Clear Up Confusion About Wood Floor Maintenance Kim Wahlgren
Published as Mixed-Up Maintenance in February 2011 Issue
As wood floors have grown in popularity, so have products and ideas about how to clean a wood floor. There are HGTV hosts telling viewers to use apple cider vinegar mixed with water for a "green" wood floor cleaner, commercials hawking mops that use hot steam to sanitize a floor, and even a popular author recommending that people use olive oil to clean their wood floors. It's no wonder that consumers get confused about what they should do to clean their wood floors ... and no wonder that wood flooring contractors come across some real messes when they visit the homes of complaining customers. Here are some common wood floor maintenance questions today's consumers are asking, and answers you can give them.
Q: Can I vacuum my wood floors?
Vacuuming wood floors is a great idea. Dirt and particles that are left on the floor act like an abrasive when people walk on them, so vacuuming them as often as possible will prolong the life of the finish. One caveat: Don't use a vacuum with a beater bar, which can damage the finish.
Q: I've been using a product on my wood floor that says it is a wood polish/conditioner. Now it seems like my floor has a sticky film all over it, and I can see footprints in it. How do I get this residue off?
Unfortunately, many consumers are bewildered to discover that, although the product they used said on the label it was for wood floors, it wasn't really recommended for wood floor finishes ... and now they have a big mess on their hands. Some of these products seem to leave a film on the floor that is very difficult to remove. Others may not leave a sticky film but may cause contamination problems down the road when the floor needs to be refinished. If you know the manufacturer of the wood floor or the finish on the floor, call and ask for their recommendation as to what to do. If you don't know, you'll need to call a local wood flooring professional. He or she may be able to use a product specifically designed for stripping such residue off a floor. If not, the floor will probably require resanding.
Q: I read that a good wood floor cleaner is vinegar with water; is that OK?
Vinegar and water used to be a typical recommendation for cleaning wood floors with a urethane type of finish. These days, however, most manufacturers recommend cleaners that are specifically formulated for wood floor finishes; in fact, vinegar is acidic, and using too much could damage the finish. People who insist on still using vinegar should use plain vinegar—not apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or any other type, which could leave a sticky residue on the floor.
Q: Can I use one of those steam cleaners advertised on TV on my wood floor?
Everyone has seen the commercials showing a steam cleaner magically sanitizing, disinfecting, deodorizing, and cleaning a wood floor. But that doesn't mean that wood flooring manufacturers or finish manufacturers think steam cleaners are appropriate for a wood floor; in fact, some have begun to specifically mention steam cleaners in their list of don'ts. Inspectors are also starting to come across floors that appear to have been destroyed by repeated steam cleaner use. Peeling finish, whitening finish and cloudy finish are just some of the side effects being reported by people looking at floors after steam cleaning. In general, the oft-repeated industry saying "Water and wood don't mix" holds true. Unless the wood flooring or finish manufacturer says it's OK, it's safest to assume steam cleaning is a no-no on a wood floor.