As soon as a floor is installed, day one begins. The fact that day one might have been a long time ago doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with your floor. A well-maintained floor can last for generations.

A timeworn floor is another matter. Floors not properly maintained can get old in a hurry. Where floors are finished in some areas, but not others, cleaning them as they are and leaving them that way doesn’t make much sense.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to clean your worn-out hardwood floors without refinishing them so that they preserve their natural, unfinished look. If you don’t care for the idea of a polyurethane finish, you’re not alone. But we’ll be discussing something else as well.

Perhaps your aim is to avoid any more chemicals or chemically-based products in your home than necessary. This makes you part of a growing movement toward a safe and sensible way of life. This movement isn’t merely a popular trend. It’s more of an outlook. This outlook is becoming the norm and it’s here to stay.

If you’re looking for a way to restore your hardwood floors and keep them looking good without spending a lot of money, this has never gone out of style.

Follow along as we look at age-old, natural, low VOC, and inexpensive ways to get and keep your aging, timeworn floors clean and looking good.

old hardwood floors

Sanding Old Hardwood Floors

Over time, a hardwood floor’s finish will become thinner over the high traffic areas first. But getting your floors completely clean and even looking will involve removing the rest of the finish. A floor sander is usually required for this type of work. You can rent one of these at your local home improvement center.

However, if you’re not used to working with a floor sander, this fact could evidence itself later on. Not only will a professional sanding save a lot of frustration, but it could also save your floor.

There Are Limitations When It Comes To Sanding Old Hardwood Floors

A hardwood floor can only be sanded so many times before replacement should be considered. If your hardwood floors have already been sanded too many times to survive another sanding, a professional will be able to determine this.

If replacement isn’t an option, but your floors are still good for another sanding, there’s only one chance to get it right. Let a professional do this.

Removing Finish From Old Hardwood Floors Without Sanding

If you decide to save your hardwood floor’s last sanding for another time, this is understandable, but you can still remove the finish and get the entire floor clean.

In this case, consider a wood stripping product. Granted, it’s a chemical, but considering the likelihood that your hardwood floor is finished with polyurethane and sanding isn’t an option… For a stripping product that’s methylene chloride and NMP-free, we like Citristrip Gel.

As with any product you intend to apply to your hardwood floor, it’s always best to first test it in an inconspicuous place before proceeding. Be sure to follow the instructions printed on the product label.

How To Remove Stains From Hardwood Floors Without Damaging Them

If your hardwood floors are old, sanded thin, and stained, then damage is the last thing you can afford. You’ll need to use extreme caution to get them clean. You’ve already used a chemical to strip them. This alone might have done a good deal to remove dirt.

To assure your floors are as smooth and even in porosity as possible, try not to use an abrasive pad or fabric to remove any residual stain. This is especially important because by the time you’re done reading this, you might change your mind about finishing your hardwood floors. Anything’s possible.

For stains that remain on your hardwood floors, identification of the causes might not be possible. But in most cases, the more troublesome of these are likely to be dark in color. It’s a reasonably safe bet that these stains are the result of spilled food or pet urine. Possibly, a human accident.

black stains on hardwood floors

What if the stains are foul-smelling?

How To Remove Foul-Smelling Stains From Old Hardwood Floors

For foul-smelling stains, this means that whatever caused the stain is still present. Depending on how long this has been the case, the subfloor might be affected as well. Removal of the affected floorboards to address the floor beneath should be considered. Start with the floorboard located at the center of the stain.

With the affected floorboard removed, look at the underside of it. If the stain has saturated it, you’re better off replacing it than trying to get the stain removed.

If it looks like the adjacent floorboards will be in the same shape, remove and check these as well. Continue to work your way outward until you come across floorboards that aren’t stained through and through. That is to say that looking at it from the exposed edge, a significant portion of the floorboard remains unstained. These lesser stained floorboards don’t need to be replaced and therefore, don’t need to be removed.

You can read all about it in our article on how to remove dark stains from hardwood floors.

What To Do If Your Old Subfloors Are Foul-Smelling

If the subfloor has traces of stain on it, try using an enzymatic cleaner to consume what’s left of the problem. Apply it liberally to the affected area of the subfloor only.

Also, be sure not to drench the subfloor or allow any of the solution to puddle. Soak up any excess with a clean, dry rag, The solution will continue to do its job even after you’ve done this.

Return to the area in a few hours. If the floor is dry and the smell is gone, spray the solution onto the subfloor again. The moisture will reactivate any lingering odor. Soak up any puddling and allow the enzymes to resume doing their job. Repeat this process until you’re satisfied that the subfloor is completely odor-free.

You can also try soaking stains with hydrogen peroxide. Saturate a clean terry cloth rag with it and lay it over the stain. Cover the rag with plastic food wrap. Keep the wrap in place by setting something heavy on top of it. A water jug will work.

Leave the saturated rags in place for a couple of hours before checking the stain. You can leave the rags in place for up to eight hours.

If a large area of the subfloor is significantly blackened and foul-smelling, it will probably need to be removed and replaced. A professional flooring installation expert or general contractor would be the one to determine this. Because a subfloor must be completely supportive and stable, it’s best to let a professional do this type of work. A professional will also be able to tell you if and to what extent the floor joists may be affected.

Once you’re sure your subfloors are no longer a concern, replacement floorboards can be installed. If you don’t have any of these left from the time your hardwood floor was first installed, there’s another option; Remove an unaffected floorboard and take it to your local home improvement center or flooring specialty store to match it.

If You Don’t Want To Apply A Polyurethane Finish To Your Hardwood Floors

If your floors have no more sandings left in them, the importance of protecting them can’t be stressed enough. You won’t have another chance. If the look of unstained hardwood floors is what you’re after, you can have this while still ensuring their protection.

After all, there’s no point in going to the trouble of cleaning your old hardwood floors if you don’t want to protect them.  Polyurethane offers superior protection and it’s also the longest-lasting.  But if the idea of polyurethane doesn’t appeal to you, there are alternatives.

Clean Old Hardwood Floors and Make Them Shine Without Polyurethane

Sure, polyurethane is available in different sheens. Just buy some in high gloss and you’ve got a shiny floor.

However, when it’s time to restore floors sealed with polyurethane, the services of a professional are usually required.

Paste wax devotees will tell you they love the fact that they can simply remove wax buildup and re-wax their hardwood floors whenever they want to. It doesn’t require calling on a professional to manage this.

When floors are sealed with wax, they can be easily buffed to a gleaming shine. Again, no pros necessary. A wax seal gives owners more control of their hardwood floors because the cost to keep them in good condition is so low.

Try Using A Penetrating Oil To Seal Your Old, Classic Hardwood Floors

For an old-world look, there are also penetrating oils. These aren’t the kind of oil normally found in the kitchen or garage. Penetrating oils dry to a hard finish. They form a seal by binding to the wood on a molecular level whereas polyurethane seals a wood floor by coating it.

If you’re restoring an old, classic home’s hardwood floors, the application of a penetrating oil should be considered. This is chiefly what was applied to floors before polyurethane was invented. Penetrating oils aren’t glossy or shiny, but they bring out the beauty of wood’s grain and color.

Better still, if you discover a scratch on your hardwood floor, simply work some oil into it and buff

The Choice of Hardwood Floor Sealers Is Up To You

Polyurethane, wax, or oil; the choice is yours. Once your old hardwood floors are clean, whatever you decide to apply to them is fine. Keeping your hardwood floors clean, protected, and looking their best is what it’s all about.