Cleaning your hardwood floors with the proper tools and products is essential for both the short-term and long-term protection and maintenance of your hardwood floors. It is important to know what type of finish is on your hardwood floors. This article is going to focus on floors finished with polyurethane, water-based finishes, acid finishes, and pre-finished with aluminum oxide and polyurethane. Floors finished with products such as Woca Oil or NuOil have specialized cleaning products and instructions.
Remove the Dirt and Debris
One of the most important steps you can take to prevent surface scratches is to remove the dirt and debris from the floor. I recommend vacuuming the floors with a soft bristle brush over sweeping with a broom, Swiffer dry cloth, or microfiber, which may sufficiently collect the debris, but then scratch the floor as the debris is dragged across the floor as you continue sweeping. I always tell my clients not to make the same mistake I made one day: I was in a rush and decided to vacuum my floors using the hard floor setting on the vacuum instead of the hardwood floor attachment I usually used. Yes, the hard floor setting stops the beater brush from rotating (the bristles on the beater brush are very stiff and meant to loosen dirt within carpet), but the plastic wheels on the vacuum scratched my floor from the back-and-forth motion! I have heard from my clients that the Dyson Ball and Roomba vacuums do well on hardwood floors, but I have not tested them myself.
Once the dirt and debris have been removed, I recommend cleaning the floors with Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner. I recommend Bona because it is readily available, although Woodwise is another great cleaner. These products have a slight disinfecting quality, but will not strip, dull or leave a waxy residue. These products also have an evaporation element in them, so the liquid is not "sitting" on your floor. This is a very simple spray and wipe with a microfiber towel. A microfiber if fine to use at this point in the cleaning process because the dirt particles have already been removed by the vacuum.
Please be careful not to pick-up the Bona Polisher! The Polisher is meant to be a recoat product. Unfortunately, I have seen many homeowners try to "refresh" their floors with the Polisher, and not knowing how to properly apply this product have left puddles of Polisher on their floor (which dry and cannot be easily removed) or have accidentally picked up the Polisher and have completely changed the sheen of their floors just by "cleaning" them.
What Not to UsE
Just as important as what to clean your hardwood floors with, I want to review what not to use. Let me just say that because you read something on the internet or see it on TV, does not mean that is is good to use on your wood floors! First, no water mopping or steam cleaners. Water warps wood. This is not to say that you can't take a damp (not wet) cloth to pick up a small spill; you just don't want to constantly expose your wood to buckets of water or inject steam into your wood.
Second, do not use vinegar, in any proportion with water, on your wood floor. Vinegar is an acid. The acid will strip the finish off your floor, effectively causing you to go through your finish too quickly. When your finish wears off too quickly, you will have to pay the money to recoat or refinish your floors more frequently.
Finally, do not use any cleaners or polishers with a wax, such as Old English, Murphy's Oil, or Mop-N-Glo. The wax in these cleaners will stay on the floor as a residue, which may not look good itself, plus it may hold debris on your floor (so your cleaning product is making your floor dirtier!). But most importantly, the wax will keep a new coat of finish from adhering. Instead of being able to keep the finish built up on your floors with a periodic recoat, the only option you will have it to do a more expensive and time consuming refinish.
With a little bit of time and knowledge, you will see how easy it is to care for your hardwood floors.
We know that hardwood floors are the most popular flooring choice for home buyers across the country and that their versatility goes with all styles – contemporary, traditional, country. But what is meant when hardwood floors are described as a “lifetime” flooring or a “lifelong” investment?
Let’s start with the question of “Whose life are we talking about?”. It is the life of the house. Yes, the house. Given that houses can stand for many generations – that is a long time! My own house was built in 1944 and we still have the original hardwood floors in our home. I talk to many homebuyers and homeowners about the balance between new designs and technology but “keeping the character” in these older homes and it generally comes down to three items - people want new kitchens and baths and old wood floors. Now let’s be honest: if you don’t appreciate some character and imperfections or want everything to be new, you don’t buy an old house!
So how do hardwood floors last a lifetime? To start, let’s take another look at the older homes. All the old homes were built with solid wood flooring. Engineered flooring (some portion of real wood on top of some sort of a backing) did not exist until relatively recently. While advances like engineered woods have expanded where we can install hardwood floors (i.e., over concrete and radiant heat), solid wood floors do afford us more options for repairs. In the couple of decades since engineered wood floors have become readily available and popular, homeowners have learned that although their engineered floors may have been initially “quick, easy, and less expensive”, an insufficient amount of real wood on top may not allow for the floors to be refinished when damage does occur. Additionally, many of the engineered floors are prefinished in whatever style is trending. If you can’t refinish your floors, you don’t have enough material to replace your damaged area, and you can’t find/buy more material because your floor style is no longer trending and therefore not being manufactured, you are faced with a very expensive and inconvenient full replacement of your floor.
In addition to the use of solid wood, we also need to consider the species of wood. In the older homes here in Utah, the wood builders used was mostly oak, plain-sawn and quarter-sawn, although we do see some maple. While hickory is “newer” in its use as a flooring material, I would like to include it with this discussion. These woods are classic/timeless woods that are readily available here in the USA. If the trees are still being grown, then we will always have the material available to replace damaged areas (no need to replace the entire floor!). Keep this in mind if you are considering exotic woods. While some exotic woods are considered classic/timeless domestic woods for the areas in which the trees grow (i.e., Brazilian Cherry, Santos Mahogany) and therefore SHOULD be available to us in the USA, do be cautious of the woods you have never heard of. Additionally, oak, maple and hickory are all fairly dense woods. The denser the wood, the better they will stand up to the traffic in our homes.
Finally, to help your hardwood floors last a lifetime you need to understand how to care for them. While one of the great benefits of hardwood floors is that they can be refinished to look like new, you don’t want to refinish your floors too often. Sanding your floor not only involves taking off the old finish, but also some of the wood. How much wood depends on how deep the scratches or other damage is. Once the wood has been sanded down to the tongue and groove, the life of your hardwood floor is over.
With the finishes being used today (polyurethane, water-based finishes, acid finishes), the long-term maintenance on hardwood floors is to do a periodic recoat. This is a one-day (for most homes) buff and apply one coat of finish to your floor. Floors are going to get worn; you just want the wear to happen in the finish. If the finish wears away, the damage will happen in the wood. The only way to fix damage to the wood is to completely sand the entire floor (more time and money than a recoat!). No finish manufacturer will say exactly when a recoat should be done as it is dependent on the amount and kind of traffic. I tell my clients that when you can see the dulling in the finish in the high traffic areas (hallways, direct path to the refrigerator, etc.) to give me a call. I can take a look and we can come up with a plan. If you keep up with the recoats, you will not need to refinish your floors as frequently, making your hardwood floors truly a "lifetime" floor.