Is there a downside to putting wood floors in the kitchen?

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It’s nearly impossible to look at photos of a kitchen reno that doesn’t include gleaming wood floors. But beauty aside, what does all the exposure to water and traffic in the heart of your home do to wood over time? “There is no downside to a wood floor in a kitchen. They did it 300 years ago, so why not do it today?,” says Allen Kellogg, president of Kellogg Hardwoods, Bethel, CT-based fabricators of beautiful custom crown moulding and wide plank flooring in more than a dozen lush woods, from American to Brazilian cherry and from birch to mahogany. “With modern finishes, protective coatings can be created that will ensure no water damage. From a maintenance standpoint, a dry mop and/or the use of a Swiffer a couple of times a week will keep the floor looking good. Naturally, any spills should be wiped up immediately.”

One of the important considerations you’ll make is the species of wood for your kitchen. Generally, hardwoods—woods of trees with leaves as opposed to evergreens—are the better, more durable choice. If you love the beauty of a wood and its markings, a clear finish might be all you need. On the other hand, a dramatic look can be achieved with a very dark stain that contrasts with or complements lighter cabinet colors. All hardwood is an investment, so live with a few planks in a corner of your room before you make a final decision.

For flooring you can count on, look for wood crafted according to standards set by the National Hardwood Flooring Association, an organization that also certifies flooring professionals. To go green with wood flooring, insist on certification by the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which indicates that the wood came from responsibly managed forests.

To keep your floor for the 100 or so years wood is designed to last, yes, you might need to be somewhat more careful in the kitchen. According to the American Hardwood Information Center website, remember that water is the enemy. In addition to cleaning up spills immediately, don’t use a damp mop or oil-based soap—follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for any cleaning products. As Allen Kellogg pointed out, regular sweeping is a must—this prevents dirt from being ground into the wood.

More Care Tips

  • A doormat (choose a shade similar to the floor so you won’t detract from it) will trap mud and moisture from the outside.
  • Consider a pretty floor mat at the kitchen sink.
  • Check your dishwasher and your fridge often for leaks that could warp the wood.
  • Because sunlight can fade the color of the wood over time, choose window coverings that will limit direct sunlight at strategic times.
  • Since shoes, especially pointy high heels, can damage and dent wood, switch to socks or soft slippers whenever possible.

Beautiful red birch hardwood floors in the contemporary kitchen, right, are warm and forgiving. [Photo courtesy of W-D Flooring]