How do I maintain my wood floors?

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As you sip your morning coffee, you notice the sun streaming over your beautiful, new hardwood floor. It looks so perfect in your home, but then you wonder, " How can I keep this floor looking this good for years to come?"

We talked to Chris Sy, a woodworking expert with Carlisle Wide Plank Floors based in Stoddard, NH, who told us, “Maintenance has a lot to do with what you finish the floor with, but you want to avoid harsh chemicals or cleaners that leave behind a waxy build-up.”

The first and most important tip is to find out what type of finish your floor has. Newer floors typically have a hard finish that seals the surface of the floor and protects it from damage. Older floors tend to be soft oil treated, shellacked, varnished or lacquered.

You can find out if your floor has a hard or soft finish by simply rubbing your finger across the floor. If a waxy smudge appears in the wake of your finger, your floor has been not been surface-sealed with a hard finish and has a wax coat.

We put together a list of simple and cost-effective ways to maintain your wood floor along with other tips and tricks—depending on your type of finish—to keep it looking as beautiful as when it was first installed.

Sweep, Vacuum Or Dust Regularly

This tip goes especially for high traffic areas in your home, like the area around your front door or around kitchen table. Use a soft bristle broom, a wood-safe vacuum or an electrostatic dust cloth to avoid scratching the floor.

Regular sweeping or dusting can prevent dirt from accumulating in areas and damaging the finish.

Vinegar And Water Solution

If you are feeling particularly ambitious, mopping the floor once or twice a week removes grime build-up. The company that installed your hardwood floor will usually sell you a special cleaning agent for your type of floor finish. However, a cheaper and easier alternative to buying these cleaners is using a simple water and vinegar solution. A word of caution: This way of cleaning should only be used on surface-sealed floors, as they are more water resistant.

The recommended ratio for cleaning your wood floor is one half cup of white vinegar to one gallon of warm water. Remember to use as little water as possible because water is the worst culprit for wood floor damage. Try using a sponge mop with a spring-loaded wringer on it to get the most water off the mop as possible. If you sense that too much water has reached the floor, simply wipe it up as soon as possible.

Other Tips & Tricks For Wood Floor Longevity

  • For scuffmarks, baking soda and a damp sponge will gently wipe them away.
  • Problems with watermarks? Use an extra fine steel wool sponge with a small amount of mineral salts. Rub gently in a circular motion.
  • For a tough food stain, wipe with a cloth and rub dry. If your floor has a soft finish, you may need to re-wax the area.
  • Remember that your floor should be refinished every five to seven years to keep the finish looking fresh and shiny.

For more care tips, check out our FAQ, Is there a downside to putting wood floors in the kitchen?

—Carrie Pope

Photo courtesy of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors