Solid hardwood floors repay a little care, with a lifetime of value. When you first glimpse at a solid hardwood floor, you sense richness, warmth and natural beauty. Gradually, you get to know its distinct personality -- visual harmonies, the traces of history in the forest and in your home.
Take a closer look, and appreciate the color and pattern of the floor’s strips, planks or parquetry. Read the grain: Is it bold-textured oak? Subdued maple or cherry?
Check the condition of the underlying wood and the finish that protects it. Are there signs of neglect to erase (it’s not difficult), or do you see a well-tended surface that needs just a light touch to maintain it?
Nature’s diversity lets you create dramatic looks with unique textures, colors, patterns and styles of solid hardwood flooring.
Oak and maple are the most popular hardwoods used in flooring. Ash, beech, birch, cherry, hickory and walnut are other favorites for floors and decorative accents.
Solid hardwood floors are among the easiest to keep clean. Protect their warmth and character with simple, everyday cleaning techniques. It is important to know how to prevent damage to your solid hardwood floors.
Perhaps your hardwood floors were installed just a few years ago, but you haven't taken care of them and now they look old. What can you do? Before you do anything, check the condition of the finish and the wood to see whether they need special cleaning or more involved repair.
Follow these steps to evaluate the condition of your hardwood floor, and its finish.
Finish Condition: Has the finish been worn off or is it just dirty? See if the finish is dull, chipped, scraped or gouged. To test if the finish has worn off, begin in a high-traffic area and pour one to two tablespoons of water onto the floor. If the water soaks in immediately and leaves a darkened spot, the finish is worn and water can damage the wood. If the water soaks in after a few minutes and darkens the wood only slightly, the finish is partially worn. If the water beads on top, the surface is properly sealed. Repeat this test in low- and medium-traffic areas.
Wood Condition: It the finish is worn, the wood may have been damaged. Are there stains, burns, cuts, gouges, holes, cracks or warped boards? If the wood is damaged, repair or replacement may be required before you deep clean your floor or apply a maintenance coat.
The same care and maintenance techniques are used for all finishes in good condition, but when it comes to removing stains or restoring the finish, methods differ. If you don't know what kind of finish your floor has, ask your contractor or Realtor, or try these simple tests:
Surface Finishes: (pre-finished floors, polyurethane, water-based urethane and catalyzed).
Nearly all floors installed today have surface finishes, mostly polyurethane. They are often glossy and may look like a layer of clear plastic on top of the wood. A small amount of paint remover in an inconspicuous area of the floor will cause the surface finish to bubble (unless it is a water-based urethane, in that case there will be no reaction). Surface finishes shield floors from harm by forming a protective layer on top of the wood.
Penetrating Seals: (acrylics, oils and waxes)
Oils and waxes usually have a satin or matte finish. If you can feel the wood grain when you run your hand across the surface, it’s most likely a penetrating seal. Paint remover will have no effect on a penetrating seal, but wax stripper or ammonia will soften and whiten the surface. Oils and waxes penetrate the surface of the floor protecting the wood from within.
Your hardwood floor will eventually need extra care. It’s here that much controversy exists.
Damp Mopping: This is the fastest and best way to deep-clean solid hardwood floors. Depending on how much use your floor gets, you may have to mop it as often as once a week. Use a neutral pH wood cleaner and water, or manufacturer recommended products. Wet the mop and wring so it’s about half-dry. Wet the floor with the mop. Dip the mop into clean water, wring it as dry as you can and mop over the floor again.
Some professionals recommend that you damp mop your hardwood floor and others cringe at this suggestion. Just remember, if your floor’s finish is in good shape and mopping is done correctly, the water won’t penetrate even the oil and wax finishes. You're cleaning the finish, not the wood, so don't use water if the finish is in poor shape.
Heavy-Duty Mopping: If floors are property sealed, the little extra water and cleaner required will not injure your hardwood floor, but use common sense.
Vinegar: Often prescribed to clean hardwood floors -- does nothing for removing grease and soil.
If you can't restore your solid hardwood floor’s luster with deep cleaning or by simply buffing, you may want to apply a maintenance coat. Waxing is an easy way to restore your hardwood floor’s natural beauty. Though a controversial treatment for surface finishes, floor polish or wax can give you a good-looking floor in a matter of minutes. If you don't want to apply a wax to your surface finish, consult a professional.
Pros: Wax can be easily cleaned, buffed and re-waxed to make it look like its original condition. Wear and tear will be on the wax, not the finish. It is easily stripped and reapplied.
Cons: Waxing may limit some refinishing and re-coating options down the road. If not properly stripped, the wax can cause adhesion problems when re-coating the surface.
Only wax a surface finish if the original finish is in poor shape and you don’t plan to refinish your floor in the near future.