Q: My pets urinated on my hardwoods. Should I redo or replace the floors?
A: That's hard to answer without more specifics. Is it one area or many? What degree of perfection do you want - and what can you afford?
If you are on a tight budget, perhaps you can hide the stain with an area rug. Or try faux paint. Ask at a paint store how to duplicate the look of your wood. Seal the stained area first with shellac. Then paint on the base color, let that dry and apply gel stain with a tool that creates the look of wood grain, such as the Plaid Wood Grainer ($7.16 from amazon.com). When the stain dries, brush on several coats of clear floor finish.
Another DIY option is to bleach the dark areas. Some people suggest using hydrogen peroxide, especially in the higher concentration sold as hair bleach. But the National Wood Flooring Association recommends using oxalic acid, a wood bleach often used to prepare decks for refinishing, said association technical adviser Rusty Swindoll. (Behr All-in-One Wood Cleaner, which has oxalic acid as its sole ingredient, is $9.98 a gallon at Home Depot.) Be sure to read the label for safety precautions, and protect your eyes and skin.
With either bleach, lightly sand the stained areas first to remove enough finish so the hydrogen peroxide or oxalic acid can sink in. You might want to tape off the areas so you don't damage surrounding wood. Sand whole boards to get the most even results, but limit the bleach to the stained areas. You might need to apply the bleach several times.
The spots you treat probably will wind up lighter, so stain them to match the surrounding wood. And when that dries, brush on a couple of coats of clear finish. The finish probably will look glossier than the surrounding floor, but you can scuff it up with a little steel wool or just wait for footsteps to even out the gloss over time.
If your budget is more generous, or your attempts to bleach the stains don't provide results you like, consult a professional who installs and refinishes wood floors. Marcin Toroj, owner of Magni Flooring in Alexandria, Va., chuckled when asked whether he tries bleach. "As a contractor, no," he said. "But people do it, and they don't usually succeed. It does bleach the stain, but it also damages the fibers."
Instead, his company either the damaged boards or installs new flooring.
Weaving in new planks to replace damaged ones typically makes sense as long as the damaged ones cover less than half of the floor, Toroj said. "If you're over 50 percent damage, replace the floor," he said.
His company has a minimum fee for labor of $650. For that, the crew usually can replace up to 40 pieces. The cost of the new wood depends on the type. If your floor is oak, those 40 pieces might cost $120, Toroj said.
Finding matching wood is relatively easy when the flooring is traditional, solid hardwood. But many hardwood floors today are engineered wood, with factory-applied stains and finishes on wood that didn't grow in the United States and isn't easy to identify. If a homeowner doesn't have leftovers, finding matching pieces can be difficult.
But Swindoll said he once patched a very visible part of a floor by harvesting matching wood from a closet. He then filled in the closet floor with pieces that weren't such a good match. It's also possible to switch out wood that is under a couch or area rug.
Toroj said most pet stains he's dealt with have stayed close to the surface, so installing new pieces eliminates the odor. But odors can persist if the urine soaked in enough to contaminate the subfloor, he said. Enzyme products sold at pet stores help neutralize the odor. Toroj also seals exposed areas of the subfloor with shellac. And if he is installing new flooring, he adds a moisture barrier, which also blocks odors.