Tips on Cleaning and Maintaining Hardwood Floors
Water is the greatest single enemy of an exquisitely finished hardwood floor. For this reason, floors must never be scrubbed with soap and water, nor must water in any form be left touching with the surface at any time. Repeated scrubbing won’t only ruin the finish and look of the floor, but could lead to warping, cracking and buckling of the boards so that total refinishing will eventually be needed.
Paste wax or a solvent-based liquid wax (oftentimes known as a cleaning wax or polishing wax) is highly recommended for wooden floor cleaning. Avoid using a self-polishing liquid wax on hardwood floors. These generally contain a high percentage of water, and therefore are not suited for use on wooden floors.
To keep the wooden floor from being overly slippery, wax must be applied in thin layers and rubbed out very well to an even thickness. Allow to dry thoroughly allowing from 15 to 30 minutes tops, then buff to the gloss needed by using an electric polishing machine.
Everyday cleaning of a properly waxed hardwood floor is best achieved by daily dusting using a dry mop or vacuum cleaner. Do not use an oily mop or rag, since the oil may attack the wax, causing clouding and weakening of the finish. Soiled spots which don’t come away easily can typically be removed by rubbing using a clean cloth which has been dipped into a little bit of the same wax. Rub thoroughly till the spot vanishes, keeping in mind to turn the cloth rapidly as it becomes dirty. Then buff with a dry cloth to restore the original brilliance.
For really stubborn spots (like black heel marks, etc.), fine steel wool dipped into the wax might have to be used rather than the cloth. If this fails, the steel wool must be dipped into turpentine or denatured alcohol alternatively. This latter treatment is very drastic and will probably remove at least part of the original finish, so a touch-up will perhaps be needed before fresh wax can be applied. Periodic overall cleaning of a hardwood floor is best achieved by using a liquid cleaning or polishing wax which holds no water. This "dry cleaning" method really renews the old wax and lifts up dirt when applying a fresh new finish. After vacuuming loose dust and dirt, put a small amount of the liquid wax onto the floor, then spread out by rubbing thoroughly with a soft cloth or long-handled applicator. The rubbing action will loosen up old wax and dirt so that it can be collected by the applicator or cloth. For this reason it is best to work in segments, wiping up extra dirt and liquid with a clean cloth as you proceed. Allow for the wax to dry absolutely, then buff thoroughly with an electric polisher. Remember that the harder the wax is buffed, the brighter the polish will be and the longer its shininess will last.
For utmost protection, the average hardwood floor should be vigorously cleaned and waxed in this manner at the least three or four times a year. If preserved regularly in this manner, the old wax will perhaps never need to be removed completely, and the finish should last almost indefinitely.
If a floor has been so severely neglected that it is already deeply stained with ground-in dirt, it will likely require far more than just a normal cleaning or waxing. If the condition is not as bad, a prepared liquid floor cleaner which is specifically designed for wood floors can be utilized. This will remove all of the old wax (and part of the old finish) and may clean it sufficiently so that a simple re-waxing is all that will be needed. If the floor is too far gone for even this drastic treatment, chances are that the only sure cure lies in over-all refinishing.
Glenn Haege’s Complete Hardwood Floor Care Guide
HARDWOOD FLOORS by Woodfloorco
Sanding and Finishing Hardwood Floors by Taunton Press and Fine Homebuilding Magazine
© 2011 Athena Goodlight