Cleaning and maintaining a hardwood floor is very important to how it looks for years after the installation. When properly maintained, a hardwood floor can look as beautiful as the day it was installed and for many decades later. While the hardness of the species does play a role in how well it will hold up to the hustle and bustle of daily life, it really all comes down to how well the floor is cared for.
Cleaning and caring for a hardwood floor depends on how it is finished, rather than the type of wood it is. This is where many owners make mistakes in the products they use to clean their hardwood floors.
How is Your Floor Finished?
It is important to understand that the approach to cleaning your hardwood floor first depends on how your floor has been finished. There are two broad categories of finish types:
- Surface-sealed finishes (the predominant type of finish)
- Urethane, polyurethane & polyacrylic
- Lacquered, varnished & shellacked
- Though technically surface-sealed finishes, lacquer, varnish and shellac are not as spill-resistant as urethane, polyurethane and polyacrylic. They need to be cleaned as if they were penetrating-seal-treated or oil-treated floors.
- Penetrating-seal-treated & oil-treated finishes
- wax finish (not so common anymore)
- oil-based finish
If you are not sure of the exact finish type on your hardwood floor, try putting a small amount of water on the floor. Leave it sitting for about 10 minutes. If there is a spot on the floor where the water was, chances are the finish is a wax or oil base. If not, the floor was likely finished using a surface sealer, such as urethane, polyurethane, or polyacrylic. Don’t want to use water? Try running a finger across the floor. If there is a smudge, the floor was finished with a penetrating sealer rather than a surface sealer.
If the floor has been finished with a surface finish such as lacquer, varnish, or shellac, it should be treated as though it was finished with a penetrating finish, because these options are not as spill resistant as other surface sealant options.
The Basics: Common to All Floor Finishes
The beauty of hardwood floor finishes is that, even though there are finish specific guidelines to follow, there are several things to do for cleaning and maintenance that apply to all of them.
Place door mats by doors, requiring everyone who enters the home to either wipe their feet or remove their shoes. Dirt particles carried in on the shoes will scratch the surface of the finish, making the floor appear aged before its time. For high traffic areas, place non-staining rugs on the floor to protect its surface. Don’t forget to place mats around areas where water may be an issue, such as in front of the kitchen sink and dishwasher.
Use furniture protectors under all furniture legs to prevent the floor from getting scratched when furniture moves. This is especially important if there is sectional furniture in the home, known to move frequently.
Sweep the floors regularly, or use a vacuum without a beater bar to clean the dust, dirt, and other debris from the surface of the floor. Doing this daily will minimize the damage to the floor.
Wipe spills clean as they happen to avoid letting any excess moisture seep into the flooring. Do not allow standing water to remain on the floor.
Cleaning Surface Sealed Floors
Once it has been determined the floor is surface sealed, as most new floors are, sweep the floor using a broom or Swiffer to remove all dirt and dust particles.
Fill a bucket with water and mix in a little dish soap, or other solution specifically manufactured for surface sealed hardwood floors. Mop the floor, being careful to avoid standing water anywhere in the room.
Dry and buff the floor using clean, soft towels until the floor is completely dry and shining.
Cleaning Other Finish Types
Once it has been determined that the floor is either not sealed at all or has a penetrating sealer, sweep and vacuum the floor to remove all dirt, dust, and debris. As water cannot be used on this type of finish, it is important to get rid of all the dirt without using dry methods.
Use a dry, soft, cloth to buff away scuffs and any stains on the floor surface.
Using a liquid wax stripper designed for the floor finish at hand, follow the directions on the product labeling, applying to the floor accordingly, with plenty of ventilation. Allow the floor to dry.
Using a wax formula specifically for the floor finish at hand, apply a thin layer of wax according to the manufacturer’s directions. Allow to dry and apply a second coat, if desired.
Using either a buffing machine rented from a local hardware store or clean, dry, soft towels, polish the floor to its beautiful sheen.
Depending on the nature of the stain, there may be a specific way to handle it to protect the floor.
- Water Stains: Remove using steel wool or sand paper and then refinish the floor.
- Cigarette Burns: Remove using a dampened piece of steel wool.
- Heel Marks: Remove using steel wool and floor cleaning, rubbing the spots vigorously.
- Ink: Use a floor cleaner and steel wool to thoroughly wash the area and attempt to remove the stain. If it is still there, sand down the spot and refinish.
- Chewing Gum: Use ice to harden the gum until it is brittle enough to break off. Use a cleaner with a cloth to remove the remaining “gunk”.
As humidity conditions change throughout the year as a result of heating and air conditioning systems, wood floors will contract and expand. Extended periods of time where floors are contracting and expanding will lead to squeaking, which though annoying for most owners, can be fixed with relative ease.
To get rid of a squeak, use a liquid wax, powdered soap, talcum powder, or powdered graphite between any floor boards that are rubbing together. Though this should correct the problem; if it does not, use a two inch finishing nail on both edges of the board and hide it with color matched putty.
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