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Cleaning Hardwood Floors: What You Need To Know

Cleaning hardwood floors is nothing like cleaning carpets, tile, or linoleum. With carpets all one has to do is pull out the vacuum or the steam cleaner and set to work, with tile or linoleum you simply have to grab a broom and a mop, along with the right cleaner and you are ready to go. While you can use vacuums, brooms, mops, and cleaners on hardwood floors, how you use them is what matters. Special care needs to be given to your hardwood floors to ensure no damage is done to the delicate wood.

I have seen very beautiful floors be damaged so bad by the wrong cleaning products that they need to be completely refinished. This is very expensive and a shame. Just remember the few tips below will help you to keep your floors looking great without worry about damage.

Types of Hardwood Floors
Deciding how to clean your hardwood floors is going to be determined by the type of wood you have. Before you even attempt to clean your hardwood floors, you will want to determine whether they have a surface finish or a penetrating seal. The difference between the two is that the penetrating seal is usually on oil or a wax that protects the wood from the inside out, while the surface finish applies a protective coat to the top layer of wood to protect it from damage. As the name penetrating implies, the protection actually penetrates the wood and works to repel damaging substances on the the surface so they can’t soak into the wood and cause more problems.

To determine the difference you will need to rub the wood. If the rubbing motion leaves a smudge, the floor has a penetrating seal rather than a surface finish. Alternatively, if you can feel the grain of the wood you have a penetrating seal, if not you have a surface finish. If you are still unsure, your best bet is to contact a hardwood-flooring professional.

Cleaning Surface Finished Hardwood Floors
Hardwood floors should be swept and vacuumed before using any hardwood floor cleaners. Sweeping and vacuuming the hardwood floors must be done to ensure even the finest layer of dirt is removed. If any dirt is left on the floor, it will act like sandpaper on your hardwood floors, causing quite a bit of preventable damage. Sweeping with a fine, soft bristled broom should be done first to remove any large debris. Vacuuming should be done last, to remove the fine layer of dirt that sweeping misses. When vacuuming, the best vacuum to use is one with a soft brush attachment, never use the spinning brush on your hardwood floors!

Once all the dirt and grime has been removed from your floors you are ready to really start cleaning the floors. Many people are under the impression that the best way to clean hardwood floors is with vinegar and water or just plain water. This is not something you ever want to use. Using plain water will leave your floors looking dingy, while using vinegar and water will cause your floors to dull faster. Other products to avoid are ammonia, abrasive cleaners, and alkaline products.

To start cleaning your floors use either a hardwood floor cleaner recommended by the manufacturer or simply use soap and water. I have found using soap and water saves me quite a bit of money, but the hardwood floor cleaners are easier to use. If you do opt for soap and water you will want to use about a ¼ cup of mild soap, such as liquid dishwashing soap, or you can use a ¼ cup of Murphy’s Oil Soap to one bucket of water.

When mopping the floor you never want to use a wet mop, you want it to be damp not dripping. Water is a hardwood floors worst enemy; too much water on a mop can cause irreparable damage to the wood, including warping. After thoroughly wringing out the mop, you will want to mop following the grain. Mop small sections at a time, rinsing out the mop after each pass. Replace the water and soap in the bucket, as it gets dirty. Once the entire floor is done mop again with plain water to rinse.

When using hardwood floor cleaner the best way to clean the floors is to spray the cleaner directly onto the floor rather than on a terry cloth floor mop. Spraying the floor directly allows you to ensure that all the cleaner is removed from the floor during mopping. When spraying the floor only do a small section at a time, use the mop to wipe the floor with a back and forth motion going with the floor strips, so the mop should be moving lengthwise along the strips.


Other Cleaning Tips For Surface Finished Floors
High traffic areas, such as hallways, dining rooms, and kitchens, should be swept once a day and mopped at least once a week, but if possible twice.

Stains can be treated with a commercial cleaner.

Baking soda and a damp sponge will help remove any scuff marks from hardwood floors.

If the finish is looking a bit dull, lightly sand the floor and recoat with the proper finish.

Cleaning Penetrating Seal Treated Floors
Properly cleaning these floors simply involves sweeping and vacuuming on a regular basis, as well as waxing the floors as needed. Mopping these floors, even with a hardwood floor cleaner, is not recommended because the cleaner can soak into the wood causing some discoloration.

Waxing Penetrating Seal Treated Floors
After vacuuming, the floors to remove the dust you will want to remove the old wax. This can be done by using wax stripper or mineral spirits. If using wax stripper you will want to follow the directions exactly on the manufacturer’s label. With mineral spirits, simply rub into the wood and wipe off with a soft, clean cloth. Always keep the area you are working in well ventilated.

Once the floor has dried, apply a coat of wax using an applicator or cloth. If using liquid wax you will need to use an applicator, while paste wax requires a cloth. After the first coat has dried, apply a second coat in the same manner to better protect your floors.

After the second coat has dried, you will need to buff your floors. Renting a buffing machine will make it easier, but it can also be done using a cloth. No matter what method you use, always buff the floors in the same direction as the grain.

Extra Cleaning Tips For Penetrating Seal Treated Floors
Spot wax high traffic areas as they start to appear dull.

One or two times a year, depending on the appearance of the floor, strip the old wax and apply a new coat.

For watermarks use mineral spirits applied to extra-fine steel wool and gently rub the mark in a circular motion. Always work from the outside edge in to the center.

Heel marks can be treated with a small amount of wax applied to extra-fine steel wool, simply rub gently on a circular motion. Always work from the outside edge into the center.

Food stains can be removed by wiping the area with a damp cloth, rub the area dry, and apply some new wax. Always work from the outside edge into the center.

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