Scratched hardwood floors in historic properties possess character and richness. Yet when your own hardwood floors are scratched, you might find yourself less enamored with the look. Residential solid hardwood or engineered wood floors are often scratched in glaringly obvious ways. Prominent dog claw marks, gouges from furniture legs, and hairline scratches can stand out against otherwise flawless wood.
While deep sanding with an electric floor sander will bring down many of those scratches, sanding is messy and invasive. Also, if you have engineered wood floors, the top layer of hardwood veneer is so thin that deep sanding often is not possible. Repairs short of deep sanding involve a selective toolkit of methods that fade, blend, and color the scratches to reduce their contrast against the rest of the flooring. Isolating and repairing scratches in wood flooring is also a simpler, lower-cost option than sanding the entire floor, and it will help preserve the health of your hardwood floors for years to come.
Assess the Flooring and Scratches
Site-finished hardwood flooring, the type that is installed unfinished and later finished in place, is easier to repair than pre-finished hardwood flooring. Site-finished wood flooring's protective coating is relatively easy to sand. Pre-finished wood flooring's multiple urethane and aluminum oxide layers form a tough skin that can defeat sanding and blending efforts.
Clean the Working Area
Before beginning any scratch repair, the wood floor must be thoroughly cleaned on and around the area of the scratches. Remove as much debris as possible with a soft-bristled broom and a dustpan. Next, use a commercial cleaning product suitable for hardwood floors. For especially dirty hardwood flooring, choose an oxygenated floor cleaner that will simply bubble the grime up and away from the surface.
Do not use cleaners that use waxes, pastes, or polishes that protect, shine, or coat the flooring; the intent is only to clean the flooring, not to seal it. Then move on to the following steps to fix either fine or deeper scratches.
Equipment / Tools
- Tack cloth
- Plastic putty knife for filler
- #0000 grade Super-fine non-soap steel wool (for fine scratches)
- Multi-pack floor color marker paste (resin-based) or stain markers
- Fine-grit sandpaper (for deeper scratches)
- Solvent-based wood filler (pre-colored or one that accepts stain; for deeper scratches)
- Matching wood stain (optional; for both types of scratches)
Repairing Fine Scratches
Fine scratches in wood flooring are both thin and shallow, measuring less than 1/8-inch deep. These are the types of scratches that may be caused by sliding boxes or chairs across the floor. Since they are shallow, these scratches can often be sanded by hand to minimize their depth, while supplementing with color-blending techniques. Scratches that run parallel to the wood grain can be color-blended more effectively than cross-grain scratches. For fine scratches, opt for a resin-based colorant or a stain marker specified for flooring; waxy markers are best reserved for furniture fixes.
Renewing Larger Areas of Fine Scratches
If the scratches are numerous and the floor coating around the scratches is still in good condition, try rubbing wood stain over the area and then quickly wiping it clean. The stain should penetrate the raw wood only.
Choose a floor color marker or stain pen that is similar to the floor color. Test the colorant in a non-visible area to determine the closest color. If needed, floor colorants can be mixed to achieve the perfect hue.
A Natural Colorant: Walnuts
For a natural alternative for lighter colored wood flooring, try rubbing a raw walnut into the scratches; the oils fill in very fine scratches. Buff out the walnut oil so it does not affect anyone with nut allergies.
Lightly brush the finalized floor colorant over a small area of the scratches. If this proves successful, continue on to the rest of the scratches.
Rub the Area
Lightly rub fine-grade steel wool over the scratches when the colorant is dry. Clean the area by gently using a tack cloth to remove any microscopic bits of debris.
For the steel wool, avoid soap-impregnated products such as Brillo.
Repairing Deep Scratches
Deep scratches over 1/8-inch deep in wood flooring are the type of gouging that occurs from dog claws or by sliding heavy furniture or appliances across the floor. If the deep scratches are numerous and you have solid hardwood flooring, the best avenue is often to sand the entire floor. But for more localized scratches, the preferred technique is still to fill in and color-blend the deeper scratch, this time using wood filler.
Apply Wood Filler
Prepare wood filler for the scratch. Press the wood filler into the scratch with the putty knife, carefully staying within the damaged area. Smooth down the wet filler. Wipe off excess while the wood filler is still wet.
Plastic Putty Knife
A plastic putty knife is softer than a metal putty knife and won't do any further damage to your wood floors.
Let Filler Dry
Let the filler dry for at least two hours.
Finalize the Filler
After the wood filler has dried, sand it down by hand. Avoid sanding the flooring around the scratch repair.
Stain the Filled Crack
Tint the cured filler with wood stain or a stain pen to match the flooring's color.