How to Fix Squeaky Floors

Here’s everything you need to know to stop your floor from squeaking once and for all.

When it comes to floors that creak and squeak, you have two choices: Learn to the live with your home's "charm" and "character," or fix the problem. We're fans of the latter, as fixing squeaky floors (just like fixing all household squeaks) is typically a quick and painless process.

The most difficult part of fixing many common floor squeaks is determining the cause of the squeak. Some squeaks come and go with the seasons, while others are there to stay. Most squeaks are harmless, but some can indicate bigger issues hidden beneath your floor. No matter the cause of your squeaky floor, we've broken down exactly how to find the squeak, determine the cause, and fix the issue for good.

mudroom hardwood floors
Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Quick Fixes for Floor Squeaks

Before diving into your tool chest, here are some quick tricks you can try that just might stop your floor squeak without additional investigation.

Increase the Humidity

Many floors squeak if the air becomes too dry. This often happens in the winter because of the drier air and introduction of heat, but it can also be a year-long issue for some homeowners. As the wood dries, it shrinks. This opens gaps between boards as well as around fasteners. To account for this, simply place a humidifier in the room or area with squeaky floors.

Apply Powdered Graphite

Tongue-and-groove hardwood floors are notorious for squeaking. Sometimes, all it takes is a little lubrication to stop the sound. Powdered graphite is the ideal lubrication, but baby powder and talcum powder can sometimes do the trick.

To apply the lubricant, simply locate the squeaky joint and apply the powder to the crack. Lightly brush the powder back and forth until it settles in the crack. Work the joint by stepping repeatedly, then brush more powder into the joint. Repeat this process until the powder is gone or no longer fills the crack. Wipe up any remaining residue with a damp cloth but refrain from vacuuming the area.

Spray a Wood-Safe Dry Lubricant

Like powdered lubricant, a spray-on lubricant can sometimes be all it takes to stop a floor squeak. While not all spray-on lubricants will do the job, a wood-safe dry lubricant can be effective for stopping floor squeaks. Before spraying, test the lubricant on a hidden area to see if it stains or discolors the wood.

Spray the squeaky joint thoroughly, then work the lubricant into the crack using your fingers (rubber gloves recommended). Wipe off the excess with a dry cloth and follow up with a wood floor cleaner.

If none of the above simple solutions fix your squeaky floors, you may need to do a little investigating to identify a larger issue. Once you know the cause, you can find the right fix.

What to Look for When Your Floor Squeaks

Floors squeak when things that aren't intended to move shift. The sound is the result of wood rubbing against other wood or against metal fasteners. This movement could be your floor moving on top of your subfloor, your subfloor moving on top of your joists, or any combination of friction between the floor system's components.

If you have access to the area beneath the floor via a crawlspace, an unfinished basement, or a basement with a drop-ceiling, determining your floor's squeak will be much easier. Once you locate the squeak, look at the underside of the floor. If possible, have a helper flex the squeaking area while you examine from below. Keep an eye out for:

  • Improperly secured subfloor
  • Sagging or damaged joists
  • Bowed or uneven joists
  • Vertical or lateral movement of any kind
  • Any other loose or damaged component

If you're unable to find an obvious cause of the squeak beneath the floor or are unable to access it from below, the squeak may lie above the subfloor. While this can be harder to diagnose, there are still many ways to stop the squeak, but there may be more trial-and-error involved in the process.

When to Call a Professional

If, while viewing the floor from underneath, you notice significant gaps or damage to the subfloor, joists, or any remaining components of the floor system, it may be worth calling a professional in to take a look. While not common, a squeaky floor can sometimes be indicative of a larger problem in the floor system. These floor system failures can be the result of foundation failure due to settlement, termite damage, water damage, or other hard-to-diagnose problems. A pro will be able to find the issue and help you find the best solution.

How to Fix a Squeaky Floor

There are multiple methods you can use to fix a squeaky floor. Once you've determined the likely cause of the squeak, follow the below processes to solve the problem.

What You'll Need

This supplies list is a general list of tools and materials you'll need to stop a floor squeak. For specific supplies, reference the methods below.

  • Shims
  • 2x4 pine board
  • Construction adhesive or glue
  • Pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Drill
  • Drill bits
  • Stud finder
  • Breakaway screw kit
  • 2½-inch self-drilling wood screws
  • 2-inch finish nails
  • Nail set
  • Hammer
  • Wood filler
  • Sandpaper

Fixing a Squeaky Floor Using Shims

If you have access to the floor from below, shimming is a great way to tighten up the gaps between the subfloor and the joists.

Step 1: Locate the Squeak

Examine the floor from below and locate the squeak by either measuring from above and recreating the measurements below or having a helper squeak the floor as you watch.

Step 2: Shim the Joists

Slide a shim into the gap between the subfloor and the joist until you feel resistance. Don't force the shim farther, as this can worsen the issue. If possible, slide a second shim in from the other side of the joist. Mark the shims against the edge of the joist using a pencil, then remove them.

Step 3: Apply Adhesive and Reinsert the Shims

Apply construction adhesive or wood glue to the shims as well as the gap between the subfloor and the joist. Slide the shims back into place and let the glue dry. If you prefer, use a utility knife to cut the excess from the shim.

How to Reinforce a Joist with a Wood Block

For larger gaps or damaged joists, it may be necessary to sister the joist using a wood block.

Step 1: Measure the Damage and Cut Support Block

Use a tape measure to measure the distance of the damage where the subfloor is lacking support. Cut a 2x4 to a length two feet longer than the damaged area of the joist.

Step 2: Fasten the Support Block

Apply construction adhesive or wood glue to the top and side of the support block. Position the glued sides of the block firmly against the joist at the subfloor with one foot of excess on each side of the damage. Screw into the joist and subfloor using 2½-inch self-drilling wood screws.

How to Secure Flooring from Above

For loose, squeaky floors that can be accessed from below, you can simply screw through the subfloor into the floor with the appropriate length of screw. For loose floors that can't be accessed from below, the only option is to screw through the top.

If your flooring can be pulled back to reveal the subfloor, as with stapled carpets, this process is as easy as revealing the subfloor and screwing the subfloor to the joists. If the flooring can't be removed, you must screw through it. To avoid the unsightly appearance of screwheads in your floor, there are specialty scored screws designed to breakaway just below the surface of the floor.

Step 1: Locate the Joist

Use a stud finder to locate the joist from above the floor. Lightly mark its position with a pencil.

Step 2: Drill Pilot Hole

Just above the joist nearest the squeak, drill a pilot hole with a drill bit just smaller than the scored screw. Drilling and screwing into the joist will decrease the likelihood of striking electrical or plumbing lines while increasing the likelihood of a strong hold.

Step 3: Drive the Screw

Place the screw into the provided tool and slide the end into the pilot hole. Drive the screw using a drill until it breaks. The screw head and top portion should fall away when you remove the tool, leaving the threaded portion to hold the floor beneath the surface. Fill the void above the broken screw with color-matched wood filler and lightly sand until smooth.

Pro Tip: A similar fix can be done by drilling a pilot hole and driving a finish nail, but this alternative method is only recommended for those that are skilled with a hammer, as slipping and striking the floor can cause major damage to the finish. Once the nail is driven, use a nail set to drive it past the surface and finish with wood filler.

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