10 Ways To Protect Your Hardwood Floor Finish

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Dear Rob: We have an oak floor that was refinished a few years ago with water based coating (polyurethane?). The finish is in good shape, but is showing a little bit of wear. What is the best way to protect my hardwood floor?

-Linda P. from Royal Oak, Michigan.

Dear Linda: Unlike the old waxed floors, which needed a lot of coats of wax and buffing on a regular basis, cleaning polyurethane floors is very easy.

In general, the best way to maintain a polyurethane finished hardwood floor is to keep the floor free from dust and moisture, and to clean it often. Dogs, shoes, children and moisture are the biggest hazards your floor will face. Here are my 10 favorite tips for protecting your hardwood floor:

  1. Leave your shoes, high-heels, and boots at the door. Shoes can track dirt and grime onto your floor, and when you walk, that dirt acts like sandpaper and will wear and scratch your floor. Not wearing shoes on your hardwood floor is the best thing to do to protect your floor. High-heeled shoes can actually leave dents in a hardwood floors, so it is a good idea to ban them from your floor.
  2. Use Walk Off Mats and Runners. Heavy traffic areas and entry points receive the most amount of wear on a hardwood floor. It’s a good idea to use “walk-off” mats or runners at the entry points and in high traffic areas such as hallways and the kitchen. Make sure to use a rug pad underneath any mats or runners that have a burlap or rough backing. These too can dull the finish.
  3. Trim pets claws weekly. Pets can scratch floors, so keep their claws trimmed weekly. The bigger the dog, the more likely the damage will be. Even a small dog’s claws can scratch wood floors under the wrong circumstances.
  4. Keep the floor dry and pick up any spills immediately. Any type of wood floor can be damaged by water or other spills. If liquid gets on your floor, wipe it up as soon as possible to avoid warping or spotting. Moisture can warp boards and crack the finish. Polyurethane floors are not waterproof. The wood on the bottom and sides of flooring is completely raw. Moisture can easily seep between the gaps in boards and warp wood from underneath.
  5. Do not slide or drag furniture across a wood floor. Wood finishes can scratch and mar easily when you slide a piece of furniture across them, especially with the weight from a couch, table or bookshelf. It is a good idea to apply felt furniture pads on the feet of any piece of furniture that you plan put on your hardwood floors. They can be purchased at a local hardware store or home center.
  6. Dust/sweep hardwood floors often. Keeping a hardwood floor free from dust extends its life dramatically. I recommend using a very soft bristle broom or microfiber dust mop. You should dust your floor several times per week, or whenever there is dust you can feel on your floor. You can also use a vacuum if there is way to shut the beater bar off. A vacuum cleaner with a beater bar can damage your floor.
  7. Use very little water when cleaning your floor. Use a very slightly damp mop when mopping polyurethane wood floors, since excess water can seep into seams and ruin a wood floor. I find more often than not, people use too much water, so I recommend simply using a spray on cleaner and microfiber mop like the Bona Hardwood Spray Mop.
    For really sticky spots, use a water dampened rag or sponge to clean them by hand and immediately dry them with a paper towel.
  8. Do not use wax or polyurethane polishes. You would not believe how many polyurethane floors have been ruined by homeowners innocently using some “miracle” cleaner, restorer or polish that they saw on TV. Most of these cleaners have chemicals that will permanently streak or stain your floor. If you use these products, you will never be able to do a maintenance coat (aka “screen and coat”) on your floor, because they prevent the new finish from properly adhering.
  9. Do not use ammonia or vinegar to clean your floor. I know that these product can effectively clean a hardwood floor, but if you use too much water or too much vinegar, you can dull the finish or ruin the floor. Therefore, I say stick to professional hardwood floor cleaners.
  10. Follow manufacturer recommendations. Beside everything you have read here, always follow your wood floor or finish manufacturer’s recommendations on caring for your floor. If for no other reason, it may preserve and protect your warranty.

-Rob

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