Caring for Wood Floors

This is guidance on the problems you may meet with wooden floors, how to repair them, solving squeaks and creaks, draughts, bouncy or springy floors, shabby boards and on-going care.


Typical problems are:

  • squeaky or creaky floorboards
  • draughty floors, with gaps between the boards
  • bouncy or springy floors
  • shabby boards
  • preparation needed for tiling or parquet flooring


To lift floorboards, make sure you have a spare board to hand, ideally a salvaged one. All too commonly, in lift boards, they split or you find one badly damaged and replacement is the best option. Old boards are best, as long as they are free of woodworm or fungus. Modern boards are usually thicker, and will need to be stained to match if you are not using fitted carpets.

Insert a wide bolster into the gap between two boards, at the end of a floorboard you wish to lift. Lever the board up a little. Swap to the other side and repeat. Once it is beginning to lift, move to the next set of nails and repeat. As the board lifts more, place pieces of wood under the board to keep it up.

If you have tongued and grooved boards, which some Georgian houses do, use a circular or tenon saw to cut the tongues along the length of the boards before attempting to life them.

Noisy Floorboards

This is often caused by loose nails. If the wrong sort of nails have been used, remove them and replace with proper floorboard nails. Alternatively use a larger size of nail.

floorboard nails

floorboard nails; cut flat steel with a wide head

The next option is to replace the nails with screws. Countersink the hole so that the screw head will be below the surface of the board.

Gaps Between Boards

This sometimes occurs when central heating has been fitted. There are three solutions.

The ideal solution is to lift all the floorboards, and refit them, adding a new board. If you intend to have loose carpets or rugs, add the new board in the middle of the room so that you have less to stain or paint to match the existing boards. Some people argue that this is the only effective solution.

Alternatively, prepare strips of wood, tapered across their width. These long wedges can be glued on one side only and tapped into place. Plane or sand the top until it is flush with the floor.

The third option is to mix sawdust with woodworker's PVA glue. The glue dries clear leaving the sawdust colour. If the mixture drops through because the gaps are too wide, push hemp rope between the boards first using a flat screwdriver. Add the sawdust/PVA mix afterwards. Wipe any excess glue from the floor with a damp cloth before it dries. Use the same approach to fill the gap between the skirting and floorboards.

Bouncy Floors

This can be either because the boards have worn thin, or because of insect or fungal attacks on the boards or joists. It is worth lifting one of the boards to investigate.

To repair splits, wedge the split slightly open and work wood glue into the gap. Then remove the wedge, and re-wedge the board against the board next to it to press the split parts together.

Shabby Boards

Victorian and Edwardian houses usually had dark stained wood floors so the modern fad for sanding and bleaching boards is not historically accurate.

Use a scraper or No 5 grade wire wool, with a little paint stripper, to remove spots of paint. If your floors are oak or another hardwood, avoid sanding which will remove all the patina. To remove larger areas of paint, use a solvent-based stripper, wire wool and stiff brushes. Alkali-based strippers can blacken hardwoods. You will need about 5 litres of stripper for every 10 square metres of floor, and two or three boxes of wire wool. Wash off all the stripper and allow to dry. Make sure the floor is not sticky before you sand it otherwise it will clog up the paper.

Remove any carpet tacks or other pins nailed into the floor. Sink all the floorboard nails below the surface with a punch.

If the floor is pine, give it a light sanding. The result will be patchy but look more aged than if you use a sanding machine to give a perfect finish.

On new or stripped wood, use a dye (which is better than a stain which does not penetrate the wood). Or use one cup of washing soda to 5 litres of hot water; sponge onto the wood and wash off any white crystals the next day. Use a weaker solution for a mild effect, or increase itfor a darker colour.

Then apply a dark coloured, matt varnish or even a dark brown paint. Alternatively use a shellac sealer (at least three coats) and coat with wax and then polish it.

With hardwoods, apply several coats of Danish oil, Tung oil or similar. For a more hardwearing finish you can use a gloss, satin or matt varnish. For the most attractive finish, apply French polish and then a protect with a hard wax using wire wool. However, this needs regular maintenance and is not very resistant to water stains. Oil finishes need regular maintenance at least once a year, and are not very durable unless well maintained.

Sanding Floors

To achieve the best finish with old boards, sanding is usually a good option.

Make sure you assess the state of the floor before you book the sander; how many boards will need replacing, how many bad nails are there, how many pins half-buried?

Invest a lot of time removing unecessary nails and pins, or punching them in. You need a fine eg 1.5mm and thicker eg 3mm punch - and a decent hammer. Punch them well in - say 5mm.

The drum sander belts are expensive; they will be damaged by nails, and clog with old varnish, so expect to use several in each abrasive category.

Make sure you have ear-plugs, a dust mask, and plenty of odd sheets of coarse sandpaper for the corners, around radiator pipes and other areas like these.

Drum sanders are heavy but quite easy to use. If the boards are bowed, raised in the centre, you will need to sand across the boards, ideally at an angle. Make sure you then sand all the grooves out by going along rather than across the boards.

If you are staining the boards, leave it till after all the sanding has been done - the sander will take it all off again. Filling the gaps can be done with stained dust and a resin, before the final sand.

Wear a hat - or expect to wash your hair every night.

Do not expect to sand two rooms in a day. This will only be possible with very small rooms where all the preparation has been completed in advance.

Preparation for tiling or parquet flooring

Make sure that you will not need to reach any pipes and cables under the floor for the forseeable future. Use a pen to record the services under the floor.

You must ensure that the surface is smooth and level. If the existing floor is already reasonable, remove any polish or paint from the surface of the wood, remove any nails or tacks and completely sink any nails and screws. Repair any noisy boards. Fill the gaps between floorboards.

If the flooring is very poor, uneven and with many gaps, instead cover it with plywood, floor-grade chipboard or floor quality hardwood sheets. If quarry or ceramic tiles are going to be laid, cover the floorboards with a water resistant, 12mm resin-bonded plywood. 3mm hardboard is suitable for wood block flooring or parquet floors. Make sure that the underfloor ventilation is adequate as the finished floor will be virtually airtight. Avoid aligning the gaps between these sheets. Nail or screw the sheets in place.

You will then need to apply a levelling compound or primer appropriate to the final covering.


To clean a wood floor, use equal parts of boiled linseed oil, turpentine, and white vinegar.

Recoat with a ready-made wax polish or one made from equal proportions of beeswax and turpentine, heated gently. Do not use linseed oil in the polish as this yellows in time.