Water Damaged Wood Floors: A Step-by-Step Repair Guide
Is your upstairs neighbor’s leaking bathtub dripping onto your wood floors? Did the cat knock over a glass of water in the middle of the night? Did you forget to close the window before the storm? Water can end up soaking into and warping your wood floors for a variety of reasons.
Everyone loves beautiful hardwood flooring and water damage is a scary prospect. But before you panic, follow these steps and save the day as a DIYer!
Identifying Water Types
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.
A gray water spill, like a laundry machine leak, will need to be thoroughly cleaned with wood-safe products before repairs can take place.
Black water is contaminated and hazardous — think an overflowing toilet — and will need professional-grade assistance to sanitize.
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.
How to Repair Water Damaged Wood 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.
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.
These are the basic steps to follow when dealing with water-damaged wood 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.
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.
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.