How to Prevent Water Damage to Wood

RedbeaconHome GuidesCarpentry > How to Prevent Water Damage to Wood
How to Prevent Water Damage to Wood

Wood is one of the oldest and most trusted building materials in existence, and when it is properly cared-for, it can last for a very long time. Unfortunately, wood that is exposed to excessive moisture can stain, degrade, and even lose its structural integrity.

  1. 1.Dealing with Saturated Wood Furniture

    Fortunately, there are a number of seals, stains, and paints that are specifically designed to help outdoor wood survive in even extremely moist environments.

    Most quality wood furniture produced within the past few decades is protected by a protective layer or urethane; older furniture may be covered in a wax-based sealant or, in some cases, not protected at all. No matter the age of the furniture, however, significant exposure to water (especially in cases of flooding) can have a very detrimental effect. In a notice to museum curators, the National Park Service outlines the steps to be taken to protect wood furniture as follows:


    • Get the piece out of harm's way either by moving it or elevating it above pooling water

    • Dry the piece using a clean cotton cloth or paper towels, making sure to blot rather than scrub away moisture; a fan or dehumidifier may also be used to help reduce lingering moisture within the wood, though it is not recommended to aim fans directly at older pieces

    • Lower the temperature in the room to below 70 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the chance of mold growth

    • Remove and dry metal hardware (particularly iron) that has become soaked, as it may not only stain wood, but may also be hiding trapped water

  2. 2.Dealing with Saturated Wood Flooring

    Wood flooring that has been exposed to flooding conditions can be severely damaged if not handled properly. Though homeowners can certainly rent industrial strength fans that are designed to dry floors, improper use of these devices can cause damage that could have been avoided. In cases of saturated wood flooring, it is always best to hire a professional who knows how to dry hardwood (and the subfloor) gradually and evenly to prevent bowing, splitting, and mold or fungal growth caused by unseen moisture pockets.

  4. 3.Preventing Water Damage to Indoor Wood

    Homeowners can take all the precautions available, but when Mother Nature sends torrential rains or a pipe decides to burst, there's little anyone can do to stop it. Homeowners can, however, protect their indoor wood from less catastrophic instances of water exposure by performing proper maintenance.


    Indoor wood will almost always be covered by some sort of protective layer, but these layers must be reinforced periodically in order for them to do their job well. Polyurethane seals--whether oil or water-based--will typically require less maintenance than floors sealed with varnish or wax, but they do need to be refinished after a while. Water-based poly seals will generally need attention every 5 or 6 years; oil-based poly may keep its integrity for 10 years or so. Wax seals must be treated with liquid or paste wax to keep their luster and maintain a sufficient barrier against moisture damage. Wax-sealed flooring should also be stripped and re-waxed periodically (annually is probably the standard, but some prefer to perform this task more or less frequently).

  5. 4.Preventing Water Damage to Outdoor Wood

    Because it is constantly exposed to the elements, outdoor wood is far more prone to water damage than indoor wood. Fortunately, there are a number of seals, stains, and paints that are specifically designed to help outdoor wood survive in even extremely moist environments. Most folks seal their outdoor wood in the spring; it is a good idea to give decks and other outdoor additions a thorough inspection before sealing them to make sure that no serious damage has occurred to the wood over the winter.


    One of the best ways to prevent water damage to outdoor wood is to use a high-quality wood during construction. Cedar has long been a championed wood in outdoor additions because natural resins within the Cedar make it resistant to moisture and unappealing to insects. If you really want a low-maintenance, long-lasting installation, consider using a tropical hardwood like Ipe for your deck. Tropical hardwoods are far more expensive than your average pine, but their extreme density make them incredibly resistant to many of the perils that ruin other woods before their time.

Have a question? Get an answer from a qualified expert within 24 hours

5 pros ready to answer
27212 answered questions

1. What’s your question?

2. What else should our Experts know?

Ask a Carpentry Expert for prompt advice!

Get a Free Answer