How to remove stains from wood floors

Wood floors add warmth and beauty to any home, but over time they are prone to stains from spills, pets, kids, and just daily wear and tear. While some stains come out easily, others can be stubborn and challenging to remove. With the right techniques and products, even tough stains can often be eliminated from wood floors, allowing you to restore them to their original beauty.

remove stains from wood floors

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about removing stains from wood floors, including:

  • Causes of stains
  • Tips for spot treating stains
  • Deep cleaning techniques
  • Removing pet stains
  • Eliminating mold and mildew stains
  • When to call a professional
  • Maintenance to prevent future stains

Causes of Stains on Wood Floors

Wood floors stain for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common culprits include:

  • Spilled food, drinks, and standing liquid: Foods and beverages that are acidic, sugary, or alcoholic can all lead to discoloration of wood floors if spilled and not cleaned up promptly. Grease and oil stains are also common from cooking mishaps. Even water can warp and stain wood when left sitting.
  • Pet stains: Pet urine, feces, and vomit can all create ugly stains and odors in wood flooring. Saliva from licking and claw scratches from pets can also damage finishes.
  • Dirt, grime, and foot traffic: Grit, dust, mud, and other dirt that gets tracked inside can grind away at floor finishes and stain the bare wood underneath over time. High foot traffic areas often show the most wear and tear.
  • Sun exposure and age: Sunlight fades and discolors wood floors in spots. Natural aging of the wood also leads to a yellowish patina over time.
  • Household chemicals and cleaners: Spills of products like nail polish remover, paints, oils, dyes, and bleaches can all damage wood floors and leave permanent stains if not cleaned up immediately.
  • Mold and mildew: Excess moisture and humidity can lead to mold/mildew growth on or under wood floors that causes dark staining and warped planks.
  • Scratches and gouges: Dragging heavy furniture or sharp objects across the floor can scratch, scrape and dent wood floors, damaging the finish and exposing the bare wood underneath.

Tips for Spot Treating Stains

For small stains or spots on your wood floors, spot treatment is often the best approach. Here are some tips for spot treating various types of stains:

  • Catch stains early: The longer a stain sits, the harder it will be to remove from wood floors. Blot wet spills immediately with an absorbent cloth. Pretest any stain remover on an inconspicuous spot first.
  • Remove excess: For food or drink spills, scoop or blot away any excess liquid or solid material first with a soft cloth or paper towel.
  • Use a damp cloth for dirt: For dirty footprints or tracked in mud, a damp cloth often suffices to lift the stain. Rub gently and rinse the cloth frequently as needed.
  • DIY stain removers: For basic stains, make a homemade remover by mixing equal parts white vinegar and water, or hydrogen peroxide and warm water. Apply it to the stain with a soft cloth.
    • Baking soda and lemon juice also makes an effective DIY wood floor stain remover. Form a paste with 3 parts baking soda to 1 part lemon juice and rub it into the stain using a soft brush or sponge. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
  • Light sanding: For minor scratches, stains or discoloration in the finish of pre-finished floors, use 220 grit sandpaper to gently buff just the affected areas, then wipe clean.
  • Bleach pen: For dark water stains at seams or pet urine stains, apply a diluted bleach pen and wipe away. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Nail polish remover: For nail polish spills, carefully dab on a small amount of remover using a clean cloth. Wipe the area with a damp cloth afterwards.
    • Try using non-acetone nail polish remover, which is less likely to damage floors.
  • Mineral spirits: For grease, oil or tar stains, gently rub mineral spirits into the spot using steel wool or a clean cloth. Wipe dry with a paper towel.

Always proceed cautiously when spot treating stains on wood floors. Test products first and never allow liquids like bleach or nail polish remover to seep between floorboards. This can lead to even greater damage. If stains persist after spot treatments, move on to deep cleaning the entire floor.

How to Deep Clean Wood Floors to Remove Stains

For stained or heavily soiled wood floors, a deeper clean across the entire surface is needed. Here are some tips:

  • Vacuum/Sweep: Use a soft brush attachment and/or broom to remove all surface-level dirt and debris first.
  • Mix cleaner: Choose a specially formulated wood floor cleaner and mix with water according to directions. Or use a mild solution of dish soap and water.
  • Mop floors: Dip a microfiber mop into the cleaning solution, wring out excess liquid, and mop floors in sections. Rinse mop frequently as you go.
  • Rinse floors: Use a fresh, clean and slightly damp mop to wipe away any soap residue that could build up.
  • Absorb standing liquid: Remove any standing liquid quickly with towels to prevent water marks and warping.
  • Vinegar rinse: For an extra clean shine, go over the floors again with a solution of 1 cup vinegar diluted in 1 gallon of water.
  • Let dry: Allow floors to completely dry before walking on them after deep cleaning. Use fans to accelerate drying.

While deep cleaning can help eliminate general stains, spots and stuck-on spills may require extra attention. Use the spot treatment methods recommended above to target them afterwards.

Removing Pet Stains from Wood Floors

Pets can be especially hard on wood floors. To get rid of pet urine, vomit or feces stains from wood floors:

  • Blot away any excess immediately and rinse thoroughly if needed. Use an enzyme cleaner formulated for pet stains rather than ammonia or vinegar.
  • Lightly sand the stained boards with fine grit sandpaper to help remove urine that has soaked into the wood deeper.
  • If the stain remains, apply hydrogen peroxide to the affected area using a spray bottle or clean cloth. Let it bubble for 2-3 minutes before wiping away with a clean damp cloth.
  • Repeat this process until the stain has lightened significantly. Rinse well.
  • Once dry, buff the area with extra fine (400 grit) sandpaper to blend it with the rest of the floor. Vacuum up dust.
  • Apply new coats of polyurethane finish to the sanded areas if needed to restore shine.

For severe pet urine stains and odors in wood subflooring underneath, replacement of damaged boards may ultimately be necessary. Consulting a refinishing pro is advisable for major subfloor pet stains.

Removing Mold and Mildew Stains

Mold and mildew growth will also stain and damage wood floors if excessive moisture gets under boards or finish. Reduce humidity levels and moisture sources to deter it.

To remove existing mold/mildew stains:

  • Mix oxygen bleach powder with hot water according to label directions and use this solution to scrub affected areas with a soft brush.
  • Allow to sit 10-15 minutes before rinsing away and drying thoroughly with fans. Repeat if stain remains.
  • For more stubborn stains, apply a 50/50 vinegar and water solution. Let sit 1 hour before scrubbing with a small wire brush.
  • Once completely dry, sand the areas down to remove remaining discoloration. Vacuum up all dust.
  • Wipe planks with mineral spirits to lighten staining and even out appearance. Apply new finish coats if needed.

Take steps like installing a dehumidifier or sealing crawl spaces to prevent harmful moisture buildup going forward. Address any plumbing leaks immediately as well to keep floors mold-free.

When to Call a Professional

While many stains can be managed with diligent DIY effort, there are certain scenarios where calling in a professional wood floor refinisher is advisable:

  • If the stain has penetrated through finish into bare wood, especially with darker wood species like cherry or walnut that absorb more easily.
  • If you have attempted stain removal to no avail and it covers a large area of flooring.
  • If the stained boards feel warped, spongy or cannot be restored to a level surface.
  • If pet urine or spills have leaked through to the wood subfloor underneath.
  • If you need to sand down to bare wood for a complete refinish. Renting an industrial floor sander and applying new polyurethane requires skill.
  • If you have rare, wide plank antique floors that require special care. Refinishing risks should be left to the experts.

Refinishing pros have high-power equipment and expertise to remove stains from bare wood properly and match new finish sheens across entire floors for a seamless appearance. They can also assess moisture damage and subfloor issues in detail.

While their services come at a cost, it’s often worthwhile protecting the longevity and investment value of hardwood floors by enlisting professional stain removal help when needed. Expect to pay $3-5 per sq. ft for professional refinishing.

Maintenance to Prevent Future Stains

Once you’ve succeeded in getting stains out of your wood floors, be proactive about preventing new ones:

  • Use area rugs in high-traffic zones and under furniture legs for added protection.
  • Keep pet nails trimmed to avoid scratches and apply felt pads to furniture legs.
  • Immediately clean up food and drink spills when they occur and avoid walking on floors with shoes covered in dirt, grit or asphalt.
  • Add protective mats at entrances to help catch grit and absorb moisture.
  • Use furniture coasters and routinely pick up and move area rugs to prevent uneven sun fading.
  • Control indoor humidity year-round and quickly address any moisture sources like leaks.
  • Sweep and damp mop floors weekly to prevent buildup of dirt and grime that can grind into the finish.
  • Consider adding newer finishes like aluminum oxide or UV-cured urethane which resist stains and wear better.

With some diligent preventive care, you can help minimize the need for stain removal down the road and prolong the beauty of your wood floors for years to come.


Removing stains from wood floors can seem daunting at first. But as we’ve covered, even long-standing and stubborn spots can often be remedied with the right supplies and techniques. Whether it’s food and drink spills, tracked in dirt, pet stains, sun damage or standing liquid marks, the stains don’t stand a chance against your persistence.

While prevention is ideal, remember to act quickly when stains do occur and have the proper cleaners and tools on hand. Tackle light stains with spot treatments first before progressing to deep clean methods for heavily soiled floors. Call in pros when needed for the best stain removal results without damaging floors.

With this comprehensive guide at your fingertips, you can keep your beautiful wood floors looking like new and restore them to their original glory when the inevitable stains do happen over time. Just utilize these tips and tricks to erase and prevent stains, and you’ll achieve wood floor success.

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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