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DIY HOME MAINTENANCE PROJECT
When we bought this house two years ago, we were pumped to find that the entire downstairs already had hardwood. We didn’t realize, until after we’d moved in, that they were pretty badly beaten. This home had been used as a rental for some time and they seemed to be a little neglected. Adding to the trouble is that we’ve been remodeling every weekend since we moved in, which can be a doozy on floors. They were definitely in need of some love.
So today, I’m showing you how I spruced up our 20-year-old engineered hardwoods so they shine like new - without completely refinishing them. Plus, I’m including a natural cleaning recipe that will make your floors shine without harming the finish or giving you that “cloud” effect.
THE HARDWOODS - BEFORE
This is a photo from the 2017 real estate listing. The house showed beautifully. The homeowners had done everything right - it was perfectly staged and we didn’t see a lot of the grimy details.
For instance, this rug in the foyer was concealing stuck-on surface residue from an old rug pad that had melted (???) to the floor. It also concealed some surfact damage caused by moisture (probably wet feet + rug).
When we refinished the foyer last Fall (you can see that whole project reveal here: Updated Suburban Entryway Reveal), we knew it would be only a matter of time before we’d have to actually resolve these issues.
As we get closer to own our listing date, we’ve noticed some additional issues that we actually caused ourselves! For instance, when we were applying the varnish to the stair treads, our cat ran through the finish in the middle of the night and tracked it all over the dining room. The result? Dirty-looking cat paw prints that couldn’t be wiped away with a simple floor cleaner.
Plus, two years of painting and wallpaper projects (the downstairs has been painted and re-painted at least a dozen times) has left a myriad of tiny paint specs and dried-on wallpaper paste. An ill-placed planter in the dining room left some surface damage from condensation. These floors were looking rough!
So here’s how I got them back to peak condition, just in time for the Spring real estate market:
Step One: Prep the area by removing any surface dirt and dust with a vacuum. You are going to work in 1x1’ sections at a time. Don’t wet the flooring within 6 hours of employing this technique, as you want the paint to be completely dry and hard.
Step Two: Making your way towards the walls, use your scraper to apply moderate pressure to the flooring. Do not push too hard. Start gently and if you need to rework sections, you can go back with more pressure. Apply enough pressure to flick the speckles of paint but take care not to gouge your floors or create additional damage.
You will likely notice your scraper will be covered in dust and dirt. This is good! You’re removing surface gunk buildup that your mop and vacuum can’t remove! Just wipe your scraper with a dry towel between each swipe.
Step Three: Using your vacuum’s detail or upholstery brush, apply gentle pressure to remove the loosened paint specks and dirt. Repeat steps two and three until all surface grime and paint has been removed.
Step Four: Using a small detail paint brush, Apply Old English Scratch Cover to any gouges or areas where the varnish has been worn and bare hardwoods are apparent. This will be particularly visible along the edges of the planks.
Step Five: Allow scratch cover to dry for 24 hours before mopping or allowing surface to get wet. Apply technique in 1x1’ sections until entire floor has been cleaned. Pay special attention to perimeter of the floor, as this is where gunk tends to build-up fastest.
HOW TO REMOVE DRIED VARNISH
TOOLS (click to purchase directly through retailer):
non-acetone nail polish remover
Step One: Prep the area to be cleaned by wiping the floors down with a hot, damp cloth. Dry immediately with a dry cloth. Wait to see varnish appear. You may need to be at a particular angle to see the varnish, if it is clear or matches your existing stain. Use a lamp to spotlight the area, if necessary.
Step Two: Saturate a paper towel in nail polish remover. Then hold the towel firmly onto the spot of varnish. Press for 10 seconds.
Step Three: Remove paper towel and immediately wipe surface with water-damped cloth. Then buff to dry. Repeat steps until all varnish is removed.
DO NOT ALLOW NAIL POLISH REMOVER TO SIT ON YOUR HARDWOODS LONGER THAN 10 SECONDS AT A TIME. This could remove your flooring finish. You can repeat steps on the same spot, but take care to wipe with water and thoroughly dry between each application.
Before we get started, I want to note the difference between surface damage and penetrative damage. Surface damage refers to damage that has occurred only to the finish of the wood finish but has not penetrated the actual wood planks. The most frequent case of this type of damage is condensation from house plants.
THIS METHOD IS NOT RECOMMENDED - AND WILL NOT WORK - FOR WOOD PLANKS THAT HAVE RECEIVED LONG-TERM, PENETRATIVE MOISTURE. Floors that have been submerged in water (such as during flooding) cannot be repaired by a homeowner. They will need to be reviewed by a professional to determine the best methods for repair.
This is also the case for flooring that has received long-term exposure to water from leaking appliances and bathroom fixtures. Do not attempt to repair this damage without first consulting a professional to insure your flooring is thoroughly dry and without rot. Rotting wood cannot be fixed and will need to be replaced. If you move forward with this method on a floor that has not properly dried, you will further damage you floors by trapping the moisture inside the wood.
This tutorial is for pre-finished hardwood floors. On engineered / pre-finished hardwood floors, there is a very thick layer of polyurethane covering the stained wood. This is different from wood floors that have been stained in place (or even refinished). You may have success using some of this method on other types of flooring but I do not recommend moving forward until you have consulted with a professional.
Step One: Confirm your wood flooring plank has not been penetrated. Surface damage will cause the top layers of varnish to peel back. The result will be a flakey appearance that will look white in some spots while darker in others. You may also see a “rippling” effect in the finish.
To confirm that your hardwood was not penetrated by moisture, take a scraper across the surface to gently remove the peeling varnish. If your scraper begins to penetrate or flake off chunks of the wood - no matter how small - stop straight away and call in a professional. This is indicative of wood rot and you cannot use this method to repair your flooring.
Once you’ve confirmed no wood is coming loose, you may continue scraping the varnish until no additional flakes appear.
Step Two: Vacuum the loose varnish, using a detail or upholstery brush and light pressure.
Step Three: Use a coarse brush or paddle to remove any additional flakes.
Step Four: Gently sand with a 120 grit sandpaper. A palm sander can be used, but don’t apply much pressure. Sand only the areas with affected varnish. Don’t sand in a circular pattern. Rather, run your sander lightly with the grain.
Step Five: Vacuum all dust and residue, using your upholstery or crevice detail attachment.
Your surface should now be smooth. If it’s not, repeat steps 1 - 5 until it is smooth to the touch.
Step Six: Using a small detail craft brush or a clean rag, apply your stain + poly in one to the now unfinished flooring spots. Apply in the direction of the grain.
Allow to dry 12 hours. Then repeat process until the refinished spot looks as closely in color to your existing flooring.
Remember to stand back as you are working. While the floors may never look perfect up-close, you will find that this will camouflage the problem area very quickly. You may always know it’s there, but anyone who isn’t looking for it won’t see it.
DIY NATURAL FLOOR CLEANING THAT WON’T LEAVE STREAKS
It’s the eternal quest for a lot of people who have hard surface floors - finding a natural cleaner that doesn’t make your floors look all foggy is really hard. In fact, I’ve never found one at the store that works. So I had to get crafty and develop my own. I’ve now been using this recipe for almost a decade and have passed it on to countless friends and family members who have sang its praises as well.
It’s simple and easy but before I give you the recipe, I want to be sure to point out one thing about how you clean your floors that may be damaging them or even counterproductive to the goal.
Once you begin employing this cleaning method, you must commit to it fully. You can’t go back. Here’s why: the fogginess traditional cleaners leave behind is actually dried residue from the actual cleaner itself. It’s not dirt. So it takes a few mopping cycles to get all of the excess cleaners you’ve deposited over the years to actually fully dissolve. Once they’re gone, you don’t want to use those cleaners again or you’re back to Square One.
I know that Mr. Clean floor cleaner with Febreeze is genuinely the best-smelling stuff on the planet so it’s really hard to give it up. Trust me, I speak from experience. If you still crave that smell, and still have some bottles left, feel free to fill your sink with this cleaner any time you want. Just don’t put it on the floor. And don’t even get me started on those disposable systems that hardly clean your floor but cost an actual arm and a leg. Just walk away from all of that.
Second, if you’re using a traditional mop head - the kind that looks like a cabbage patch doll’s hair - STOP. These things are lies. They don’t work that well and they leave a ton of water on your floor, which is super damaging to hardwoods. Instead, you want to use a mop with a flat, washable, microfiber head (like this one) and you want to make sure you use it correctly.
Here’s my mopping method:
Add 1/2 c floor cleaning solution to your sink. Then fill with hot water. Not warm. HOT. Wear cleaning gloves to protect your hands from the heat because you want this to be REALLY HOT (these are mine and I’ve had the same pair for over a year and still kicking). Place your mop head in the sink and allow to soak for at least 30 seconds. Then, wearing gloves, remove it and wring it out thoroughly. It should be DAMP but not WET. Attach it to your mop handle and begin cleaning your floors, going with the grain.
Mop in 5x5’ sections at a time. Between each section, use your sink’s sprayer hose to rinse the mop head. Wring. Then saturate in the hot solution for an additional 30 seconds.
This recipe will get your floors shiny without harsh chemicals and leftover residue that could damage the wood. Blend all the ingredients together thoroughly before mixing with water to insure they are properly distributed.
HARDWOOD FLOOR CLEANING SOLUTION RECIPE
The alcohol is especially important because it allows the water to evaporate faster than water would on its own. Lots of household cleaners contain alcohol for this very reason. Most household cleaners also contain soap that leaves a residue. This doesn’t so it won’t. You can actually even use just alcohol and water to clean your windows and mirrors but I use the vinegar on my floors so they don’t dry before all the dirt has been removed.
My favorite parts? This cleaner is safe for pets and kids plus it's super cheap to make! I find this method actually helps cut down on the frequency with which I have to mop my floors as well. I sweep my kitchen every day, around meal times, and because I use this small broom/dustpan combo, I’m able to use the scraper on the end of the broom to remove any food particles that might be stuck to the floor. It’s a pretty genius design, if you ask me!
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HAPPY SPRING CLEANING!