How to Rehydrate Wood Floors

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Hardwood floors, although beautiful, usually present various maintenance challenges. Key among these is the amount of moisture in the wood material or lack thereof. Too much moisture, or too little, and you’ll definitely have problems.

According to wood flooring experts, moisture levels of between 6-9% enable wooden floors to maintain optimal performance. Therefore, if your hardwood floor is too dry, you can rehydrate it to the recommended levels using vinegar solution, a humidifier, water-based polyurethane, or oil-based urethane.

How to tell wood floors are too dry

During winter, homeowners will heat up their houses more often, leading to low humidity conditions. As a result, moisture is lost from hardwood flooring and the floor dries up and contracts. This can consequently lead to a number of problems. You can tell that your wooden floor is too dry if you notice any of the following issues:

i. Gapping

According to the National Wood Floor Association (NWFA), you should keep the relative humidity of your room(s) between 30-50% if you want to maintain the optimal performance of your wooden flooring. Meanwhile, temperature levels should be between 60-80-degrees Fahrenheit.

When humidity is lower than 30% and temperatures are higher than 80-degrees Fahrenheit, the wood planks become too dry. As a result, the wood planks shrink and gaps start to appear between adjoining planks.

While these gaps are usually slender, many homeowners consider them to be unsightly. However, it’s not anything abnormal. If you notice gaps on your hardwood floor, it means that the floor is too dry.

ii. Splitting and Splintering

Extreme wood floor dryness caused by very low humidity levels will significantly stress out your hardwood floor. This results in the wood becoming weaker and more brittle. The end result could be splintering, splitting, or cracking along the grain of the wood. This kind of damage is permanent and the affected planks have to be replaced to restore the original look of the floor.

Can you add moisture to wood floors?

Hardwood flooring brands never include damage caused by fluctuations in humidity within their warranty covers. As such, it’s important to always monitor the temperature and relative humidity levels of your rooms, especially during the colder seasons when the air in the environment is dryer. You can easily do this using a hygrometer.

If your hygrometer readings indicate that your wooden flooring is too dry, it’s advisable to rehydrate it. There are a number of ways through which you can add moisture to your hardwood floor, as discussed in the next section.

How to rehydrate wood floors

When rehydrating wood floors, the objective is to raise the moisture content in the wood without exceeding the recommended level (9%). Here’s a breakdown of how to add moisture to your wood floors.

Clean the Floor with a Vinegar Solution

If the wood floor dehydration is still at the earlier stages, characterized by fewer cracks and gaps, you can easily rehydrate it by cleaning the floor surface using a mild vinegar solution. First off, take out all the furniture from the room. Then, using a broom, clean off all surface dirt and debris from the hardwood floor.

After sweeping the floor, mix white vinegar with water in a ratio of 1:10 inside a mop bucket. Then dip a wet mop inside the solution and wring it thoroughly before mopping the wood floor. The moisture from this solution seeps through the cracks and gaps caused by dryness, thus triggering the rehydration process.

Proper wringing is important, as you don’t want to create the opposite problem of excess moisture. Once done, wipe up the wood flooring surface using a dry piece of cloth.

Install a Humidifier

As earlier noted, the ideal relative humidity conditions for wood flooring is from 30-50%. Thus, to raise the humidity levels within the affected rooms, install a humidifier. This tool works to increase the relative humidity of the immediate environment by adding extra moisture to the environment.

There are different types of humidifiers, but the common goal is to increase air moisture levels. You can go for an evaporative humidifier, a steam humidifier, or an ultrasonic humidifier. Each of these uses different mechanisms to add steam into the air.

Use water-based Polyurethane

Water-based polyutherane will also effectively rehydrate your dry hardwood floor surface and rejuvenate it to its original glossy sheen. Water-based poly finishes not only provide a glowing finish but also minimize moisture loss from the wood material into the air. Meanwhile, they’re also easier to apply compared to oil-based urethane finishes. This method can be used alongside vinegar cleaning for an even smoother surface finish.

Use Oil-based Urethane

Just like water-based poly, oil-modified urethane will also seal the wood surface to prevent further moisture loss. It’ll also restore the original, shiny look of your wood flooring. However, compared to water-based poly, it takes a bit more effort to properly apply oil-based finishes.

When using urethane finishes, whether water or oil-based, it’s important to sand off the old finish first before applying the new finish. This makes for the best results.

Boil a Pot of Water

While a humidifier may be more efficient, boiling water in a pot is a simple, homemade solution for rehydrating hardwood floors. Simply pour a gallon or two of water in a sizeable pot and place it atop one of your stove’s burner’s. Then, turn on the burner.

As the water boils due to the heat from your stove’s burner, steam/water vapor is released into the environment, thus increasing the relative humidity of the room. The wood flooring material then soaks up the excess moisture from the air, revitalizing it in the process.

Install Window Treatments

Wooden flooring is more likely to become too dry if it’s directly exposed to sunlight. The heat from the sun will dry out the wood material faster. As such, it’s important to filter out the sun’s rays by installing window treatments. With less sunlight heat drying out the hardwood, it’ll retain more moisture and regain its shiny appearance.

Moisture damage on wood floors

Just like low moisture levels, too much moisture content won’t do your wood floors any good. That’s why you should never attempt to directly rehydrate your hardwood surface by pouring or spraying water on it.

Excess moisture levels will not only cause structural damage to your wooden floor surface but also encourage mold growth. Mold fungi thrive in moist conditions and can trigger a variety of respiratory illnesses. Mold spores also have an unbearable, musty smell that will make life in your house uncomfortable.

Some of the signs of moisture damage on wood floors include warping and buckling. In case you’ve discovered that your hardwood floor is overhydrated, there are various strategies you can adopt to overcome the problem. For the instance, if the moisture problem is due to high humidity levels, you can install a dehumidifier. This tool works to remove excess water vapor from the air.

Meanwhile, if the moisture issue is due to a subfloor that’s wet, or there are leaks in plumbing pipes passing through the subfloor, you’ll have to uninstall the wood planks. Afterward, fix the plumbing leaks in the subfloor, or dry it out using dehumidifiers and install underlayment before reinstalling the wood flooring planks.


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Joe McGuinty
I’ve been working with floors for over 12 years. I started as a flooring contractor, primarily in materials selection. Then, I switched careers into accounting, so my wife and I began buying, renovating, and re-selling homes on the side. You’d be surprised how much value you can add to a home simply by adding new floors.

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