How to Fix Squeaky Floors, According to Pros and Experienced DIYers

published Jul 5, 2023
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Older homes that have a lot of character are generally desirable in real estate, but sometimes that feature can come with less-than-appealing quirks — like floors that squeak. While some folks can overlook a creaky floorboard or two, there are a number of quick fixes you can try to solve the issue if you’re not one of them. And even if those don’t work, there are a handful of other DIY solutions that could work instead.

It all starts with trying to figure out the source of the squeaking. It could be as simple as a seasonal issue that appears (and disappears) as the temperature and humidity levels fluctuate. On the flip side, it could also indicate a larger problem lurking underneath your floors. Whatever the case may be, I talked to contractors and DIY experts about how to identify the root cause, when it’s time to call in a pro, and which DIY solutions homeowners can try to silence the squeakiness once and for all. 

What Causes Squeaky Floors

In order to understand what causes a floor to squeak, it may be helpful to understand how a floor is constructed. Mindy Otten-Chen, owner of Handymin Help and a contractor in Brooklyn — who’s also a member of Matriarchy Build — says that horizontal pieces of lumber called joists are installed to create the support structure for the floor. After that, a subfloor is placed on top to create a flat surface, which is either made of plywood sheets or wood planks that are installed at an angle across the joists. 

“Typically, these pieces of subfloor are getting held down with ring-shank nails or screws and construction adhesive,” Otten-Chen says. The finished floor is then laid on top of the subfloor, whether it’s carpet, tile, hardwood floors, and so on.

Now that you have the basics of how a floor is built, it’s easier to explain how it can start to squeak over time. According to Gabriela Narvaez, the owner and general contractor of Guild Properties who is also part of Matriarchy Build, it’s common for homes to settle as they age, resulting in some floor movement. 

“Also, changes in temperature cause floors to expand and contract, creating crevices and grooves between floorboards as well as making the nail holes bigger,” says Narvaez. Eventually, a gap can form between the floor and subfloor or between the subfloor and joists, causing the wood to rub against other wood or against the nails. That friction produces a squeaky sound.    

Quick Fixes to Try First 

The good news about most squeaky floors is that they generally stem from minor issues that can easily be fixed. Before deep-diving into an extensive floor repair project, here are a few surface-level solutions you could try first to see if it stops the squeaking.

Raise the humidity in your home.

If your floors are squeaking due to humidity changes, Mallory Micetich, a home expert at Angi, suggests raising the humidity levels in your home. Wood contracts when the air is dry, resulting in gaps between floorboards or around nails. “Using a humidifier could add enough moisture to stop the squeaks,” Micetich notes.  

Sprinkle some powder on the area.

Another easy solution is to sprinkle the area with either baby powder, baking soda, talcum powder, or powdered graphite, according to Narvaez. “These powders act as lubricants for the wood and should keep the boards from rubbing together and squeaking,” she says. Simply brush the powder until it is fully worked into the crack, and keep filling until you no longer hear a squeak under your step. Just make sure to wipe the area very well afterwards, advises Narvaez, “because powders make floors extremely slippery.”

Spray the area with a lubricant.

Similar to powders, Micetich says another quick fix is to lubricate the floorboards with a spray. It can fill in any troublesome gaps that cause squeaking sounds. There’s even a product called Stop Creak, which is specifically designed to stop floors from squeaking. Just make sure the spray is safe for use on your floor’s surface before applying it.   

Place a rug and rug pad on the area.

If the above methods don’t solve the problem, placing a rug with a thick rug pad underneath it can help dampen the squeaky sounds. It’s perhaps the easiest solution, especially “if you don’t want to get into all the mechanical fixes,” Otten-Chen says.

Credit: Trinette Reed | Stocksy

When to Call a Pro

If the squeaking is limited to just a floorboard or two, it’s generally not indicative of a bigger problem. “However, if your floorboards squeak over a large area,” warns Micetich, “you may be dealing with a weak subfloor.” Replacing the subfloor can be complicated and expensive, which is why she says it’s a job better left to an experienced professional. 

Another tell-tale sign that your creaking floorboards could be the result of a more substantial problem are visible cracks in foundations and on the corners of doors and windows, according to Narvaez. Foundation issues can arise from any number of things, such as settling, pests, or water damage. “If you are seeing these, it’s important to address the problem immediately with a professional,” Narvaez advises.  

“If your floors are starting to have lots of high and low spots, it could mean the structure is moving and could be worth looking into,” says Otten-Chen. “You can always talk to a structural engineer for verification of anything that is worrisome.”

Micetich also believes you shouldn’t try to repair your floors if you aren’t an experienced DIYer. “If you don’t have the time, tools, or talent to repair your floors yourself, bring in an experienced pro who can get the job done quickly and correctly,” she says.

Credit: Lula Poggi

How to Fix a Squeaky Floor 

If the surface-level fixes above didn’t stop the squeaking, there are some alternatives you can try to solve the issue, depending on whether you have access to the subfloor, such as through a basement or crawlspace, or whether you are limited to fixing the issue from the top of the floor.

If You Have Access to the Subfloor:

According to Otten-Chen, to eliminate squeaking from below the floor, you’ll want to stiffen up the subfloor boards against the joists. Here are the steps she recommends: 

Step 1: Find the squeaky source.

Have someone walk around the area on top of the floor while you inspect the subfloor from below and pinpoint where the squeaking sound is coming from. 

Step 2: Look for gaps between the subfloor and joist.

Inspect the squeaky area to see if there is any visible space between the subfloor and joist.

Step 3: Secure the subfloor to the joist.

Apply construction adhesive to wood shims and slide them into the space between the subfloor and joist. Alternatively, you could try a product called Squeak-Ender, which attaches a threaded rod to your joist and subfloor so you can tighten it up.

If You Don’t Have Access to the Subfloor:

In homes where you don’t have access to the subfloor, you’ll have to fix the squeak by screwing through the floorboards from the top down.

“They make different kits to either attach through carpet or hardwood flooring that will allow you to snap the head of the screw off after placing it into the joist from above,” Otten-Chen notes. 

Beth Pointer, owner of Done Construction and a member of Matriarchy Build, says you can also use trim-head screws to secure floorboards from above. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Find the joist.

Use a stud finder to locate the joist beneath the squeaky floorboard. Mark it with a pencil or chalk.

Step 2: Drill a pilot hole.

Using a drill bit that is slightly smaller in size than the screw you are using, drill a pilot hole through the floorboard.

Step 3: Drill the screw through the floor.

Place the screw into the pilot hole, and drill it through the floorboard into the joist. Fill the hole with wood filler, and lightly sand the surface when it’s dry.