Hardwood can last a lifetime with the right finish.
By REBECCA SLOAN
Nothing can compare to the natural beauty and luster of a hardwood floor. With its honey-hues and subtle grain, a hardwood floor is both rustic and rich, both understated and elegant.
But there are other reasons besides looks to love hardwood floors.
They require minimal maintenance and by following just a few basic care instructions, a hardwood floor will remain beautiful and functional for a lifetime.
According to Dave Evans, vice president of Williams Hardwood Flooring with locations in Youngstown, Boardman and Canfield, a hardwood floor's worst enemies are dirt, sand, grit and water.
Abrasive dirt and grit can cause scratches and dents in wood, and standing water can warp wood or at the very least, damage the floor's finish.
To protect against these enemies, Williams recommends placing floor mats at entrances to catch dirt and grit and immediately wiping up spills when they occur.
Also, to prevent dents, don't walk on hardwood floors in high heels or cleats, don't drag furniture across a hardwood floor when moving it and use a vacuum hose with an attachment brush or a dust mop or broom to sweep up dirt.
Floor care: There are other specific do's and don'ts when it comes to cleaning a hardwood floor.
Many experts recommend damp mopping with water and a neutral PH wood cleaner formulated especially for hardwood floors.
Williams recommends using 1/4 cup vinegar mixed with one gallon of water and a damp mop for routine cleaning and cautions against allowing puddles of water to accumulate on the floor.
Never clean a hardwood floor using oily soap products like Murphy's Oil Soap and do not use cleaning products formulated for tile floors. Oily soaps will build up and cause problems and acrylic waxes cause the wood to become slippery and dull.
These general rules of thumb apply to caring for hardwood floors with all types of finishes. For more specific care instructions, you need to know what type of finish your hardwood floor has.
Finishing touch: The National Wood Flooring Association's Web site offers these tips to determine your hardwood floor's finish.
If the finish flakes off, or if the last time the floor was installed or refinished was before the mid-1960s, the finish is probably varnish or shellac. Varnish or shellac finishes are seldom used today. Instead, polyurethane or water-based urethane finishes are preferred. Most hardwood floors installed today have a polyurethane finish.
Hardwood floors might also have wax finishes. Evans said waxes are often applied over floors that are stained to add luster and durability.
Floors with a varnished or polyurethane finish should never be waxed.
To test to see if the floor has a wax finish, the National Wood Flooring Association's Web site recommends applying two drops of water to an inconspicuous area of the floor. If within 10 minutes white spots appear under the drops, the floor is waxed.
Wax finishes are not as common today as they were in the past because they require more maintenance than other types of finishes, needing to be buffed and re-waxed periodically.
If your floor does have a wax finish, buff to restore shine, and when buffing no longer yields shiny results, wax. A properly maintained floor should need to be waxed once or twice a year.
Remember not to over-wax. Apply wax lightly in low-traffic areas such as under furniture.
Remedies: If, despite the best intentions, a hardwood floor does become scratched, dented or warped, the damages can often be easily remedied.
Although Evans cautions against trying to undo damages without consulting with a hardwood flooring specialist first, the National Wood Flooring Association's Web site recommends using steel wool or fine sandpaper to buff away minor scratches caused by ground-in dirt or grit, cigarette burns, ink stains or oil and grease marks.
After buffing the blemishes away, the area will need refinished or re-waxed.
Water damage: Damages caused by an accumulation of water can also be rubbed with fine steel wool or sandpaper, cleaned with mineral spirits and refinished or re-waxed.
Boards that have been severely dented or scratched or warped by an excessive amount of water can always be replaced.
Speaking of water, too little or too much moisture in the air can cause problems.
Evans said that during the winter, homeowners should run a humidifier to supply floors with moisture, and during summer, air-conditioners and fans should be used to help keep humidity levels low.
A floor lacking moisture will often squeak or creak, and a floor receiving too much moisture will often swell.