Removing Oil Stains from Hardwood Floors

By: Julie Day


Just what every homeowner wants to see!

You know, normally I try to view life’s little mishaps as opportunities to laugh, but with my house on the market, I feel like a walking disaster! One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to go “paperless,” so I’ve been spending a lot of time scanning and shredding paperwork, which also means I’ve been spending time oiling and repairing my poor overworked paper shredder. The other night, I took it apart and laid the oily parts (carefully, I thought!) on a plastic bag on the floor. Boy, did I ever mess up!

The bag was flimsy, and before I knew what was happening, a big oil stain had soaked its way into my hardwood floors. Now, I just had my floors refinished about three years ago, so after I snapped out of my trance of disbelief (isn’t the whole point of floor finishing to protect the wood from spills?), I scrambled to find answers on how to remove this oil stain.

First I dashed off a few e-mails to my Today’s Homeowner gurus, which were answered with, “Um, it doesn’t sound promising.” Undaunted, I went to the paint department a big box home improvement store, and was answered with “It doesn’t sound promising.” Ever optimistic, I went to my favorite little local hardware store, and FINALLY, someone was able to tell me, “Um, it doesn’t sound promising.”

Since I never believe anything until my knuckles are bleeding, I went home armed with some solvent, dish soap, and a scrubby sponge. I attacked the stain until I, too, could say with confidence that it doesn’t look promising! The solvents didn’t do a thing, but the soap and water had some success. After much scrubbing, the stain is a little lighter, but so is my floor finish, and I eventually had to stop before I turned a small stain into a huge worn spot (with a stain in the middle).

So what happened? All the experts I consulted agreed with me that a well-finished floor shouldn’t have stained like that. Well, I’ll tell you what happened – in typical Julie fashion, a perfect storm of well intentioned, but imperfect decisions came together:

  1. When I refinished my floors, I opted for water-based clear polyurethane. It gives a lighter, brighter finish than oil-based finishes, but it’s less durable. Trust me, it’s less durable.
  2. I didn’t check to make sure how many coats the floor guys applied. I hired the floor company six months into a backbreaking renovation, and I was just grateful that someone besides me was in charge. Once they fired up their big sander, I headed for a hot bath faster than you can say “DIY Floor Refinishing Is For The Birds.”
  3. In setting up my home office, I neglected to put down any floor protection under my desk. I spend a lot of time in my office, and my rolling desk chair had worn off the finish just enough for the oil to soak right in.

So there you have it – all of my mistakes offered in hopes that you can have a better experience. In the days since my scrub-a-rama, I’ve had to resort to feeling grateful that it isn’t the WORST flaw in my 60-year-old floors, it’s simply the newest one.

So far, it doesn’t seem to be affecting the sale of my house (which just went under contract!), so I’m just holding my breath and trying not to spill anything else.

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2 Comments on “Removing Oil Stains from Hardwood Floors”

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  • vann yearby Says:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Removing flat paint from wood floors?



  • Timber Investments Says:
    April 23rd, 2010 at 7:31 am

    Wooden flooring is truly beautiful in its understated elegance. You can use various methods to remove stains on wood floors. For water stains, use toothpaste, fine grade steel wool, or sandpaper to rub it out, then recoat the area with wax. For other stains, use bleach, ammonia, or other methods to buff out stains. Finish cleaning by waxing your floor to restore its original shine.


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