MAINTAINING WOOD FLOOR HINTS*
First and foremost, caring for wood floors requires you know what kind of wood floor you have. If you recently installed a wood floor, you probably did a lot of research before purchasing and received material on how to care for it. Keep that information handy. You should review and follow the manufacturers’ guidelines for cleaning and maintenance.
Whether or not you know a lot about your floor, keep in mind:
WATER IS NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Water is not good for floors, period! We’ve underlined that because it is easy to assume puddles of water should be mopped up immediately and still believe it is okay to damp mop wood floors. Best practice dictates you should not only soak up water spills but also thoroughly dry the area with a soft clean cloth. Moreover, do not damp mop your wood floor unless you are prepared to immediately rub it dry with a soft clean cloth. Why? Water that soaks in warps wood. Plus, water can dull and mar the finish of wood.
DIRT IS NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Dust, dirt and grime can scratch food floors and dull the finish. Some remedies are to dust-mop, sweep or vacuum often. Put down walk-off mats at entrance doorways. Place runners or rugs in heavy traffic areas. Pad the feet of your furniture.
SUNLIGHT IS NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Overtime everything fades/discolors with exposure to sunlight – wood is no exception. Sheers or curtains or blinds mitigate the effect of sunlight.
AREA RUGS WITH RUBBER OR VINYL BACKING ARE NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Pay attention to the backing on any rug you place on your wood floors. Rubber and vinyl can react with some floor finishes causing discoloration or dulling.
PLASTIC IS ARE NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Left in one place, plastic will adhere to the finish of wood leading to discoloration – think plastic chairs, end tables etc. A red plastic table left in one place may stain the floor red.
HIGH HUMIDITY AND BIG TEMPERATURE SWINGS ARE NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Try to keep room temperatures in a 10 to 15 degree range and humidity around 50 to 55%.
NAIL POLISH, LIQUOR AND PERFUME ARE NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Anything with an alcohol base will stain and dull wood.
SHOES, ESPECIALLY STILLETO HIGH HEEL SHOES, ARE NOT WOOD FRIENDLY
Try parking shoes at the door --tough to mandate, worth the effort.
WOOD IS BEAUTIFUL, ENDURING, FASHIONABLE AND ECO FRIENDLY
Do not let all these warnings put you in a panic. People have been living with wood floors for centuries. They hold up even with lots of wear and tear. A little bit of care will keep them looking brand new longer. When they get scuffed or dulled or stained to a point that bothers you, call a professional. A solution is at hand.
WOOD FLOORS ARE NOT ALL THE SAME! THE FINISH MAKES A DIFFERENCE!
The way your floor has been finished will determine how you should clean it. If you have a new floor you probably know or easily can find out what the finish is. If you do not know the finish, there are some ways to figure that out.
FIRST THINGS FIRST – DETERMINE YOUR WOOD FLOOR’S FINISH
There are two basic finishes: surface and penetrating.
Penetrating finishes soak into/are absorbed by the wood. Natural oils are popular penetrating finishes – think tung or linseed oil. Generally wax is used as a top coat to seal and protect the wood. (For commercial spaces or highly trafficked areas, acrylic finishes may be injected into the wood. They may be urethane or non-urethane based. )
How do I know if my floor has a penetrating oil finish with wax top coat? First, rub your hand over the surface of the wood. Can you feel the grain? If you can, probably the floor has a penetrating finish. Next, take a razor or other similar sharp blade and rub across the wood. If no flaking occurs but scuffing or smudging appears, odds are good the floor has a penetrating finish.
How do I clean my penetrating finished wood floor? Use the product(s) recommended by your wood floor manufacturer. If you do not know the manufacturer, assuming your penetrating finished wood floor has a wax protective coat, you can use a product made for wax finishes. Follow the directions carefully paying particular attention to how the product should be applied, how long it should be left on, how it should be cleaned off and if a new coat of wax should be applied. (To determine if you have a wax protective coating, in an unobtrusive spot, put 3 or 4 drops of water on the wood. If white spots appear under the drops in about 15 minutes, the wood is waxed. Remove the white spots by applying a little floor wax with dampened steel wool. Conversely, if a dark spot appears and the water is absorbed, the wood has not been finished with wax or the top coat has worn off and needs to be replaced.)
Old Wood Floors may have been stained and finished with varnish or shellac and sometimes topped with wax. Test for wax as above. To test for old varnish or shellac, scratch the surface in an out of the way spot. If flaking occurs, probably the wood has been top coated with varnish or shellac. Do not use water or any other liquid to clean old wood floors (pre 1970).
Surface finishes are not absorbed into the wood. They serve as a protective coating that stave off the immediate deleterious effects of liquid spills. Typically the finish is urethane based – think polyurethane. (Typically, engineered wood floors (hardwood veneer fused to plywood) are treated as a surface finish hardwood floor.)
How do I know if my floor has a surface finish? Find a spot of flooring that is hidden or generally not seen. Put a small dot of paint remover or nail polish remover on that spot. If bubbling occurs, odds are good you have a surface finish. Next, take a razor blade or similar sharp blade and rub across the wood. If in the process you scrape up flakes of clear material, odds are even greater that you have a surface finish.
How do I clean my surface finished wood floor? Surface finishes are relatively easy to maintain. Use the product recommended by the floor manufacturer or generic hardwood floor cleaner. WARNING: Do not use waxes, oils, oil soaps or petroleum based cleaners on a surface finished wood floor. They will harm the finish.
Vacuum frequently. Best practice is to use a vacuum with a hardwood floor attachment and to do it at least once a week. Dust and tracked in dirt are your floors enemy (think dull, scratched floors). Only use a vacuum without the hardwood attachment if you can turn off the beater bar or rotating brushes.
Sweep frequently. Best practice is to sweep with a broom with exploded tips /synthetic fiber ends weekly or more often.
Dust-mop frequently. Best practice is to use a clean, lint and dust-free, dust-mop weekly or more often.
Damp Mop (Only if you must). (WARNING: Do not use a damp mop period on a sealed and waxed hardwood floors.) If you find it necessary to damp mop, use a soft clean mop and clean water and refresh water in mop bucket often. Wring as much water as possible out of mop before putting it on the floor. Mop a small section at a time. Dry each section immediately with a dry, soft, clean cloth or mop.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE INEVITABLE ACCIDENT HAPPENS?
Clean up liquids or solids as quickly as possible. If food has dried on surface, carefully scrape it up. When necessary clean spot with lightly dampened clean cloth and then dry with another clean cloth. If your floor has been finished with a wax top coat, apply a little wax to the spot and buff.
Alcohol based liquid spills on waxed floor should be wiped up immediately. If necessary, clean up with a cloth to which a few drops of ammonia have been applied. Wipe up with a clean dry cloth and then re wax if needed.
Scuff marks should clean up with the floor cleaner suggested by your wood floor manufacturer.
Mold and mildew usually can be cleaned up with the wood floor cleaner recommended by you wood floor manufacturer.
Sticky spills often can be lifted with scotch tape.
The National Wood Floor Association has helpful troubleshooting and repair tips online at: http://woodfloors.org/troubleshooting&repair as does the American Hardwood Information Center at http://www.hardwoodinfo.com. Some of their suggestions may seem challenging at best or daunting at worst. That is when it is time to call a professional wood floor restorer – their “magical powers” can be amazing.
*Many thanks to The National Wood Floor Association and the American Hardwood Information Center for help in putting this information together.