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Cleaning Stains & Scratches on Varnished Floors


Beautiful, attractive and very desirable – these three words can easily describe hardwood flooring today. As great as it, though, wood is not as resilient as some other flooring types and needs a certain amount of maintenance to preserve its fine appearance and healthy condition.

One of the most annoying and frequently encountered problems are related to stains and scratches. How you deal with the issues depends a lot on the type of finish which is currently protection your floor. Since this article is dedicated mostly on how to protect varnished floors we will focus mostly on them.

What is Varnish?

Before we begin with the serious part let us clear some myths first. In the past, varnishes and lacquers were two slightly different products which worked similarly. Over time, lacquers proved to be the superior finish and eventually replaced varnishes on the market. Today, common people use the term ‘varnish’ while the professionals refer to the same product as ‘lacquer’.

There are two major divisions when it comes to floor finishing products. The first group is defined by its ability to soak into the wood and protects it from within. Penetrating oils are the most popular representative.

The second group is known as surface finishes because instead of protecting the wood from within, they form a film on top, capable of withstanding most types of damage fairly well. Lacquers fit into this category.

Why do we go so deep into explaining this? Well, to repair a stain or scratch on a wooden floor, you must first be aware of what kind of finish you have on it. Penetrating oil finishes are generally easier to spot repair than lacquers and may require a different approach to complete the task.

How Do You know Your Floor Is Varnished?

If you are unsure what kind of finish is protecting your floor, you must experiment a bit and discover the truth. It is important.  Find an inconspicuous area and try to scratch the part of the finish as gently as possible with a metal object like a coin or putty knife. If the surface begins to flake off, you probably have a surface finish on top. Besides, if you place a few drops of water on the floor and no white spots appear, you likely deal with lacquer once more.

Some lacquers are also covered with a coat of wax. To find out if this is true in your case, you may take a white piece of cloth soaked with a small number of mineral spirits and run it over a less noticeable spot on the floor. If the cloth turns slightly brown or yellow – the chances are you have wax on top.

How to Get the Stains Out

Surface finishes are generally resistant to most liquids as long the cause of the potential problem is wiped sufficiently fast. This is the big secret of stain removal. Simply don’t give the stain enough to dry. Unfortunately, there are stains caused by the likes of wine or dye which will mark your floor in some way even if you react on time. Getting rid of such stains isn’t that hard with the help of a proper cleaning agent as long as the finish is not penetrated.

Maybe you have heard suggestions that some the more persistent stains can be removed with the help of ammonia or white vinegar. While this may seem like a cheap and environmentally friendly solution, these chemicals are acids. They not only remove the stains but also the finish as well. The best way to clean your floor is to use a specialised hardwood floor cleaner which is created with the preservation of the finish in mind. Only if it doesn’t give the desired result, you should turn to alternative solutions. What’s the point of removing the stain if you destroy the finish in the process?

Out of all the stains, the once caused by pets are arguably the hardest to remove. It is bad enough if is an isolated incident but some pets visit less visible places where the stain is allowed to fully dry and the pet goes there to do the deed, over and over again. Pet urine contains ammonia which can ruin the finish and leave a dark spot on the floor. If left unattended, such a stain can penetrate even the toughest floor finish and leave it permanently marked. Even acid like vinegar which we generally do not recommend can prove powerless. For those cases, the only thing left to do is sand the floor and get rid of both the stain and the old finish at once. Unfortunately, sometimes the stain becomes so persistent that there is no getting rid of it. At this point, we recommend our clients to change the colour of their floor and stain it in darker tones. This will make the damage barely, if at all, visible.

Fixing Common Issues

  • Scratches: Repair with a touch-up kit designed for urethane finishes, available from any wood flooring retailer.
  • Food, water or dark spots (dog spots): Use a cleaner developed specifically for urethane finishes to remove the spot or stain. More stubborn spots may require additional scrubbing with the cleaner and a wood flooring scrub pad made for urethane floors.
  • Greasy spots: Rub the grease, lipstick, crayon or oil with a cleaner developed for urethane.
  • Cigarette burns: Most common burns can be treated with a touch-up kit made for urethane finishes (rub with sandpaper, stain and refinish). For burns that reach deep into the wood, individual plank or parquet boards may need to be replaced.
  • Chewing gum, crayon, wax: Apply a plastic bag filled with ice on top of the deposit until it is brittle enough to crumble off. Clean area with a product made for urethane finishes. Again, always use the wood flooring manufacturer's cleaning, repair and finish products when known.



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158 Coles Green Road
London, NW2 7HW
T: 0800 0434359