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How to Care For Wood Floors

Enlighten a part of your brain that brings you back to nature by learning how to care for wood floors.

Hardwood floors are designed to enlighten a part of our brains that bring us back to nature — right in the comfort of our own homes!

But, that back-to-nature feeling can be expensive. The average hardwood flooring can range from $5 to $8 per square foot, with stronger and rarer woods being even higher. Whether you installed them yourself or moved into a house with them, hardwood floors are an investment.

If you don’t maintain your floors properly, you’ll drastically decrease the lifespan of the wood. Some modern-day hardwood floors can last up to 50 years. Without the right maintenance, however, this life expectancy could be cut to as low as 15 years. Similarly, a wood with an expectancy of 20 years can easily be shortened to 12 if improperly preserved.

But, taking care of your hardwood floors doesn’t have to be an added stress on your daily life. Follow these 11 simple tips for clean, healthy floors that will last beyond their lifetime.

1. Know your floor.

There are a variety of woods to choose from; light to dark, red to white, wide to narrow. Each adds a unique design element to the room. However, for cleaning maintenance purposes, you want to focus less on the wood and more on the wood’s finish.

There are two main types of hardwood floor finishes: wax and polyurethane. To know which you have, do “the water test.” Drip a couple droplets of water on the floor. If the water beads and doesn’t soak in, you likely have a polyurethane finish. If it soaks in after several minutes, it is likely wax. Knowing which type of finish your floor has can help determine how to appropriately clean, maintain, buffer, and seal the floors.

2. Dust hardwood floors daily.

Dust and debris can quickly create microscopic scratches in the finish of your flooring. These scratches not only dull the look of your floor, but they also expose the wood underneath to pollutants, debris, stains, and scratches.

To avoid this, you should dust your hardwood floors with a microfiber mop every day. Microfiber cloths use static electricity to trap dirt and particles that cause scratching. Be sure to keep the mop on the floor, as this will keep the electricity flowing and the dirt will stay trapped on the pad.

3. Vacuum and mop weekly.

Show your wood floors some love with a weekly cleaning. Although weekly seems often, this cleaning frequency is crucial to maintaining a healthy shine. Vacuuming and mopping will allow for a deeper clean, further removing any particles that snuck in during the week.

When you vacuum, use the bare floor setting. Don’t use a vacuum with a beater bar attachment or exposed wheels, as these can scratch the finish.

Do not use a wet mop or steam mop. Moisture causes wood to swell (and not enough moisture causes the wood to shrink). In this way, climate changes and heavy cleaning solutions can cause your wood to swell or shrink. This pressure can create damage, injury, crack, and scratches. Using a lot of water on your hardwood floors will dull the floor finish, stain the pores of the wood, and modify the wood structure.

In the same way, you should avoid a steam mop unless you have a strong ceiling fan or air conditioner that can quickly balance the moisture and the heat from the steam.

  • Instead, use a wood-specific cleaning solution.
  • Saturate a rag or sponge mop in a natural wood cleaning solution.
  • Wring it out so that it’s damp — not wet.
  • Mop the floor with the wood cleaner. You want to mop with a gentle touch, using only the lightest amount of cleanser possible.
  • Be sure to clean with the grain of the wood.
  • Rinse the mop with clean water. Wring it out again so it’s damp — not wet.
  • Mop the floor with the clean water.
  • Wipe it up with a dry towel.
  • Turn on any air conditioning units or ceiling fans to help dry the floors and avoid moisture-related damage.

4. Polish monthly.

Every month, you should lightly polish your hardwood floors. This will refresh the look and functionality of the finish. As discussed earlier, hardwood floors often get microscopic scratches in the finish, due to dust and debris. Polish helps to fill in those scratches to create a more lasting surface finish. Protect the front line (the finish) and you protect the general (the wood).

It’s important to use wood polish as opposed to wax, as too much wax can tear down the protective layers of the wood itself. Instead, use polish and a light buffering agent or mop.

5. Use rugs.

Debris and dust not only scratches the floor, but can also seep down into the pores of the wood for long-term damage. Throw rugs can help prevent tracked-in debris from harming floors, and it can also minimize the weight impact. Put rugs in doorways and in high-traffic areas, like the kitchen sink or under the desk.

6. Don't walk in heels or cleats.

A 125-pound woman in high heels can cause 8,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. On sensitive hardwood floors, this can cause significant damage, where scratches and dents are inevitable.

Similarly, keep your pets’ nails short and clean. Pets track in a lot of gunk, and their nails can quickly cause the floor to dull and scuff.

7. Use furniture protectors.

Put felt protectors on the bottom of your furniture to prevent scuffing, scratching, and weight-related damage. However, these protectors can pick up debris and hold on to them, causing even more scratches on the floor. Thus, you should change these protectors every three months, especially on chairs that are moved often.

8. Clean stains and marks immediately.

Wood attracts stains. These stain particles settle into the pores of the wood, and it can be even harder to clean than carpet or upholstery. In this way, it’s important to always clean any spills or marks immediately.

If the stain is on the surface, it has likely only gotten into the wax finish. You can usually clean these spills quickly with a wood-based cleaner and a little elbow grease. If the stain has penetrated deeper, you likely have an oil finish on your floors. For an oil finish, try rubbing the area with a soft cloth soaked in water and dishwashing detergent. This will help break down any grease or spills below the surface. Rinse with water and dry thoroughly.

If there is a hardened substance on your wood floor (like gum or old food), use ice to loosen it. Then gently scrape it off with a credit card or other plastic scraper. Wipe the area with a soft, damp cloth. Dry the area.

9. Keep wood out of sunlight.

UV rays can cause wood to fade and stain, and excessive heat causes wood swelling and harm. Like humans, most wood will age and “wrinkle” from continued exposure to sun rays. Pull down your shades or curtains on especially sunny days (p.s. almost all floors and furniture can be bleached by the sun). You should also rotate furniture and rugs periodically so you’ll have even-toned wood aging and lightening without dark patches or marks.

10. Use a humidifier.

Because excessive heat causes swelling, it’s important to protect your wood when you turn the HVAC system on during the cold winter months. Using a humidifier will level out the amount of moisture in the wood to avoid shrinkage or swelling — both of which heavily damage wood flooring.

11. Don't clean with certain products.

You always want to keep it gentle on your hardwood floors. Many traditional cleaning solutions are too intense for sensitive surfaces. Here are some things you should never use on your wood:

  • Oil soaps
  • Liquid or paste wax
  • Steel wool pads or other metal scouring pads
  • 2-in-1 cleaners with acrylics or urethane
  • Vinyl or tile cleaners
  • Self-polishing products
  • Products with lemon or citrus scent
  • Products that contain silicon

The Bottom Line

Always use a soft touch with gentle products to protect the natural glow and health of the wood. Proper maintenance will keep your hardwood floors fresh, beautiful, and brilliant for years to come.


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