Water leaks can cause a lot of damage quickly. If you have beautiful wood floors, the idea that they might be ruined due to a water leak can be heartbreaking. As a result, the only thing on your mind might be figuring out how to dry your wood floor after a water leak.
Drying a wood floor after a water leak is a multi-step process. You’ll need to soak up excess standing water, clean the surface, and turn on a dehumidifier to start the drying process. Opening windows or using fans to increase air circulation may also help.
However, those are only a few steps you’ll want to take to reduce the odds that your wood flooring is irreparably damaged. Here’s what you need to know about how to dry a wood floor after a water leak.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- Signs of Water Damage Under Floor
- Can Water Damaged Wood Floors Be Fixed?
- How to Dry Wood Floor After Water Leak
- 1. Put on Safety Equipment
- 2. Collect Your Materials
- 3. Remove All Wet Furnishings and Floor Coverings
- 4. Get Rid of Standing Water
- 5. Disinfect Your Wood Floor
- 6. Carefully Remove Some Floorboards
- 7. Turn on a Dehumidifier
- 8. Add Some Fans
- 9. Check the Moisture Levels
- 10. Remain Patient Until the Floor Dries
- 11. Inspect the Flooring
- 12. Move on to Restoration
- How Long Does It Take for Water to Ruin Wood Floors?
- Will a Dehumidifier Remove Water from Wood Flooring?
- Does Baking Soda Absorb Moisture from Wood Floors?
- How Long Does It Take for a Wet Wood Floor to Dry?
- Will Warped Wood Floors Go Back to Normal?
- How to Restore Wood Flooring After Water Damage
- Can Mold Grow Under Hardwood Floors?
- Should You Call a Professional?
Signs of Water Damage Under Floor
Several signs could indicate that your wood flooring or the subfloor has water damage. Usually, the strongest indicator is puddles or other forms of standing water. When water is in spots that shouldn’t be, it could signal a water leak under your flooring.
Some other definitive signs of water damage are swelling, buckling, sagging, or warping in your wood floor planks. Water absorbs into the material, which can cause it to shift and bulge.
Even if you aren’t seeing troubling signs, you may smell them. Water damage under your floor could lead to mold and mildew growth. As a result, you may notice musty odors or even see mold developing on your floors, walls, cabinets, rugs, or furniture.
Dampness, staining, or condensation on your walls might also indicate water damage. Water under your flooring can wick up into wall materials like sheetrock, altering the temperature of the surface and potentially causing absorbed water to come through. You may also see bubbles in your paint and bulges if the underlying materials are swelling.
Staining on your wood floor also indicates a potential water leak. Blotchy dark brown or gray spots are a possible sign of a water-related problem.
Can Water Damaged Wood Floors Be Fixed?
Whether water-damaged wood floors are repairable depends on the extent of the damage. Replacing the flooring may be unnecessary if you’ve just got some mild swelling. As a result, you can focus on drying out the wood and doing some light repairs.
With extensive damage, replacing your wood flooring might be your only option. Issues like buckling, cupping, and warping may not be repairable. Similarly, if there’s significant staining or mold growth, repairs might not be an option. If you see nails popping out, that’s also a bad sign and may mean that a replacement is your best bet.
Additionally, the leak’s origin and whether it impacted your subfloor may affect whether repairs are an option. Water leaks under your wood flooring may damage the substructure, including the subfloor and floor joists. Even if the wood floor is in reasonable shape, you may have to take it up to address the underlying damage.
While it’s possible to remove a wood floor and reinstall it, whether that’s a viable option may depend on the condition of the floor and how it was originally installed. Additionally, mistakes can happen during the removal process, causing damage to individual planks and preventing them from being reusable as flooring.
You also need to consider the type of water that damaged the floor. If it was clean water, repairing your wood floors if the damage is minimal is potentially an option. However, if the water leak involves greywater or blackwater (such as sewage), keeping your hardwood floors may be a health risk.
With saltwater, there isn’t necessarily a safety concern. However, saltwater can cause extensive damage quickly. As a result, it may make your flooring irreparable.
How to Dry Wood Floor After Water Leak
1. Put on Safety Equipment
Before you start working on your wood floor, you need to put on some safety equipment. At a minimum, wear gloves, goggles, and a face mask. That ensures you’re moderately protected from potentially dangerous aspects of the cleanup, including contaminants or mold exposure.
Wear rainboots and waterproof pants or coveralls may be wise if the water is high. Make sure your boots have good traction, as wet flooring can be slick.
2. Collect Your Materials
In many cases, you’ll need a lot of different items to dry your wood floor after a water leak. Buckets, towels, wet vacs, dehumidifiers, fans, squeegees, mops, and a disinfecting wood-safe cleaner may all be necessary.
3. Remove All Wet Furnishings and Floor Coverings
Water-soaked rugs and furnishings will make it harder to dry your wood flooring. They’ll drip moisture onto your wood floor as they sit, increasing the odds of damage by extending drying times. Additionally, the fabrics may promote mildew and mold growth.
Take any wet floor coverings and furnishings and move them off your wood floor. Place them in an area where you can dry them separately.
4. Get Rid of Standing Water
If there is standing water on your flooring, soak as much of it up as possible. You may want to use towels or cloths initially or try an absorbent mop.
Once your towel, cloth, or mop is wet, wring it out. You can potentially use it again or place it in another area to dry and transition to a fresh towel, cloth, or mop.
You can also run a squeegee across your floor. That lets you steer water into a towel or cloth or send it toward a drain if you have a laundry room off your wood floors nearby.
After that, switch to a wet vac. Run it over your wood flooring slowly, emptying the container as necessary. Continue until you go across your entire floor. Then, start from the beginning and do it again.
Keep using the wet vac until you don’t see new water in the collection canister. After that, give the entire floor one more pass. That ensures you’ve removed as much water as possible before moving on to the next step.
5. Disinfect Your Wood Floor
While it may seem odd to use a disinfecting cleaner on your wood flooring before it’s dried, it’s critical. The cleaner can loosen dirt and debris and kill bacteria or mold.
You need to choose a suds-free disinfecting cleaner that’s safe on wood flooring. Once you have one, take a scrub brush that’s soft enough not to scratch your flooring. Use it to clean the entire surface of your floor and vacuum again with the wet vac.
After that, go over the entire floor surface with a wood floor cleaner and a clean mop. That lets you pick up the remaining dirt and debris and the excess disinfectant. Finally, rinse the floor with clean water, use the wet vac again, go over the floor with a dry microfiber mop, and then move on to the next step.
6. Carefully Remove Some Floorboards
Removing some floorboards gives your wood floor room to swell and expand. Plus, it allows more air to reach the subfloor, which can help it dry, too.
Generally, you’ll want to pull up a row every five to ten feet. Keep the boards in order as you remove them, and lay them out on a flat, dry surface in a single layer.
7. Turn on a Dehumidifier
A dehumidifier draws in excess moisture from the air, which can help your wood flooring dry faster and more completely. Get a large one, place it in the middle of the room, and turn it to its highest setting.
You’ll want to leave the dehumidifier running for a minimum of 24 hours, though it may need longer depending on the extent of the water leak. However, you also need to regularly check the water collection container, ensuring you empty it before reaching maximum capacity.
8. Add Some Fans
Having a few fans in the room allows you to increase air circulation. Using a few large ones throughout the room is a solid start. You can also put a fan in a nearby window if you live in a drier area.
If you don’t have many fans, consider renting commercial-strength fans. These can operate at much higher speeds than fans typically found in homes, making them worth the investment.
9. Check the Moisture Levels
After the dehumidifier runs for 24 hours, you’ll want to check the moisture levels. You can typically purchase or rent a moisture meter to get the readings. Just choose a model with pins or probes designed for wood, ensuring you get the most accurate numbers.
Ideally, you’ll look for a reading within 5 percent of the reading you’d get from the same wood flooring that wasn’t water damaged. If you aren’t sure what that number is, you can test a section of flooring that wasn’t damaged. Otherwise, review manufacturer information or research your type of wood flooring to get a solid estimate.
If the wood floor that’s drying isn’t within 5 percent, keep the fans and dehumidifier running. If it is, you can turn them off.
10. Remain Patient Until the Floor Dries
It can take days or weeks for your wood floors to dry after a water leak. As a result, you’ll need to stay patient along the way.
11. Inspect the Flooring
As the floor dries, inspect it for mold. If you see any, you may see signs in the pores of the wood. If so, use a baking soda and water mixture and gently scrub the impacted area with a soft brush. Then, use the wet vac to vacuum it up, rinse the spot, vacuum again, and continue the drying process.
12. Move on to Restoration
Once the floor is dry and inspected, you can work on restoration. Along with replacing the boards you removed, you may need to refinish and reseal your wood to ensure it’s looking its best once more.
How Long Does It Take for Water to Ruin Wood Floors?
The amount of time it takes for water to ruin wood floors varies. Generally, it’s recommended to address the water issue within 24 hours at the latest. Mold can start growing in 48 to 72 hours, so you want to get the drying process started well before then.
However, it’s important to note that water can start impacting your wood floors almost right away. This is especially true if it’s a significant amount of water. The faster you act, the better.
Will a Dehumidifier Remove Water from Wood Flooring?
A dehumidifier can help your wood floor dry faster. It pulls moisture out of the air, creating drier conditions. As a result, the water leaves your wood flooring faster, allowing it to dry more quickly.
When dealing with a large amount of water, you want to use the most powerful dehumidifier. If you don’t own one, you can rent them from home improvement stores or hardware stores in some cases. Additionally, if you contact a professional to address the water damage, they’ll typically provide one during the drying process as part of the project.
Does Baking Soda Absorb Moisture from Wood Floors?
Baking soda can absorb moisture. However, the amount it can absorb isn’t enough to make a significant difference when drying wood floors.
While it may be a suitable addition to your strategy if the water damage is minor and highly localized, the amount you’d need to handle an entire room isn’t practical. Plus, options like dehumidifiers and fans are typically more effective. As a result, fans and dehumidifiers are the better approaches.
How Long Does It Take for a Wet Wood Floor to Dry?
The total drying time can vary depending on the extent of the damage and how saturated your wood floors become before you can remove the excess water. At a minimum, expect it to take several days. However, the drying time could extend into several weeks.
While drying your wood flooring, use a moisture meter to test it at least once daily. That allows you to monitor the degree of saturation and how it changes. Once you’re within 5 percent of what’s typical for your wood flooring, it’s generally considered dry.
Will Warped Wood Floors Go Back to Normal?
Whether your wood flooring will go back to normal after warping depends on the extent of the damage. Sometimes, minor buckling or swelling may resolve as the floor dries. In that case, you may end up with a reasonably flat floor or might only need some minor repairs.
More extensive buckling, cupping, or twisting is a different story. In those cases, the boards may not lie flat again. Additionally, sanding them to make them seem flat may require too much material removal, making replacement your only option.
How to Restore Wood Flooring After Water Damage
1. Assess the Situation
The steps you need to take to restore your wood flooring after water damage depends on the nature of the damage. In some cases, you may simply need to reseal them. In others, you might have to will cracks or replace boards.
Examine your wood floor for signs of damage. That way, you’ll know what you need to do to restore them.
2. Replace Damaged Boards
If any boards are damaged beyond repair but the bulk of your flooring is in good shape, you can remove and replace the damaged boards. Generally, you need to make sure you get the same type of wood. That ensures that, when you refinish your flooring, the new boards blend in well.
3. Sand the Surface
After you replace the damaged boards, it’s time to sand your wood floors. It’ll give you a fresh surface for the new finish, resulting in an even final look.
Usually, you’ll need to use a floor sander, going with the grain. Make sure to follow any directions provided by the floor sander manufacturer, as those will help you determine how quickly to move and how to avoid issues from improper sanding.
4. Clean Up Debris
Sanding creates a significant amount of dust and debris. After sanding, make sure to sweep your floor, removing as much dust and debris as possible.
Next, consider using a shop vac to remove more sawdust. Choose one that’s safe to use on wood flooring, ensuring it won’t leave scratches.
Once that’s done, you can use a more traditional vacuum with a hard floor attachment or setting. That gives you another chance to remove dirt and debris the other steps missed.
5. Repair Cracks
If you have any cracks, you’ll want to fill them before you apply the new finish. In most cases, repair putty is your best option. You can choose a color that matches your unfinished flooring color, opting for a stainable variety. With stainable wood putty, stains you apply during the finishing process will absorb, ensuring the final look is uniform.
6. Apply the New Stain
If you’re altering the color of your wood flooring, the next step is typically staining. You’ll need to choose a wood floor stain in your preferred hue.
In most cases, it’s best to test the stain in an inconspicuous spot before you apply it to your entire floor. There’s always a chance the stain will look different than the product packaging indicates. As a result, the test ensures you’re happy with the final color before you commit.
You’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on applying the stain. You might use a buffer, cloth, or another approach to apply a thin coating and wipe up excess.
Finally, let the stain cure following the manufacturer’s directions. Usually, that means waiting 48 to 72 hours, though the exact time can vary based on ambient conditions and the product line.
7. Apply the Finish
After you are done staining, it’s time to apply the finish. Again, you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s directions in regard to application processes and drying times.
Depending on the type of finish, you may apply it with a roller, brush, or rag. Usually, polyurethanes require brushes or rollers, while wood oils may need a buffing pad or microfiber cloth.
Apply thin layers as you work. Additionally, make sure you apply the recommended number of coats, waiting the required time between each one.
After that, you can allow the finish to cure. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to see the estimated drying times.
Can Mold Grow Under Hardwood Floors?
Mold can grow under hardwood floors if the conditions are correct. Often, water leaks introduce moisture, creating conditions where mold can grow. At times, it may start to develop in as little as 48 to 72 hours.
Should You Call a Professional?
If you have a water leak that harms your wood floors, calling a professional isn’t a bad idea. This is especially true if there is a significant amount of standing water.
Water damage repair specialists have the right tools and equipment to get your floors drying quickly. They will have pumps that are far more effective than your standard wet vac and commercial-grade wet vacs.
Plus, professionals have access to commercial-grade dehumidifiers and fans. They also know how to navigate potentially dangerous water safety and disinfect surfaces correctly to discourage mold and mildew growth without harming your flooring.
Further, water damage specialists typically have the tools and knowledge to restore your wood floors once they’re dry. As a result, with a single call, you may be able to reach someone who can handle the entire job correctly.
Finally, if you’re making an insurance claim relating to the water damage, your insurer may require you to work with a professional. Speak with your insurer to determine necessary steps, ensuring you approach the situation correctly.
At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to dry a wood floor after a water leak. Generally, you’ll want to remove excess water, disinfect, give the boards room to swell and use dehumidifiers and fans to speed up the process. By taking quick action, you can limit the amount of damage, increasing the odds that you can restore your wood floor once it’s dry.
Did you learn everything you wanted to learn about how to dry a wood floor after a water leak? If so, let us know in the comments below. Additionally, if you know someone worried about what to do if their wood flooring is damaged by a water leak, make sure to share the article.