How to Remove Stains from Wood Floors

Rings, spots, and stains on hardwood happen. Don't panic—instead reach for this handy guide on how to remove stains from wood floors. We answer your most common questions when it comes to cleaning and protecting hardwood.
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Before panic over a dried-up spill on your wood floor sets in and you think your floor is ruined, take heed: You might have options for removing the wood stain from your beautiful floors. Here are some insights into how to remove stains from wood floors, including how to remove a watermark. Before you know it, your hardwood floor will look like the stain never even happened.

Unlike carpet or upholstery stains, wood floor stains are not as common. When spills happen, a quick wipe, and maybe a bit of a cleaning solution if the spill was sticky, is all it takes to clean up the mishap. But sometimes spills can leave a lasting stain. Maybe a family member inadvertently left a full glass on the floor overnight. Or perhaps a spill didn't get fully cleaned up. Whatever the reason, stains on wood floors can cause dismay. However, depending on what type and how deep the stain is, you might be able to easily fix the spot. Here are some common questions and answers on how to remove stains from wood floors and tips on what kind of wood stain removers to use.

What you need to know about wood flooring.

What does the ring look like?

This might seem like a strange question, but the answer is important to helping you figure out how to best address the wood floor stain. White stains, for example, indicate a type of water stain that can be easy to remove. The color indicates the stain is located either in the finish or the waxy surface layer of the floor.

How do I fix white rings or remove watermarks?

Start by letting the stain dry for two days to see if it disappears on its own. If not, try several different methods for removing the stain from the wood floor. You'll also find some kits and products available specifically as watermark removers.

The method you use for removing water stains from wood will depend on whether your floor is treated with a wax or penetrating stain or if the floor has a surface finish. As the name implies, the stain or finish on surface-finished floors sits on the surface of the wood, while wax or penetrating finishes go deeper into the wood and are typically found in older homes.

For floors finished with wax or penetrating stains, very gently rub the water stain on the wood with #000 steel wool and wax. If this method does not remove the stain, lightly sand with fine sandpaper. Clean the sanded area with #00 steel wool and mineral spirits, or a wood floor cleaner. Let the floor dry, then stain, wax, and buff by hand.

For floors finished with a surface finish, use a cleaner made specifically for urethane finishes. For tricky spots, scrub using a cleaner and a scrub pad made for urethane floors.

There are two more methods you can try as a watermark remover: Cover the stain with a dry cotton cloth and rub with a hot iron (set to no steam) for two to three seconds. Lastly, dampen a cloth with denatured alcohol and rub over the stain for just a few seconds.

What about black rings?

Black rings are more problematic; they are generally water stains that have penetrated into the finish of the floor. You have two options: Dip a small brush into a small amount of bleach and rub onto the stain; do a second round after several hours and let the area rest until the next day. Or, you can strip, sand, and reseal the area if possible.

Refinishing hardwood floors: What you need to know.

What about wood floor stains caused by other products—not water?

Non-greasy items such as food and nail polish should come off with dish detergent mixed into warm water and rubbed onto the spot with a soft cloth.

For greasy stains, like oil and butter, on wax or penetrating finished floors, rub the area with a kitchen soap that has a high lye content or soak a cotton ball or rag with hydrogen peroxide and place it over the stain. Saturate another layer of cotton with ammonia and layer on top of the first piece of cotton. Repeat this process until the stain is gone. Let the spot dry, then buff by hand. Treat greasy stains on surface-finished floors like you would watermarks.

When removing wood stains, always follow the general guidelines for cleaning wood floors: Go easy on the moisture and always dry thoroughly. Only use products recommended for your flooring type and finish. If it's a big stain or something stubborn, contact a flooring professional, as they can advise on how to remove stains from wood floors in a way that won't cause irreversible damage.

How to clean hardwood floors and keep wood stains at bay.

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