Sanding and Polishing Timber Floors in Older Homes – The Most Common Issues You May Encounter

I was quoting an old floor for a professional couple recently when the client pulled out a magazine, put it up to my face and said "I want our floors to look exactly like this." It is not practical to expect an existing timber floor in an older home to end up looking the same as a new feature floor that has been freshly laid in a display home. Existing older timber floors can have any number of imperfections which can impact on the overall look of the finished product. Listed here are some of the most common imperfections you may confront.


Over time, older homes generally have their fair share of spills, accidents and leaks, so it would be reasonable to expect some degree of staining in timber floors after the old floor coverings have been removed. Depending on what has caused the stain, the good news is that some will sand out completely, and others will sand out to a degree. Stains that are generally impossible to remove are:

  • Animal urine
  • Rust stains around nails
  • Some water stains that have been exposed to a water source over an extended period of time
  • Burns

Cuts and gouges

It is common to find utility knife cuts around the perimeter of rooms which is caused from carpet layers at some previous time while cutting the carpet to size along side the skirting board. These cuts, along with any deep scratches or gouges will over time, allow moisture to penetrate deeper into the timber at that particular point. After the floor has been sanded and prepared for coating, although the actual scratch or cut may have been completely sanded out, it is common that a darker discolouration will still be present where the scratch was located after the coating has been applied.

Walls removed

After removing the old floor coverings, it may be revealed that at some previous stage the configuration of the rooms have been changed by the removal of a wall or two. It is also common that the kitchen cabinetry has been extended or changed shape over the years. It will be noticeable as a darker moisture mark in the shape of a wall or a cabinet stained into the timber boards. Generally these stains will not sand out completely, and once again will depend on how much moisture the floor has been exposed to. If it is in a kitchen, it would more likely to be a permanent stain as it would have been exposed to more moisture than for example the living areas.

Wood borers and termites

Depending on the type of timber, you may encounter some damage to boards from borers or termites. In many cases the extent of the damage will not be revealed until the floor is initially sanded. If the damage is relatively minor and has not affected the structural integrity of a particular board, it is possible to fill them with suitable filler that is closely colour matched to the particular board. If the affected board is starting to flex when foot pressure is applied, the board would generally need to be replaced. If board replacement is required, used timber may need to be sourced to match the colour of the older boards, as staining new boards to match old will take a little skill to achieve a good result.