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If you have small areas of damage in your hardwood floors, you might not have to refinish the entire floor. You may be able to repair stains, nicks, and scratches. Stains are the toughest fix when it comes to hardwood floors. One stain or water ring can ruin the look of the whole floor. Unfortunately, refinishing the entire floor is sometimes the only way to get rid of a stain or ring. But before you rent a sander and start using language that would make a sailor blush, try to get rid of the stain. Doing so requires using a gentle touch and the right materials, but it’s worth a shot.

Most stains on hardwood floors are very dark, even black. You don’t need to try to get rid of the entire stain in one try. Getting rid of the blemish may take several attempts, but you may be successful.

Follow these steps to remove a stain:

  1. Sand off the old finish.

  2. Mix oxalic acid crystals (sold at home centers and paint and hardware stores) in water, following the package directions.

    Be sure to wear eye protection and acid-resistant rubber gloves.

  3. Soak a clean white cloth in the acid mixture. Then press the cloth on the stained area and let it set for about an hour.

  4. Lift the cloth and check to see whether the stain has been bleached away. If it hasn’t, repeat the process.

    This may take several applications, but eventually the stain will be bleached away.

  5. After the stain is gone, rinse the area with household vinegar to neutralize the acid. Wipe away any excess moisture and allow the area to dry completely.

  6. Apply a matching oil-based stain lightly to the bleached area.

    Use several coats, if necessary, to match. Don’t try to match the color with only one application. You can always darken the area with additional coats, but you can’t lighten it after it’s gotten too dark. If you think the stain is too dark, wipe the area immediately with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits. Doing so will remove some of the stain and lighten the area.

    After you’ve achieved the desired color, allow the area to dry overnight.

  7. Apply the topcoat finish and blend into the adjacent areas.

    Once again, you may not get a perfect match; however, it may be good enough to avoid having to refinish the entire floor. If it doesn’t match enough to suit you, refinish the floor.

You can usually cover up nicks and scratches with color putty sticks. Simply clean the nicked or scratched area thoroughly and rub the putty stick over the damaged spot. Let the color dry for a few minutes and then wipe it with a clean cloth. Most of the time, getting color into a nicked or scratched area is all you need to do to make the damage disappear — at least to those who don’t know that the area was damaged before. Use the same stuff to fill nail holes in a patched floor after the top coat is applied.

If a nick or scratch is really a dig or gouge, you face a whole different type of repair. It involves using wood filler and stain and trying to match the existing floor color. If your floor is really showing its age, consider refinishing the entire surface instead of spending time and energy on smaller fixes that really are better handled by redoing the entire surface. You’ll like the final results a lot more!

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