Smelly Kitchen Floor

copyright 2001 G.G. Alonzy

Dear NH,
We have a laminate floor in our kitchen and dining room. Then, our dishwasher hose developed a leak, but we didn't know it. We don't even know how long it had been broken… months, we guess!

The laminate flooring started to warp and that is how we found out something was wrong. We want to put down a new floor but the subfloor has been wet for quite some time and now, after being exposed, smells really bad. We are trying to dry it out, but how do we get rid of the smell?

The odor is being caused by mildew that has grown under the flooring due to the excessive moisture. Drying out the floor is the first step and it should eliminate much but possibly not the entire odor. This drying process could take a week or two, so be patient (I know it's tough to live with the mess but hang in there!). Using fans and keeping the heat up can speed things along. If the subfloor is warped even slightly you must replace it. If the subfloor is still flat, there are a few steps you can take to lessen or even eliminate the odor.

There may be areas that have become wet that will not dry very quickly, such as underneath the cabinets surrounding the dishwasher. If the dampness appears to extend under them, you can try to remove the kick-boards under the cabinets to allow air to circulate. Be careful doing this, since the cabinets can be damaged. If your kitchen has vinyl cove moldings under the cabinets, they will cover any new wood that may be needed to replace the kickboards. I can't offer any specific guidance on this procedure since it depends on the construction of your cabinets. Also, if the flooring is partially in the way removing the kickboards may be more difficult or impossible. Eventually, all the flooring will dry up, even under the cabinets. It will just take a lot longer to do so!

Once the floor is thoroughly dry, wash it with a mildew-killing solution of one cup of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water. Let it soak into the surface of the floor for a while (ten to fifteen minutes should do it) before rinsing it off. Again allow the floor to dry thoroughly. This should eliminate much of the odor. Try not to get the bleach mixture on any finished surfaces such as cabinets… unless you need to clean them also. Most modern finishes will not be permanently damaged by the bleach mixture but, if you are unsure, wipe them off immediately or just keep them dry in the first place!

If your laminate flooring is "loose-laid" or "engineered flooring" which does not use an adhesive, you can take the additional step of sealing the subfloor with any quality clear wood sealing product, such as Thompson's Water Seal. This will further seal in the residual odors from the mildew. Just check with the manufacturer of your flooring to be sure that this will not cause any compatibility problems with the flooring. It probably won't but it's always good to check!

If your laminate floor is fully glued down, the adhesive should offer additional odor protection so sealing the floor is probably unnecessary or, again depending on the manufacturer's recommendations, even undesirable!

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