Buffing up on care and maintenance of hardwood floors — Chicago Tribune

Buffing up on care and maintenance of hardwood floors

The hardwood floors being installed in homes today are almost all coated with polyurethane, which makes the floors a little different than older floors that are mostly finished with sealers and wax.

According to Mickey Moore, technical director for the National Oak Floor Manufacturers Association, more than 90 percent of the hardwood floors being installed are finished with polyurethane.

There are various types of polyurethane, but they all are applied as coats of liquid over natural or stained wood, and they dry to a tough, clear coating that protects the wood like a thin sheet of rigid plastic.

Polyurethane comes in high gloss, satin and matte finishes. Higher gloss finishes can be dramatic, but they show scratches and imperfections more readily.

Quick test

If you have a floor that you believe to be coated with polyurethane, but you’re not sure, you can test it by dabbing on a little paint remover inside a closet or in some other inconspicuous spot. If it’s polyurethane, the surface will bubble up a little.

Older hardwood floors and a small percentage of new floors are finished with two or three coats of penetrating sealer and a layer of wax.

To see if a floor has a sealer and wax finish, apply a drop of ammonia in an inconspicuous place. The wax will whiten and dissolve.

The best way to figure out what type of floor you have is to consult the installer or have a floor-care professional examine it. If you have a new floor installed, hold on to the documentation that shows the brand and style of floor you have. It will come in handy if the floor develops problems later.

Care and maintenance

Whether finished in polyurethane or wax, hardwood floors should be kept clean and dry. Grit and dirt act as sandpaper that can dull and wear away the finish, and water can damage the finish and the floorboards themselves.

Using mats inside entry doors and runners or throw rugs in high-traffic areas can help keep dirt from reaching the floor.

Dust the floor at least once a week. A soft cotton dust mop works well, but check with the manufacturer of your floor before using any cleaner or chemical dust-collecting agent on the mop.

Use a brush attachment to vacuum wood floors. Never use the rotating beater/brush of a vacuum designed for carpets on a hardwood floor. The rotating brush can nick the floor, and the spinning action blows dirt around, making the job harder.

For general cleaning of soiled areas, dip or spray a clean cloth with the cleaner recommended by your floor manufacturer. The cloth should be slightly moistened, not wet. Use a clean towel to wipe up any moisture as soon as the area is clean.

Wet mopping is not recommended for hardwood floors. If you feel you need to damp mop, wet the mop and wring so it is about half-dry. Mop and then dip the mop into clean water, wring it as dry as you can and mop again. Mop in sections to prevent standing water. Immediately towel dry the floor.

To wax or not to wax

Check with the manufacturer of your sealed and waxed floor for tips on adding wax or buffing the surface.

Do not wax polyurethane-coated floors; they can yellow a bit over time but are supposed to maintain a permanent shine. If the surface is damaged, it must be repaired with polyurethane of the same type.

Wipe up liquid spills on hardwood floors immediately. Pet urine should be cleaned with a slightly dampened towel.

Clip your pet’s nails regularly.

Make sure the finish is well-maintained. Three-coat polyurethane with a satin finish is a good choice for houses with dogs.

Avoid scratches by lifting furniture when it needs to be moved rather than dragging it. Use felt contacts under furniture legs. Be aware of shoes with exposed nails or metal heel supports.

Sunlight can discolor a floor over time. Close curtains and blinds or add sheer drapes to protect a hardwood floor from intense ultraviolet rays.

You can sometimes remove water stains from a sealed and waxed floor by rubbing the spot with No. 1 or No. 2 steel wool and waxing. More serious stains might require sanding, refinishing and rewaxing. Before starting such a job on your own, weigh the cost of hiring a professional against the possibility your attempted repair will only make matters worse.

Repairs

The Hardwood Manufacturers Association says repairing a urethane finish might be beyond the scope of do-it-yourselfers. If you want to try, use steel wool or sandpaper to remove one or two complete layers of finish where damage has occurred.

Then, after thoroughly removing all dust, apply the same type of finish that was removed. Be careful not to build additional layers of finish on top of adjoining boards. The new finish probably will not blend well if the adjoining finish is more than three years old.

If the entire surface of a solid hardwood floor has deteriorated, the whole floor can be sanded to remove all the old finish. A new finish can then be applied. It’s a job a good do-it-yourselfer might be able to do, but you should at least get an estimate from a professional. Sanding is a dusty job, and refinishing can be a little tricky.

Be aware that prefinished floors can be harder to sand than floors that were finished in place. Floors finished on site are leveled before a finish is applied. Prefinished floors do not require perfect leveling when they are installed, but they must be level for sanding.

For more tips on floors, visit the oak floor manufacturers site at www.nofma.org or the Hardwood Information Center site at www.hardwood.org.


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