How to Repair Water-Damaged Hardwood Flooring

Your hardwood floors are an essential part of your interior décor, standing as a luxury that not only impresses anyone who walks in but also increases the resale value of your home.

Therefore, maintaining and being diligent with the cleanup and repair of any stains or damage to your hardwood flooring is crucial if you want to preserve the aesthetics of your interiors (and their value) for as long as possible.

However, sometimes you might encounter more than a simple spill that does pretty much nothing on its own. Homeowners can also experience leaks, overflows, backlogs, and flooding.

You see, wood is a porous material. While hardwood itself is less porous compared to softwood or engineered wood, it still has natural pores and gaps between the wood fibers.

These pores allow the wood to absorb moisture, making hardwood susceptible to any leaks and water damage.

The porosity of hardwood floors can vary depending on the specific type of wood used. For example, dense hardwoods like oak or maple have a finer grain and are less porous than softer woods.

The finish applied to hardwood floors also plays a significant role. Sealed and finished hardwood floors have a protective layer that minimizes moisture absorption, making them less prone to water damage.

Either way, less porous or more porous, if you get flooded, your hardwood will suffer. Today we’ll go over what to do in that situation and how to repair and preserve your damp flooring.

Let’s go!

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Signs of Water-Damaged Harwood Flooring

First, we gotta get into the signs of water damage in your hardwood floors.


Usually, the damage starts to show through dark stains and discoloration first. This is when you should start taking care of the dampness before the floor boards start changing shape and the damage reaches your subflooring and joists.


Warping, simply put, is when your hardwood floors are uneven and have a wavy appearance. There are many types of hardwood floor warping:


Cupping is one of the more common types of hardwood flooring water damage. What happens is that the edges of your wood floor planks become higher than the center surface of those planks.

The planks get a curve-like shape, resembling the shape of a cup, hence the nickname. 

As the wood absorbs moisture, the wood fibers of the boards expand. In the case of cupping, the plank absorbs moisture from underneath the plank, causing the bottom fibers to expand, pushing the plank edges upwards.


Crowning is the opposite of cupping. It’s when, instead of an U shape, the plank resembles the ∩ shape.

Crowning happens when moisture is absorbed from the top of the plank, pushing the board edges downward. This is often the consequence of direct water leaks onto the floor boards.


Hardwood floor twisting is, well, when the floor boards twist, with one edge going up and the other edge going down on the same side of the board.


Bowing is when one side of the flooring plank raises up. 

There are other types of wood floor warping, but these are the most common ones. 

britannica infographic


Hardwood floor buckling is the more severe type of hardwood floor water damage. It’s when an entire floor plank or multiple planks get separated from the subfloor. The planks may also get detached from each other.

Wood fibers expand with the insufficient expansion gap and it’s when the floor buckles.

Buckling is less common than warping, as it typically requires more severe water damage in order for it to happen.

Are My Other Floors Damaged?

Some of you may have paired up your hardwood flooring with other types of floors, and you might wonder if the damage has spread to those as well. 

Homeowners often pair up their hardwood floors with vinyl, laminate, and tile flooring, or carpets. They mostly experience the same “symptoms” when damaged. 

For example, laminate flooring is also made up of multiple layers, including a core that can absorb moisture. If that core gets damp, it starts swelling, pushing the planks up. This may also cause them to feel soft when walked on.

These planks can also get separated from each other when damaged by water.

Vinyl floors are perceived as less prone to water damage, but it’s still possible. Although it may take much longer for the stains from the damage to show. The vinyl flooring seams can also open.

With tile flooring, the tiles may become loose or displaced, with the grout lines between the tiles becoming discolored.

And lastly, carpets are perhaps the most porous out of all of these. The carpet becomes soggy and/or discolored, accompanied by a moldy smell. Although you can dry out your carpet much faster by taking it out on the sun.

Subflooring Water Damage

The subfloor is the structural layer that provides the foundation for your hardwood flooring.

It is the layer of material that is installed directly over the joists and serves as the base for various types of flooring, not just hardwood but also laminate, tile, and vinyl.

Subfloors are commonly made from plywood or oriented strand board (OSB). Plywood is composed of thin layers of wood veneer glued together, while OSB is made from compressed strands of wood. Both are, well, wood, which means both are porous and can get water-damaged.

The subfloor is a crucial component, and having subfloor water damage makes the situation more tricky to deal with.

If your floor planks have started experiencing a type of warping that indicates moisture from underneath, like cupping, for example, it likely means your subfloor is wet. 

A soft or spongy feel on your hardwood floors is also a telltale sign of damp subflooring. 

Other Signs of Water Damage

And then you might have other, more “generic” signs of water damage:

  1. Peeling wallcoverings
  2. Stained and discolored walls around your floors
  3. Wall cracks
  4. Soft or spongy areas of walls
  5. Dripping sounds, heard when quiet
  6. Higher water bills without increased usage
  7. Musty odor
  8. Presence of mold around where the flooring is damaged
  9. Persistent fatigue, cold-like symptoms, or respiratory problems

How to Restore Your Damp Hardwood Flooring

Now that we’ve gone over all the signs of water damage problems with your floors, it’s time for the solution. 

Here’s a step-by-step outline of restoring your hardwood flooring water damage.

Identify and Eliminate the Moisture Source

Moisture sources can be numerous:

  1. Inspect for visible leaks nearby: Look at sinks, toilets, water heaters, and plumbing lines near the water damage you’ve spotted. Try to find a leak and where the water is coming from, and then fix the leak.
  2. Examine appliances: Appliances that use water, such as washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators with water dispensers, can also leak around hoses, connections, and their bases.
  3. Check the basement or crawlspace: See the basement or crawlspace for signs of water damage. It’s so common for the hardwood flooring water damage to be tied to a leak or flood underneath, in a basement or crawl space.
  4. Assess landscape drainage: Evaluate the slope and drainage around your property. Ensure that water is directed away from the foundation, and consider using landscaping features to prevent water pooling.
  5. Evaluate the foundation: Speaking of the foundation, check for cracks or openings where water may be entering. Seal any cracks or gaps in the foundation walls to prevent water from seeping in.
  6. Check for hidden leaks: Sometimes, water leaks may be hidden within walls. Look for stains, discoloration, or soft spots. If necessary, use a moisture meter to identify moisture levels in walls and floors.

Start Drying Out the Area

Once the moisture source has been dealt with, it’s time to get the water out.

If there’s not a lot of water, a wet-dry vacuum cleaner should help you extract all of the liquid, while dehumidifiers will be working to dry out the air. 

If there are specific parts of your house that are particularly wet, use air movers to target those areas. Air movers and dehumidifiers should ideally be used hand-in-hand in the flooded room.

If the weather is sunny and hot, take the damaged floor boards out for drying.

You’ll be drying your floor boards until the moisture meter shows that no water is present in the wood.

Remove the Floor Boards

Carefully remove the water-damaged hardwood boards. Use a circular saw or a handsaw to cut along the seams between the damaged boards and the unaffected ones. Also, remove any nails or fasteners.

This will also allow you to inspect the subfloor and joists underneath for water damage. Neither of them should be damp. 

However, if there is damage, you should first try to dry them out too with the restoration equipment we’ve mentioned.

The damaged floor boards should be cleaned up with a gentle cleaning solution. Mix mild soap or a specialized wood cleaner with water. Dampen a soft cloth or sponge with the solution and gently wipe the affected area.

Avoid using harsh cleaning agents, bleach, or abrasive materials on water-damaged wood. These substances can cause further damage to the finish and wood fibers.

If the stains can’t be removed, you might want to sand and refinish, leading us to…

Replace or Refinish Damaged Flooring?

So, you’re not sure about whether you can re-use your floor boards?

The answer to whether or not you can depends on how damaged the floor boards are on their own and how extensive the damage is across the entire floor. The more severe the situation, the greater the chances of replacement.

As we’ve said, wet floor boards will have stains first and then start changing shape. If you’re only dealing with stained boards, you could likely fix them entirely without replacing any.

This is to be achieved through sanding and refinishing.

But then, you might start sanding the floors and realize that the dampness stretches through many layers of the floor. If that’s the case, or if the entire floorboard is damp and the subflooring is damaged too, replacement is required.

Both refinishing and replacement are going to increase the value of your home, so it’s in your best interest to do either of them.

Hardwood floor replacement can cost up to $16 per square foot. Having a professional refinish your hardwood floors, on the other hand, normally costs between $3 and $8 per square foot – 50% cost savings.

Either way, you don’t want to be lazy and just dry out the room. If you wish to fully restore your flooring, you’ll have to either refinish or replace it. Just which one you’ll do depends on the severity of the damage. 

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Mold on Hardwood Flooring

Got mold on your hardwood floors? Start removing it by applying water and white vinegar. Ideally, you should mix them up and spray them on the affected areas. White vinegar is ideal for killing mold as it penetrates through the materials.

Now, if you’re struggling with moldy hardwood floors, consider either sanding or replacing the floor boards. Sanding can be done if the mold hasn’t damaged a lot of layers, while replacement should be carried out if the mold infection is quite extensive.

Got a big mold problem? Read our guide on figuring out if you can remove it on your own or not

Blend Your New Boards in

Replaced some boards? You should now blend them in.

This may involve staining the replacement boards to match the color of the surrounding floor.

Feather the edges of the new boards into the existing floor by sanding. This helps create a smooth transition between the old and new boards. Sand the old boards too. Ensure that the repaired area is level and matches the surrounding floor.

Apply a finish coat to achieve a consistent appearance. Depending on the type of finish, apply a sealant or wax to protect the repaired area.

How to Prevent Water Damage in the Future

There are many water damage prevention steps you can take specifically to your hardwood floors, including:

  • Making sure that the moisture source that originally damaged your floors is properly mitigated and doesn’t happen again
  • Cleaning and wiping off any spills right away
  • Not using wet shoes
  • Using rugs or mats around particularly wet areas, like kitchen sinks, for example
  • Using coasters under potted plants and trays under indoor potted trees to catch water
  • Applying water-resistant finishes or sealants to your hardwood floors
  • Installing a water-resistant underlayment when adding a new hardwood floor
  • Getting a moisture barrier for your basement or crawl space


There ya go! This post was quite extensive, with a lot to take in. So, now that you know how to repair water-damaged hardwood flooring like a pro, it’s time to take some action.

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