Category: Flooring & Stairs

What Would Bob Do? Fixing Scratches on Wood Floors

Over time, a hardwood floor is bound to get scratched, nicked, or even gouged. Here are a few techniques for handling these imperfections—and some tips for keeping them from happening in the first place.

How to Fix Scratches on Hardwood Floors


I have various scratches on my wood floors. Some add character, but some are just too big and need to go away. What is the easiest way to fix scratches on hardwood floors without causing any lasting damage?

Apply wax or acrylic floor polish over light scratches in hardwood floors, but take caution: Over time, such polishes can dull and darken the floor, eventually requiring removal. That’s never an easy task; it involves powerful cleaning agents (for example, mineral spirits and ammonia) and no small quantity of elbow grease.

Related: Rx for Hardwood Floors

Alternatively, coat floors with a product specially formulated to renew the wood—Bona Pro Series Hardwood Floor Refresher, for example, or Hardwood Floor Reviver from Minwax. Sanding isn’t required, but to achieve best results, you must thoroughly clean the floor prior to application. Also, allow ample time for the finish to dry. Plan to reapply the product every several months and always refrain from using any such treatment on wood laminate or factory-finished floors.

If a scratch has penetrated deep enough to expose bare wood, there’s a low-effort way to conceal the imperfection: Simply fill it in with a stain that matches the floor color. Stain markers and blending pencils are commonly available in a range of tones; check your local hardware stores or home improvement retail chain store. But traditional wood stain works equally well. Apply it with a small brush or even a cotton swab—just be sure to wipe away any excess before it has the chance to dry.

To address a deep, wide gouge, opt for a precolored latex wood filler, one that closely matches the color of your hardwood. Apply the filler with a plastic putty knife, which is the tool least likely to cause any further damage to the floor. Once the filler has dried completely, use fine-grit sandpaper to level the surface so that no difference in elevation exists between the patch and its surrounding area. Finally, coat varnish (thinned with 10 or 20 percent turpentine) over the repair.

Whether from pets or children, boots or rolling furniture, unprotected wood floors are virtually certain to get scratched. If you’re committed to keeping your hardwoods in tip-top shape, consider the following tried-and-true methods of safeguarding wood against the most common threats to its flawlessness:

1. Position fiber doormats near all exterior doors, as tracked-in dirt and grit are the enemy of beautiful, pristine hardwood floors.

2. Encourage friends and family to remove their shoes upon entering the house—especially women in high heels!

3. Sweep often in order to contain any dirt or grit that manages to sneak in despite your best attempts at barring its entry.

4. If you are going to slide furniture across a wood floor, always place felt protective pads under its legs (or use a piece of leftover carpeting, soft side down).

5. Restrict medium- and large-size dogs from all rooms with hardwood flooring, or be sure to always keep their nails neatly trimmed.

How To: Clean Porcelain Tile

A beautiful and extremely durable flooring option, porcelain tile will retain its sparkling finish for years—so long as it's cleaned regularly and appropriately. Here's how.

How to Clean Porcelain Tile


Porcelain tile consistently ranks as a preferred flooring choice among homeowners, partly due to its beauty—the material comes in a veritable rainbow of hues—and partly due to its stain- and moisture-resistance. Though it loses luster over time, porcelain tile can be easily cleaned and restored to its original shine.

Related: Top Tips for Cleaning Grout Lines

Regularly maintaining porcelain tile is the best way to keep it in tip-top condition. As often as two times per week, sweep with a soft-bristle broom before vacuuming (with the brush attachment). Once a month, mix 1/4 cup white vinegar with two gallons of water (or purchase one of the many suitable commercial cleansers), then apply the solution with a sponge mop. Rinse with plain water, then dry the surface completely with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

There are different types of porcelain tile (unpolished/unglazed, polished/glazed, or textured) and for each type, a different set of care recommendations applies:

Cleaning Unpolished/Unglazed Porcelain Tile
• Vacuum and sweep the area thoroughly to remove dust and dirt.

• Taking one section at a time (two or four feet square), saturate the tile surface with a vinegar-and-water mixture or a commercial cleanser.

• Allow the cleanser to soak into the tile for five to ten minutes, but do not allow it to dry.

• Scrub stained areas with a soft-bristle brush.

• Wipe away the dirty cleaning solution and rinse the area with clean, hot water.

• Dry the tile with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

How to Clean Porcelain Tile - Wenge


Cleaning Polished/Glazed Porcelain Tile
• Sweep and vacuum debris and dirt, then go over the area with a dry dust mop.

• Now use a hot water-dampened mop, never allowing moisture to puddle or pool on the tile.

• Loosen heavier soil with a soft nylon-bristle brush (or an old toothbrush).

• For stains, use a vinegar-and-water mixture (or a commercial cleanser diluted to half strength).

• Mop with your chosen cleanser, mopping again with hot water before the cleanser dries.

• Dry the tile surface with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth, being sure to rub out any water spots.

• Once dry, buff the tile to a high shine with a piece of cheesecloth.

Cleaning Textured Porcelain Tile
• Sweep the area twice with a soft-bristle broom, first in the direction of the tile, then on a diagonal.

• Vacuum to remove all dirt.

• Saturate the tile with a vinegar-and-water solution, allowing it to soak for five to ten minutes.

• Scrub the floor with a soft-bristle brush, again working in two directions.

• Rinse the floor with hot water in order to thoroughly remove the cleaning solution.

• Go over the floor with a clean, damp mop.

• Dry with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

While porcelain tile boasts exceptional durability, there are few cleaning products and techniques you should take pains to avoid:

  • Never use a product containing ammonia or bleach (or any type of acid-based cleanser); these can alter the tile color and/or stain the grout.
  • Never use oil-based detergents or wax cleaners.
  • On unglazed porcelain, never use any cleaners that contain dye or coloring.
  • Never use steel wool on porcelain tile—small particles of steel can become embedded in the tile and grout, eventually causing rust stains.
  • Never use hard bristles or scrub brushes, as they can scratch the tile surface.

Regular cleaning and polishing with a soft cotton or microfiber cloth will ensure that porcelain tile retains its “like new” shine for many years.

How To: Reclaim Wood Flooring

Rather than tear it up, reclaim wood flooring the next time you undertake a major remodeling project.

When you’re renovating, save and recycle old hardwood floorboards for patching and repairing. Using a pry bar at each nail, carefully remove the board to minimize splits and damage to the wood. Tap out the old nails, then reinstall the flooring as needed, staggering all joints. When it’s refinished, you won’t be able to tell where the repair was made.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Quick Tip: Reclaimed Wood Floors
Installing a Reclaimed Wood Floor (VIDEO)

How To: Build a Winding Staircase

By means of an ingenious shortcut, it may be easier than you think to build a winding staircase.

If space is a consideration in your remodeling project, you might want to consider building a winding staircase. You can build this simple version yourself. Think of it as a stack of wooden boxes with a portion removed for each successive step. Build each box step in advance and stack them on top of each other. Secure each level with panel adhesive and nails, then finish off with a straight run to reach the next floor. Remember to check with your local building inspector.

For more on stairs, consider:

How To: Paint a Staircase
Building Winding Stairs (VIDEO)
A “Step by Step” Solution: Pre-Cut Treads and Risers

Quick Tip: Laying a Basement Subfloor

Using a method like this one, you can easily install a basement subfloor in the course of renovating unfinished cellar space.

Here’s how to get a warm, dry basement floor over a concrete slab when converting your basement into living space. Lay four-millimeter polyurethane sheeting across the entire floor, overlapping the sheets by about a foot. Then lay pressure-treated two-by-fours on the flat around the perimeter. Lay more two-by-fours, 16 inches on center, securing them to the basement floor with concrete nails. Fill in with one-inch rigid insulation and cover with three-quarter-inch plywood. Now you’re ready to finish off the basement floor with the flooring of your choice.

For more on flooring, consider:

Basement Flooring 101
Installing a Subfloor (VIDEO)
Enhanced Plywood and Subfloor Products

How To: Drill Through Tile

Many small projects in the bathroom require you to drill through tile, and while it's tricky to do so, these tips can help you create a clean hole.

Here’s how to avoid cracking a tile surface when you need to drill a hole. Mark your point, then gently score the tile with a nail set to break through the glaze. Be sure to use a carbide driill bit to cut through the tile more easily, and be careful when backing out. If you’re not drilling into a stud, use a plastic shield for a secure grip on the wall.

For more on tile, consider:

Tiling Tools
How To: Install Tile
5 Reasons to Love Subway Tile

Quick Tip: Repairing Floorboards

Did you know there's a power tool that in addition to other valuable uses, makes quick work of repairing hardwood floors?

Here’s a way to save time and energy when repairing floorboards. Instead of drilling and chiseling damaged floorboards, use a plunge router. First, use a magnetic nail finder to be sure there are no nails in the way. Set scribe lines across the damaged pieces, then run the router across the boards for a quick, clean cut.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Wood Floor Repair (VIDEO)
How To: Refinish Hardwood Floors

Quick Tip: Sawdust Grout

In service of various projects with wood flooring, sawdust grout can be useful in either installation or repair work.

It can be easy to patch cracks in an old wood floor or grout a new wood block floor. Here’s how. First, make a mixture of two part sawdust with one part fast-drying, oil-based sealer. Squeegee the mixture into the cracks of your floor. Wipe off any excess with a steel wool pad, so the floor is clean and smooth. Let it dry overnight and then apply the finish coat of your choice.

For more on flooring, consider:

Fixing Squeaky Floors (VIDEO)
Old Wood Flooring: Replace or Refinish?
Selecting Engineered vs. Solid Wood Flooring

How To: Install a Wood Block Floor

If you've ever worked with ceramic tile, you would find it easy to install a wood block floor, achieving a look seldom seen in homes today.

For a very unusual floor finish, you might want to try wood blocks. Lay out your floor the way you would any ceramic tile floor. But here are four things that are unique to wood block floors. You need to use an oil-based mastic to avoid warping. Lay each tile individually. (They don’t come in sheets.) And grout with a mixture of two parts sawdust and one part fast-drying oil-based sealer. Let it set overnight and then apply an oil-based sealer or polyurethane for a beautiful finish.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Trending Now: Cork Flooring
Walking on Glass: The Beauty and Practicality of Glass Block Flooring

Bob Vila Radio: Exterior Handrails

If you have any stairs leading up to your home, you'll want an exterior handrail—and not just for safety.

Unless your home is at exactly ground level, you probably have a step or two up to your door. High ranches and colonials often have four, five, or even more front steps up to the entryway. And all of these steps, no matter how simple or grand they are, pose a hazard to anyone going up or down. A handrail can be a real help, and it doesn’t have to be an eyesore.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON EXTERIOR HANDRAILS or read the text below:

Exterior Handrails


Handrails can be made of wood, wrought iron, metal tubing or almost anything, depending on what style you prefer. They can be freestanding or attached to a porch or wall, and some can look more like works of art than anything else. An ornate scroll on a side wall, for example, can be a beautiful yet functional addition to your steps, and can prevent a nasty fall if you lose your balance.

Building codes usually dictate how many steps you can have before a railing is required, and some homeowners plan entryways around that in order to avoid installing a railing. But even a single step can be dangerous at night, in icy conditions, or at any time for children and the elderly. So even if codes don’t require a handrail, consider adding one for extra safety.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.