5 Simple Steps to Make Your Hardwoods Shine
Hardwood flooring is a beautiful touch for any home but can be a challenge to keep looking gorgeous and new. Following these simple rules can keep your floors from looking dull and grimy.
Know Your Finish
Not all hardwoods are created equal! Different wood finishes require different levels of care, so step one is determining the finish of your floor. Most new wood flooring is sealed with urethane, polyurethane or polyacrylic. These floors are stain- and water- resistant, and require the lowest level of maintenance: just sweep and mop.
Older wood floors are treated with oil finishes or a penetrating seal, which requires a bit more care to keep protected. Treat these floors with either a liquid or paste wax to help prevent damage from moisture, scratches, and grime to a minimum.
If you aren’t sure, there’s another easy way to determine the finish. Try dripping a small amount of water on the floor: if the water beads and stays on top, it’s probably coated with polyurethane; if it soaks into the floor in a few minutes, it’s probably coated with an oil finish or wax seal. Don’t forget to wipe up the water as soon as possible!
Minimizing Wear & Tear
Protect your hardwoods with rugs and mats to minimize daily damage. Place rugs at entry points and any high traffic areas. This will help collect the dirt, sand, grease, and grit that might otherwise be tracked onto your hardwoods. Be sure to use mats and rugs that are made of a breathable material. Your floors need air to maintain their color and finish, and rubber or foam backed plastic mats can leave dingy spots when rolled up.
If it is reasonable for you, consider having a “no shoes inside” policy to keep dirt from being tracked in. I know, it somehow feels wrong dining without shoes, but the dirt and grime you track in will get trapped between the cracks in your floor. Kicking your shoes off at the door can make a huge difference in the lifespan and look of your floors.
Use floor protectors and furniture pads underneath your furniture. For heavier pieces, choose larger and broader floor protectors that cover the entire base of the furniture. The heavier the furniture, the more likely your floors are to get divots or scratches. Use smaller furniture pads for the feet of chairs and stools. Felt pads are the gold standard, are usually self-adhesive, and are available at most home improvement stores in a variety pack so you can get all the sizes you might need.
Be mindful of the humidity in your home. Too much moisture can cause warping and damage to the floor, and too little can cause shrinking and cracks. Humidity levels should ideally be kept at 30-50% and can be measured using a hygrometer.
Here are a few easy tests to determine whether you have too much or too little humidity in your home.
Place a few ice cubes in a glass, add water, and wait about three minutes. If moisture does not form on the outside of the glass, the air is too dry. Buy a humidifier to maintain the ideal level of moisture in the air.
Alternatively, there are visible signs of high indoor humidity. The appropriate level of indoor humidity will allow slight condensation along the edges or corners of windows. Look for any fogging of windows, and moisture or mold buildup on walls and ceilings. Buy a dehumidifier to decrease moisture in the home.
Cleaning and Maintaining Hardwood Floors
Sweep or dust mop your hardwoods every day. Use a soft-bristled broom or microfiber dust mop to remove dirt, dust, food debris and pet hair from your floor, being especially mindful of removing residue from between the cracks in your flooring. When you want to clean your floors without damaging them, avoid lifting your microfiber mop up off the floor when you clean. This will keep the dirt you’ve trapped on the pad. If you have any food or water spills, be sure to sweep or mop them up immediately to keep your floors looking fresh and new.
My favorite broom is the Casabella Wayclean Wide Angle Broom (~$13). This broom has tons of very fine bristles that are split on the ends, making it ideal for picking up fine dust and sand. It’s soft enough that you won’t scratch your floor, and has foam hand holds to make sweeping more comfortable.
Dust mops do a great job at statically picking up tiny particles of dust. A great option is the O-Cedar Dual-Action Microfiber Flip Mop. This model has two sides, one microfiber for picking up coarser debris like sand and dirt, and a chenille side for picking up finer debris like pet hair and dust. The cover is machine washable for up to 100 washes, and the refills only cost $7-10.
Vacuum your hardwoods once per week to deal with harder to reach areas that you can’t get from dusting, like corners and spaces between the wood. Be sure to use a vacuum with soft bristles or that is made especially for hardwood floors, as other devices used for carpeting will cause scratching and damage to the polish. If your vacuum has a beater bar or hard bristles, make sure they don’t touch the floor. Also, the wheels might damage the floor, so take care to vacuum slowly, methodically, and with the grain of the wood.
My favorite is the Black and Decker Smartech HSVJ520JMBF27 (~$120). This is a battery powered stick vacuum that converts to a handheld vacuum for those tough to reach spots. Cord-free and super lightweight, it has a telescoping head that can reach anywhere on your hardwoods, with a soft roll brush that can get into those tiny cracks.
Mop your hardwoods once per week. Mops that allow control over the amount of cleaning product are ideal. Try to avoid using wet mops or products that come pre-dampened, as these can add too much moisture and warp your floors. You can use the same dust mop I suggested earlier with a tiny amount of a natural wood cleaner, such as Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner (~$9), or a product like the Swiffer WetJet. Be careful of how much cleaning product you use!
Chemicals to Avoid
Avoid using water and vinegar, soap-based cleaners, wax, or steam cleaners on your hardwood floors. Vinegar and water dull the floor’s finish over time, stripping the top layer of the seal. Soap-based and wax cleaners leave a residue that will leave your floors looking dingy and grimy.
Steam cleaners put heat and excessive water on your floor, which can lead to warping, increasing the size of cracks and long-term damage that will end up with needing a full refinish much more regularly.
Invest in a maintenance polish coat every 2-3 years. Polishing renews and refreshes the finish that protects your hardwood floor. Polishing your floor fills in microscopic scratches and evens out a floor’s protective surface.
Weiman High-Traffic Hardwood Floor Polish is an excellent option (~$13). It both restores and polishes hardwoods with one application, and provides a high gloss finish and removes scuffs.