Caring for Wood Floors

Caring for Wood Floors

Caring for Wood Floors

August 21, 2012; 15:57 pm by Chris Komenda

Routine care and maintenance of your hardwood floors will keep them looking beautiful for many years to come. The first step to in caring for wood floors is to vacuum often. By keeping the floor free of dirt and dust you will greatly reduce the abrasive action on any type of floor surface that you have. You will need to make sure that your vacuum attachment is a natural bristle brush or a type that will not scratch your floor.

When your hardwood floor needs to be cleaned beyond what a vacuum can do, you need to know what type of floor top coat or finish you are trying to clean. Except for certain prefinished flooring materials, there is only three basic hardwood floor finishes, polyurethane, wax, and oil surfaced floors.

Polyurethane Wood Floors

The most popular wood floor surface is polyurethane. Polyurethane is the only floor finish that can be used just about anywhere. The three main types of polyurethane used on hardwood floors are; oil modified, water based and moisture cured. Oil modified polyurethane is often applied over oil based stains. Water based polyurethane is usually applied over a water based stain.

For polyurethane finishes, the safest (and easiest) cleaning method is simply to vacuum regularly. Wipe away sticky spills with a damp cloth and then dry the area with a clean, soft. For stubborn dirt, use a glass cleaner such as Glass Plus ® and Windex Clear®. NEVER wet mop, clean with oil soap, coat with acrylic dressing, like Mop and Glow®, or apply paste or liquid wax to a polyurethane surface floor. Also contrary to fairly common advice, you should NEVER use diluted vinegar or ammonia to clean polyurethane. The acid can etch the finish, making it dull.

Just remember that all abrasive action, aggressive rubbing with a cotton rag, will have a slight dulling affect to the surface. If water spots are a problem, clean the floor in the same direction as the wood grain, and it will be less noticeable. Never use wax products on urethane finished hardwood floors as they can make the surface slippery. You should not buff or polish these floors either.

Oiled Wood Floors

Oiled wood floors require different care than polyurethane floors. Over time, the wood becomes dry and depleted of oils from foot traffic and normal wear and tear.

Start by thoroughly vacuuming and dry mopping the floor to remove any dust and debris. Regular cleaning with a wood cleaner made specifically for oiled hardwood floors, such as Murphy Oil® Soap (diluted ¼ cup soap to 1 gallon of water) is usually all that’s needed. For stubborn stains, allow the cleaner to remain on the spot for 10 minutes to loosen dirt from the flooring. Repeat the process across the entire floor as needed. Wipe the floor clean with the soft cloth.

To restore oil back into the flooring, apply a small amount of hardwood oil to a clean cloth and wipe over the wood. Wipe off any excess oil with a clean cloth. Let the oil soak into the wood for at least two hours and avoid walking on the flooring or replacing any rugs or furniture until dry. Soak all oily rags in water and store in an airtight metal container. Some oil soaked rags may spontaneously combust and catch fire. Dispose of used rags properly.

Waxed Wood Floors

Waxed floors require a little more TLC than other surface finishes. Aside from routine vacuuming, the secret to cleaning waxed wood floors is to use as little water as possible. For daily cleaning of dust and debris, a dry mop or a very barely damp one can be used. Any excess water left on the floor should be wiped dry immediately as it can sink into the surface and mar the wax. Use only slightly warm water with NO detergents, soaps, ammonia or chemicals added to clean dirt. Finally, for a really beautiful sheen, finish cleaning waxed wood floors by drying and buffing the surface with a lint free cloth.

Once or twice a year, the old wax will need to be stripped and a fresh coat applied. Strip the old wax with a wax stripper, odorless mineral spirits or fast-drying Naphtha. Rub the stripper into wood and then wipe off with a clean, soft cloth. Keep the area well ventilated as you work and as the floor dries. Soak all used rags in water and store in an airtight metal container. Used rags should be disposed of properly.

After the floor has dried, apply a thin coat of paste wax using a soft cloth. Let the wax dry. For added protection, apply a second coat of wax. Then, polish using a cloth or, to make the job easier, a buffing machine. Remember to always buff and polish in the direction of the wood grain.

Lasting Beauty

Caring for Wood Floors

A well finished hardwood floor offers endless natural beauty, long-term durability, and will last for many generations with proper care. Should your wood flooring ever need refinishing, please let us know and we would be happy to restore your floors to their original beauty.


Patricia Thomas | September 17, 2014 | 12:17 pm

Mr. Wills, we have a 4-year old home with pre-finished polyurethane hardwood floors. I notice that a small bit of «whitish» residue appears on some areas where plants are watered. Use of Bona does not totally remove the residue. What do you suggest we use to clear the residue?

Chris Komenda | June 13, 2014 | 15:07 pm

Depending how long the polyurethane floors have cured and assuming the finish is oil based, you can apply Naptha, a distillate solvent to remove the wax residue. Test the Naptha solvent in a discrete area first. Dampen a clean cloth with Naptha and wipe in the direction of the wood grain. Wax should easily come off and onto the cloth. Remove any excess Naptha solvent from the floor with a clean dry cloth.

Please note when using Naptha, make sure you work safely! Naptha is highly flammable and can cause skin irritations. Wear rubber gloves and eye protection, make sure there is good ventilation, and you dispose of the soiled rags properly.

M Hall | June 10, 2014 | 15:05 pm

It sounds like the sheet-rock dust may have settled into the wood pores. You could try some Murphy’s Oil soup diluted 1:4 with water and apply in a test area. Bona is another product you can try. Also, diluted white vinegar could be tested in a small area.

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