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Caring for your hardwood floors

Caring for your hardwood floors

Hardwood floors add character and charm to a home and are a selling point for both home sales and rentals. To protect the beauty of hardwood flooring, proper maintenance is essential to preserve the floor’s finish and the wood beneath. By observing some simple guidelines, you will be able to continue to enjoy the warmth and beauty that hardwood floors will add to your home for years to come.


Keep grit off the floor: Fine particles of grit and dirt act like sandpaper and abrade the floor finish. Vacuum at least once a week. Dust mop or sweep in between weekly cleanings.

Don’t overclean: Too much cleaning will abrade the finish, causing it to wear faster. Overuse of soaps and detergents in water can damage your floor and possibly the finish, making refinishing problematic. It’s also important to match the appropriate cleaner to the type of finish on your floors (see below).

Wipe up spills and tracked-on dirt immediately: Use a lightly dampened cloth, and wipe dry with a soft cloth.

Use protective mats and area rugs: Mats at all exterior doors help prevent dirt and grit from entering your home. Use area rugs or runners in high traffic areas. Mats and rugs trap a lot of dirt, so shake them out often and clean them regularly.

Use felt protectors on furniture: Movement of chairs and tables can cause excessive wear on your floor finish. Install felt or fabric-covered floor glides on all furniture at floor contact points, and clean/replace them periodically. When moving furniture that does not yet have furniture glides, either pick it up off the floor, or slip a cloth or heavy sock under each leg to avoid floor damage.

Beware of high heels: Avoid walking on floors with high heels or with shoes that may have sharp protruding objects like small rocks caught in the shoe’s treads.

Control humidity: To avoid cracking or buckling of hardwood floors, keep the relative humidity in your home between 45 and 55 percent. Excessive humidity can cause wood fibers to swell, creating cracks in the finish. Excessively dry conditions can cause cracks between the floorboards. Depending on which problem you encounter, install a humidifier or dehumidifier.


• Do not use any product on your hardwood floors until you have read the label. If it is not formulated for hardwood floors, don’t use it.

• Do not use self-polishing waxes, vinyl, or tile floor-care products on your hardwood floors. After application, the water evaporates and leaves a glossy finish coat, which will discolor over time, requires repeat applications, and is not compatible when future recoating of your floor is required.

• Never pour water or allow water to puddle on your hardwood floor. Water and wood are not a good combination. Water is particularly incompatible with wax finishes (see below).


Know what type of coating is on your floor so you can give it proper care:

Sealed (polyurethane) hardwood floors are coated with a protective finish, such as polyurethane, or are impregnated with acrylic.

Use clear vinegar and hot water to clean sealed floors: Completely wring out your applicator. Use of Murphy’s Oil Soap is not recommended — it can interfere with adhesion of future recoats of polyurethane.

Do not wax sealed wood floors: Wax can interfere with future recoating of the floors, and often results in a slippery surface.

Waxed hardwood floors are coated with paste wax such as Butcher’s or liquid wax.

Decide between buffable and nonbuffable wax: Stay with the same type and brand of wax (incompatibility between waxes may cause a dull or streaky finish). Buffable wax works well on medium to high traffic floors — rebuff floors regularly between waxings to restore luster (when using a buffing machine, use fiber bristle attachment only). Nonbuffable wax (contains acrylics) works well on low traffic floors or floors protected by rugs. Be careful to not overwax or apply over dirt.

Never clean a waxed floor with soap and water: No cleaning product that includes or requires the addition of water should be used. Carefully read the label of any cleaning product — make sure it is compatible with the type of wax you use on your floors.

Do not use urethane: Urethane should never be applied over an existing wax finish.

Oiled hardwood floors are treated with linseed, tung, Danish, or other vegetable oil, giving them a more matte appearance than floors that are sealed or waxed.

Do not use soap and water: Use specially formulated products for cleaning oiled wood floors, such as WOCA or Bona.


Sealed hardwood floors: If you have treated your floors following the guidelines above, and have not used any wax-related products or Murphy’s Oil Soap, you can recoat with polyurethane. It is time to recoat when the sheen becomes dull in high-traffic areas. For most floors, this will be every three to five years.

Waxed hardwood floors: Waxed wood floors usually require waxing twice yearly. Apply more wax only in worn areas.

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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator of Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].