all residue, clean the floor with a rag. Use gentle, even pressure to remove stains rather than scratching or digging at the floor.
Get creative when addressing scratches in the hardwood. Crayons, colored pens, markers and specially designed wax sticks—available at home improvement stores—can help scratched areas blend in with the rest of the floor. Choose two or three colors that are close to your floor color, and then mix them together. Floor stain has seemingly endless variations in tone, so a close match is good enough. Sand deeper gouges with a piece of fine-grit sandpaper, working slowly and carefully in the direction of the wood grain. Fill the area with wood filler and sand smooth, again working in the direction of the grain. Cover the repair with wood stain in your current floor color.
Screen and Recoat
If your floors are finished in polyurethane, a relatively simple screen and recoat process adds years of life. Thoroughly vacuum the floor and damp mop it with a vinegar and water solution. When the floor is completely dry, use a 120-grit sanding screen to gently remove the top layer of polyurethane. Do not attempt to sand down to bare wood—the goal is simply to scuff up the existing polyurethane so the new coat will stick. Vacuum the floor and use a damp tack cloth to remove all traces of dust. Apply an even coat of polyurethane according to the manufacturer’s instructions and allow the floor to dry for 24 hours before walking on it or replacing furniture.
Floor wax creates a buildup that, over time, can make floors dingy and discolored. Use mineral spirits or a commercial wax stripper to remove the buildup. Open windows and run an air conditioner or industrial fan until the floor is completely dry to remove toxic fumes. Apply a new coat of wax according to the manufacturer’s instructions and allow it to dry for 24 hours. If you want to change from wax to another coating such as polyurethane, the floor must be completely sanded down to bare wood and re-stained. This is a complex project best handled by a professional.