American Hardwood Information Center

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First Aid for Solid Hardwood Products

The key to preserving most any solid hardwood product is protecting its finish. But no matter how careful we are, accidents happen and a little hardwood first aid is required.

Scratches
Most minor scratches and superficial nicks can be healed with the help of a wood touch-up kit or sanding the scratch with a fine grade of paper, then re-staining with a matching color finish.

Deep scratches on furniture can be camouflaged by using colored wax sticks (available at hardware stores) or paste shoe polish applied with a cotton swab.

For deep scratches on sealed and waxed floors, rub oily nutmeat (Brazil nut, walnut or pecan) over the scratches, then apply a new coat of wax, buffed to a shine. For surface scratches, a simple wax and buff should do the trick.

Water Marks and White Rings
Moisture that has penetrated a hardwood finish often leaves a white or cloudy mark. Should this occur on a polyurethaned floor, simply apply a small amount of recommended floor cleaner and buff vigorously with a soft, clean cloth or towel.

To repair marked furniture, carefully sand the finish of the damaged area, without exposing the wood. Then on a dampened cotton cloth, apply a small amount of baking soda, creamy white appliance polish, non-soapy ammonia or boiled linseed oil mixed with a fine abrasive like pumice or rotten stone. In the direction of the grain, gently rub the affected area, dry it, then, on another clean cloth, apply furniture wax and buff.

Other Spills (alcohol, lotions, oil and grease, food)
Alcohol
(even medicines, perfumes, and lotions) and hardwood do not mix. Treat the affected area of furniture with linseed oil mixed with a light abrasive, rubbing gently in the direction of the grain. Finish by applying a furniture wax and buffing.

For waxed floors, use liquid paste wax, silver polish, linseed oil, or a cloth barely dampened with ammonia. Re-wax.

To remove oil and grease from an unfinished waxed floor, try applying a high lye content soap or tri-sodium phosphate (TSP). As a last resort, because it may discolor the wood, place a soft cotton cloth saturated with hydrogen peroxide over the stain, then place a second cloth saturated with ammonia over the first. Carefully repeat until the stain is removed.

Removing oil and grease from a polyurethane floor is simpler. Apply mineral spirits or Tri-sodium phosphate and wipe with a clean cloth. Buff the area to restore the shine.

Food spills that dry or cake are relatively easy, too. Working from the outer edge toward the center, and taking care not to scratch the surface, remove the dried spill with a sharpened blade. Once lifted, rub the spot with a slightly dampened cloth, then immediately dry with a soft cloth. If appropriate, apply wax and buff to restore the original shine.

Candle Wax, Chewing Gum, Crayons and More
Try scraping the residue off with a straight-edge plastic spatula, credit card or sharpened blade, taking care not to scratch the surface. If on hardwood flooring, applying and allowing cleaning fluid to seep under the substance will loosen it. Another option is to apply ice until the substance becomes brittle enough to break off, immediately drying all spots of water. For hardwood furniture, apply a furniture wax and buff. Crayon on hardwood is often removed by a mild dishwashing liquid.

Should a cigarette mar your hardwood product, a small amount of water and soap along with steel wool will often help. Be sure to wipe the area dry with a clean, dry cloth, then wax or stain. If this method doesn't work, try scraping the area carefully with a sharpened blade. Sand lightly and apply matching stain, if necessary. Once the stain is dry, re-wax and buff to a shine if appropriate.

Heel marks, caster marks, and similar scuffs to hardwood floors should wipe up easily with an approved wood floor cleaner or by rubbing with fine steel wool or carefully scraping with a sharpened blade. Wipe, dry and buff appropriately.

If mold and mildew are marring the floor surface, usually an approved wood floor cleaner will remove it. If the problem is under the surface finish, that portion of the floor will need to be refinished.

Usually a little water and or mineral spirits will remove stickers and the glue that comes with them. Dampen sticking paper with salad oil, wait five minutes and rub with extra-fine steel wool. Be sure to wipe dry.

Dark Spots (Ink, Pet Stains, Diaper Stains)
No matter which type of finish enhances your hardwood floor, begin the first aid process with these initial steps:

Remove the floor finish and clean the spot and surrounding area with No. 2 steel wool and a wood cleaner or mineral spirits.

Wash area with household vinegar and permit it to stand for 3 or 4 minutes.

If these steps don't succeed, sand the darkened area in the direction of the wood grain with fine sand paper, "feathering" out 3 or 4 inches into the surrounding area. Remove all dust and grit with a vacuum or tack cloth. Apply at least two coats of polyurethane, if the floor has a polyurethane finish. If it is a sealed-waxed hardwood floor, wax and re-polish.

For more stubborn stains on sealed and waxed floors:
Apply a solution of oxalic acid and water directly on the spot (one ounce of oxalic acid to one quart of water). Let stand one hour. Wipe the area using a dampened sponge. Repeat the treatment if necessary. Oxalic acid is toxic so follow the directions carefully.

If the second application of oxalic acid fails to remove the stain, lightly sand the affected area with No. 80 to 120 grit sandpaper. Remove all grit and dust with a vacuum or tack cloth. Once the finish is dry, buff lightly with No. O steel wool. Apply a second coat of finish, let dry, and wax. If the stain is still present, consider removing and replacing that section of the floor.

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