Monday, March 5, 2012

Hardwood Floors : Cleaning and Maintenance

Why Maintenance is Essential

To prevent hardwood floor damage, experts and manufacturers suggest numerous treatments. Yet even with regular maintenance, all hard wood floors will begin to deteriorate over time. Damage can range from fading, in high traffic areas, to extensive warping and cracking from moisture exposure. Treatment—whether by waxing or power sanding —ensures a good aesthetic, a sanitary floor and a safe, inhabitable space. Typically, maintenance depends on a few key factors: type of finish, wood grain and the extent of damage.

Damage Prevention & Simple Treatment

Following simple maintenance steps will help ensure that a hard wood floor looks its best. While regular sweeping is recommended on a daily (or at least weekly) basis to prevent soot from seeping into the wood, experts recommend utilizing a dry or damp mop instead of a saturated mop. Water tends to expand wood grain and may warp the floor, especially on unfinished surfaces. To avoid denting, consider using vacuums that feature brush attachments rather than machines with beater bars. Additionally, although covering floors will delay fading from use and sunlight, the World Floor Covering Association (, suggests avoiding mats with rubber backing and those that are non-ventilated, as these textiles will tear at the surface of the wood.

Consulting a manufacturer or specialist about cleanser treatment is essential, as not all wood floors and finishes are compatible with the same treatment products. Therefore, it is essential to know the type of floor finish that is being processed. Most floors are coated with polyurethane, a durable plastic coating. Manufacturers supply pre-finished wood floors that have been UV dried and treated with polyurethane. Typically, these chemically treated floors are stain resistant, though the finish will eventually wear off. Hardwood floors that are treated with lacquer, varnish and shellac provide a shiny finish but do not resist stains and wear as well as polyurethane. Generally, denatured alcohol removes shellac and lacquer thinner, and acetone-based products are efficient for removing lacquer and varnish. Other wood floors are surface sealed with oil finishes, though these types of surfaces are typically coated with wax. Keep in mind that some paste waxes may require the use of a machine buffer.

As a general rule, experts recommend avoiding all oil-based soaps and waxes, specifically on polyurethane treated floors. Oil based wax sprays that accumulate create an unwanted film and a slippery floor, and may actually affect the re-coating process. Instead, a neutral pH cleaner is sufficient for most hardwood floors. For light treatment, a finish may be applied to fix fading. It is advised to apply coatings an hour apart. Additionally, finishing should be reserved for spot treatments for smaller areas of the wood surface.

Moderate to Heavy Damage

Screening is generally applicable to floors that have moderate damage. This process essentially involves utilizing a floor polisher to lift or abrade polyurethane finish off the wood without removing or cutting the floor. Experts advise that this process should be exclusive to floors with a polyurethane finish and floors that have not been treated with wax. Additionally, wood that is damaged beneath the finish is not compatible with this application, and should be sanded instead. Specialists note that it is essential to sweep the floor so that abrasives or dirt are not pushed into the surface during this process.

Power sanding may be essential to repair worn down areas of the finish and to treat heavy damage. Typically, a drum sander is employed, and it is advised to consult specialists for this procedure as the tool may gouge wood if it is not utilized properly. As a general guideline, a finish should be applied no more than 12 hours after a hard wood floor has been sanded. Typically, freshly sanded hard wood will absorb moisture and change color, which may adversely affect the finishing process.

Sometimes, corrosion will penetrate the finish of the wood, which will require extensive restoration. In the case of a flood, experts recommend the use of a mild alkali to scrub the contaminants from the wood surface. A trisodium phosphate is suitable for mildew scrubbing (and grease stains) and can be dried off with an absorbent cloth. For mildew build-up underneath the finish, it is essential to strip the coating. After sanding, experts may advise applying several applications of chlorine bleach to badly damaged parts of the wood. Afterwards, clean water may be used to rinse the wood, which should then be air dried. To prevent excessive warping and buckling, allow for sufficient drying time before the wood is refinished. For major damage where the wood is lifting, experts recommend nailing the wood to stop the damage from spreading.

Replacement of the wood may be necessary if the damage is too extensive. Some may opt to cover the wood with other materials like vinyl or carpeting or to replace the floor. Either way, consulting a contractor is recommended.