The 10 Commandments of hardwood floor maintenance.
Hardwood floors will last 25 years between sandings, if they are well-maintained!
1. Sweep and vacuum your floors like crazy.
Here in Minnesota, we track all manner of grit, gravel and salt onto our floors. The photo at right in one sweeping of the shop floor on one typical day in January. These particles are abrasive, just like the grit on sandpaper. Your weight on top of those abrasive particles turns you into a sanding machine that will grind down the finish on your floor as effectively as any floor sander- so get that grit off that floor regularly and often. We recommend a canister vac with a very soft bristle wand head.
2. Recoat your floors before you wear any spot through to bare wood.
Wood floors don't wear evenly. You will see wear first appear in small spots at exterior doors and in front of the fridge and you'll think nothing of it because it's just a tiny spot. But it is not nothing! Those little worn spots of driftwood cannot be spot-fixed; once you've killed the finish in one area of the floor, you need to resand the entire space. So keep a vigilant eye on your trouble spots and recoat the floor BEFORE they wear through. There is not a finish on the market today that will last 25 years unless you periodically refresh it.
Recoat your floors when they first appear scratched and dull, but before they are worn through to bare wood. This can be as often as every year for kitchens that are not swept, or as infrequently as every 15 years in upstairs bedrooms. Recoating involves lightly etching the existing finish of a floor with a fine grit screen under a buffer or pole sander, and then laying down a single layer of fresh finish. You can hire a contractor to do this for you (current market rate for this service is about $1 per square foot) or you can easily rent a buffer (from Pete's), buy your own polyurethane (yes, from us too) and do it yourself for about 20¢ per square foot. Nothing makes us happier than discussing recoating procedures, so call already. Or, at least read our long defense of the recoating process: screen and recoat.
3. Put floor protectors on all furniture that moves and replace them regularly.
We love-love-love the brand we carry because the loosely-woven olefin fibers absorb pieces of grit instead of just trapping them against the felt, which leads to more scratches. Also, the adhesive is incredible and really stays stuck to chair legs. Available in 7/8" and 1½" diameter circles. Packs of 20 are $5.99, or $24.99 for 100. Shop online.
4. Never, ever wet-mop a wood floor. Ever.
Those long-stick squeeze mops just don't wring out the mop head thoroughly enough, and even small amounts of water can cause your floor to swell and cup over time. Now, for all you strong, old-fashioned types out there, getting on your hands and knees and washing the floor with a carefully squeezed-out conventional sponge is usually not a hazard to your floor, but we feel bad making your clean your floors that way. We recommend a spray-cleaner expressly intended for polyurethane or Monocoat floors (see below) wiped with a dry push-mop.
5. Do not clean the floor with furniture polish, vinegar, ammonia, pine cleaners or Murphy's Oil Soap.
Those cleaners may dull or even damage the finish and will create problems when your floor needs recoating. We sell and recommend Bona Professional Swedish Hardwood Cleaner for all polyurethane-finished floors and Rubio Natural or Satin soap for all Monocoat-finished floors. The Bona professional line is actually different and better than the Bona cleaner that is available through Ace and WalMart because it contains a degreaser (and the silver bottle is very snazzy), and you can get it from Pete's for $11 for a quart spray bottle. A bottle of the Monocoat spray is also $11 and for a small fee we can ship either one directly to you! It also comes in concentrate form (if you already have a spray bottle) for $8.50.
6. Never wax a polyurethane floor!
You're looking at your polyurethaned hardwood floor and thinking that it looks dull and dingy and just needs to be polished up a bit. Don't try it. Polyurethane is simply plastic and buffing it will just dull it further and laying down a layer of wax will prevent you topcoating with more polyurethane, which is the correct way to restore sheen to your polyurethane floor.
7. Use rugs.
Place mats at exterior doors to trap sand and grit that arrives with incoming traffic. Use area rugs in high traffic areas and spots where you pivot, like the base of stairwells
8. Be careful about rug underlayments.
Many people like to use a separate backing under their carpets to add cushion and keep them from slipping. But synthetic rubber and polyurethane rug backing can react with the plastic in polyurethane floors and discolor and degrade it; natural latex or rubber underlayments will not. But the problem is, manufacturers are not very good about listing the components in their rug underlayments. Pete's sells a guaranteed natural rubber backer called Rug-Check Plus that works like a charm. $1.25 per square foot cut from a 6' roll. We'll be happy to cut you a nice custom piece just for your rug (and we can ship it to you, too - just call us and tell us what size your rug is).
9. Beware plants and Christmas trees
Use stands under plants to allow air circulation; even a waterproof plant container placed directly on the floor can attract condensation and leave a water stain.
10. Love your pets
But trim their toenails and wipe up their accidents.