The care and maintenance of hardwood floors is a subject of great interest among homeowners. As you would expect, homeowners look at hardwood floors as a major part of the aesthetic appeal of their homes and a source of tremendous value. They want to maintain both. There are a number of ways to approach this and I hope I can contribute some insights.
What are we dealing with?
The most obvious place to begin is by determining what finishes you have on your floors in the first place. This may not be as hard as it sounds. Over the last 25 years the vast majority of wood floors were finished with a coating. Often, it was some type of polyurethane, especially if it was finished onsite. There have been other coatings that were popular over the years, so it is safe to assume that you have some combination of layered coatings on the floor. Waxes have been in use but they represent a very small minority (about one percent) of all the wood floors being site-refinished. If waxes have been used to maintain the floors homeowners are usually aware of it since that constitutes maintenance well outside the norm. You can always test for the presence of wax by lightly dampening a cloth with mineral spirits and wiping the floor somewhere around the perimeter. The cloth will show a darker residue.
Now that we know, what do we do?
The wood floor maintenance process has been dramatically improved by products now offered by two manufacturers, Basic Coatings and BonaKemi. Both companies have introduced simple and effective cleaning kits that do a very good job of cleaning dirt and grime off of coated floors. The information is straightforward, the products are easy to use and the kits are readily available.
What tends to confuse some homeowners is how finishes look when they start to show wear. With many coatings, you start to see a chalky and dull appearance. This isn’t the sign of a dirty floor; it is the sign of wear and it will not come out. In a case like this, cleaning will not help but refurbishing the finish will. (Read my information on recoating.) You also want to be very watchful for noticeable darkening of the wood; especially in kitchen areas. This is a sure sign that moisture is penetrating the finish and damaging the wood. If this darkening is not halted, there can be serious damage to the wood.
With waxed floors, you first need to do something about removing or re-dissolving the old wax. It is a bit messy, can be dangerous and you would probably be better off getting someone with experience to do it. Oiled floors are pretty much the same; remove any excess build-up and then re-oil. And ditto on the messy and hazardous part. Many floors that have had applications of “penetrating sealers and wax” can be restored using Renovator products by Dura Seal and BonaKemi. And this is definitely work for someone with experience, not the DIY guy.
And as hinted at in the title of this article — never, ever under any circumstances use vinegar with anything to clean your wood floors. Using vinegar as a cleaning agent for wood floors is the biggest myth ever. Vinegar is acidic and will easily damage wood and most finishes. Put it on your salads – not your wood floors.