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Water Damaged Wood Floors: A Step-by-Step Repair Guide

Water Damaged Wood Floors: A Step-by-Step Repair Guide

Searching for a solution to water-damaged hardwood floors? You’ve come to the right place. Whether it’s a leak from an upstairs neighbor, a spilled glass of water, or an open window during a storm, hardwood damage can happen quickly and unexpectedly. The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional to tackle the problem.

This step-by-step guide shows you how to repair water-damaged hardwood floors yourself. So, before you start stressing, read on and learn how to save your beautiful floors from permanent water damage.

Identifying Water Damage Types

It’s crucial to identify the type of water damage correctly to ensure the safety of occupants and the effectiveness of the cleanup and restoration efforts. The first step with all water damage is to find the source of the leak and stop it. You might need to turn off the supply to your home or call your plumber to help plug it. Once no more water is flooding onto the floors, you need to know just what type of water damage you are dealing with.

Clean water, like what comes out of your faucets, can be mopped up on your own and with ease. Common sources of clean water damage include broken water supply lines, overflowing sinks or bathtubs, rainwater, and melting snow.

A gray water spill, like a laundry machine leak, will need to be thoroughly cleaned with wood-safe products before repairs can take place. Common sources of gray water damage include washing machine overflows, dishwasher leaks, sump pump failures, and water from broken aquariums.

Black water is contaminated and hazardous — think an overflowing toilet — and will need professional-grade assistance to sanitize. Common sources of black water damage include sewage backups, flooding from rivers or streams, and water from toilets containing feces.

Signs of Water Damage on Your Floors

Next, it’s time to identify how your flooring reacted to the water. What you might assume is natural wear over time could really be telltale signs of water damage.

Check to see if your wood floors for these signs:

  • Cupping — when the edges of individual boards are higher than the center, like waves across your floor. Cupping can even happen over time as moisture from the air soaks into the floor.
  • Crowning — the opposite of cupping, when the center of the boards is higher than the edges. Crowning can occur if unfinished floors are left in a humid climate. The wood retains moisture and slowly expands.
  • Buckling — when cupping and crowning go unchecked the floorboards can actually pop out of the subfloor which is then subject to its own damage. If you are tripping over your wood floor, it is probably buckling.
  • Cracking and Warping — moisture-damaged wood can split and contort into any shape but the nice flat flooring you had.
  • Smell and Discoloration — if you walk into your house and are greeted by a musty smell, always think “mold” to be on the safe side. A patch of wood looking darker than the rest could also be a sign of mold.

Read more: Removing mold from subfloor

Brown Hardwood Floor

How to Repair Water Damaged HardWood Floors

Once you’ve classified the water damage, stopped the source, and understand what type of damage you’re dealing with, you can begin to fix the floors.

Repairing water-damaged hardwood floors can be a challenging task, but it’s possible to salvage them if you act quickly and follow the appropriate steps.

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Fans or dehumidifiers
  • Moisture meter
  • Plastic sheeting or tarps
  • Disposable gloves
  • Shop vacuum or wet/dry vacuum
  • Wood bleach (if necessary)
  • Stain and finish matching your floor (if necessary)
  • Sandpaper (various grits)
  • Wood putty or filler (preferably use a professional for this)
  • Paintbrushes or foam applicators
  • Cloth or mop
  • Floor finish or sealer
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)

While it might seem overwhelming at first to repair your own floors, these easy steps will get you started:

1. Remove Water

Mop and soak up any surface water. If you have one, you can even use a water vacuum to quickly suck it all up. Make sure to remove and dry any rugs or wet materials on the floor as well. (If there has been a black water leak, don’t attempt to clean it yourself. Call All Dry USA.)

2. Clean the Floor

Use a wood-safe disinfectant to clean away any particulates that were present in the water. Cleaning the wood also helps prevent mold growth.

3. Dry the Floor

Once you’ve pat-dried the clean wood, open the windows (if you are in a dry climate) or bring in a dehumidifier to remove all moisture from the room. Expect this to take up to a whole day. Don’t rush this step! Using a heater or hair dryer directly on the wood risks cracking it.

4. Sand the Floor (note: this is only for crowning or cupping floors)

Gently sand down the raised edges until the floor is smooth and flush with the other boards. Re-varnish the floors and stain to match the color of the floor.

5. Reset the Boards

When boards are popping out every which way, carefully nail or screw in the raised edges.

6. Fill Gaps and Holes:

Use wood putty or filler to fill any gaps, cracks, or holes in the wood. Allow it to dry completely, and then sand the repaired areas to make them flush with the rest of the floor.

7. Clean the Floor:

Remove all dust and debris from the sanding process by cleaning the floor thoroughly. A cloth or mop dampened with water is suitable for this purpose.

8. Stain and Finish (If Necessary):

If you had to bleach the wood or if the sanding resulted in a change in color, apply a wood stain that matches the original color of the floor. Once the stain is dry, apply a compatible finish or sealer to protect the wood.

9. Regular Maintenance:

To prevent future water damage, maintain the humidity levels in your home to keep them within the recommended range for hardwood flooring. Promptly clean up any spills or moisture to avoid further damage.

Remember that extensive or severe water damage may require professional assistance. If you’re unsure about any step of the repair process or if the damage is extensive, it’s advisable to consult a professional hardwood floor restoration specialist to ensure the best outcome.

These are the basic steps to follow when dealing with water damaged hardwood floors. Even just following the first few steps before seeking help will save you time and money. But sometimes a home repair is not going to be enough, and you will need to replace the water-damaged floors. Remember that addressing water damage promptly is crucial to minimizing the extent of the damage and increasing the likelihood of successful repairs.

Read more: How to fix water damage on laminate flooring

Do I Need to Replace My Water Damaged Wood Floors?

In serious cases, you may need to replace your flooring. For example, if a leak occurred while you were on vacation, enough time may have passed for mold to grow — in which case the only safe option is replacing your floors. In fact, after 24 hours of water damage, mold can grow and floors could require replacement.

If buckling continues after you’ve followed every step above, this could be a sign the subfloor has been damaged as well, and you will need to dry and clean it before replacing the boards above.

How to Prevent Damaging Your Wooden Floors

If you have a room prone to excess moisture, install a dehumidifier to keep the water level in the air regulated. Cover your wood floors with plenty of rugs, as it’s easier to dry cotton than wood.

Now that you know the signs of water damage, you can catch it earlier. Stop your floors from buckling by taking care of cupping and crowning at the first sign.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs of mold growth on water-damaged hardwood floors?

Mold growth often appears as dark spots or discoloration on the wood surface. It may also produce a musty odor. If you suspect mold, consult a professional for assessment and remediation.

Is it necessary to replace water-damaged hardwood flooring?

In some cases, severely damaged hardwood may need to be replaced. However, less severe damage can often be repaired through sanding, refinishing, or board replacement.

How long does it take to repair water-damaged hardwood floors?

The time required for repairs depends on the extent of the damage and the methods used. Minor repairs may take a few days, while extensive damage can take several weeks.

How do I know if my hardwood floors are water-damaged?

Signs of water damage include cupping (raised edges), buckling (warping), staining, or a spongy feel when walking on the floor. Water damage is often accompanied by a musty odor.

What should I do immediately after discovering water damage on my hardwood floors?

Act quickly to remove excess water using a wet/dry vacuum or towels. Increase ventilation and use fans or dehumidifiers to dry the area.

Need Help? Call All Dry USA!

Never attempt home repairs if you don’t feel comfortable or safe, or it’s dangerous (as in the case of black water flooding). Don’t start nailing down floorboards or renting an orbital sander if you don’t have the proper tools or time. Home repairs can turn into large projects very quickly, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

With 10 years of water-damaged wood floor restoration under our belt, All Dry USA gives you peace of mind. We clean, replace, and renew. Call us 24/7 at (866) 971-9152 and speak to an expert today!


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