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As regular as rain, someone calls in to our home improvement radio talk show to ask what can be done about the large black stains in his hardwood floor.

In almost every case, we are forced to deliver bad news: “You probably will have to replace the stained boards with new ones.” So far we haven’t talked to anyone who was overjoyed with our answer because following our advice usually means an expensive repair.

Replacing hardwood planks – especially sanding and finishing them to match what exists – is one of the tougher do-it-yourself tasks. The bright side is that the repair we suggest is less expensive than complete replacement. And, there is better news. There are many easy and simple hardwood floor repairs that can be made by most do-it-yourselfers; they can result in big savings and a better-looking floor.

Although there are several types of hardwood, the repairs we’ll discuss here work on most of them. Also, it doesn’t make any difference whether the floor is a floating floor, glued in place or nailed – just as long as it is wood.

First, determine the finish – whether the floor is coated with wax or surface-finished with varnish or polyurethane. Repairs for the two types of finishes are handled differently. If you don’t know whether your floor is waxed or surface-finished, you can make that determination by rubbing it with mineral spirits or wax remover. If the surface dissolves, it’s wax. If it does not, chances are good that polyurethane or varnish exists.

A tip: In the long run, it is easier to be careful. Use door mats inside and out. Dirty shoes act like sandpaper on a hardwood floor – waxed or otherwise. Also, clean up messes immediately. Water and wood don’t mix. Liquids won’t do damage if they aren’t allowed to remain on the floor.

Waxed hardwood

Scratches: Scratches in a waxed floor usually are removed by buffing or waxing and buffing. If the scratches are in the wood, rub the area with #00 steel wool and wax.

Water stains and white spots: If water stains or white spots exist, rub the area with #000 steel wool and wax. For problem areas (where the wood is scratched), lightly sand the area with fine sandpaper and then clean the spot using #00 steel wool and mineral spirits or a wood floor cleaner. Finally, and after the floor has dried thoroughly, stain, wax and buff.

Dried milk and food stains: Got kids? If you do, you might well experience dried milk or food stains on your hardwood floor. Gently clean the area with a damp cloth. Wipe it dry and apply a thin coat of wax.

Heel and scuff marks: To eradicate heel marks, rub in a small amount of wax with #000 or #0000 steel wool, and hand-buff to a shine.

Mold and mildew: For mold, rub with wood cleaner. The waxed surface will need a light coat of wax and a gentle buffing once the cleaner has done its job.

Chewing gum and crayons: Sticky things like chewing gum, candle wax and crayons require a different touch. A plastic bag filled with ice or dry ice can be applied to the problem area and will cause the deposit to become brittle and, thus, easy to scrape away. Waxy substances can also be removed with a blotter and an iron. Lay the blotter on the wax spot and heat the blotter with a clothes iron. The blotter will absorb the wax. Solvent-based wax also can be used. In every case, a coat of wax and a little buffing is a finishing touch that will make the difference.

Oil and grease: Oil and grease stains are a little tougher – but not impossible – to remove. With any kind of grease, lye works best. Laundry detergent is good, but the more lye, the better. Or, saturate a pile of cotton with hydrogen peroxide and lay it over the stain. Then, saturate a second layer of cotton with ammonia and lay it over the first. Repeat until the stain disappears.

Surface-finished hardwood

Minor scratches: Lightly sand with 400- to 600-grit wet and dry sandpaper and apply a light coat of polyurethane. Touchup kits are available at your hardwood flooring store.

Grease spots: A mild (5 percent) solution of vinegar and water works for most grease and oil stains. However, there are special cleaners made specifically for use with polyurethane that work equally well, and, they might be more gentle on the finish.

If you have a prefinished hardwood floor, it would be wise to use the cleaning and repair products offered by the manufacturer. Such products are designed for the chemical makeup of the finish and typically work best.