Wood Floor Care Guide
Caring For Your Wood Floor
Since the overwhelming majority of wood floors are composed
of solid hardwood, this care guide applies specifically to this
type of flooring.
Properly finished wood is the easiest of all floor surfaces
to keep clean and looking like new, year after year, with
only minimal care.
How minimal? Vacuum and/or dust mop weekly or more
often if merited. Vacuuming is the best way to remove
surface dust and dirt before it gets walked into the finish
and dulls its luster. Vacuuming also pulls accumulated
dust from the grooves of factory finished and plank floors.
Some wood floor care guidelines will depend on the type
of floor finish. However, there are a number of preventive
maintenance tips that are the first steps in caring for your
wood floors, regardless of the finish type.
First and foremost, wood and water don’t mix. No matter
what finish your wood floor has, never pour water on your
floor. While a slightly dampened mop may be used on
polyurethane and other surface finishes in good condition,
even small amounts of water can cause the deterioration
of finishes and warp the underlying wood.
Also, when using any maintenance product , please read
the label. Always follow label directions for maintenance
products, except for directions which call for using water on
wood. Always use only products specifically designed for
wood floors. Contact your local wood flooring distributor
for products and specific cleaning recommendations.
You can keep your car running better and longer when
you regularly change your oil, check your tire pressure,
and keep your radiator filled with antifreeze. Your wood
floors benefit from preventive maintenance just as much
as your car does. The following are some maintenance tips
for keeping your floors looking great for years and years.
• Dirt and grit act just like sandpaper on any floor. To
keep grit from entering in your home use dirt-trapping,
walk-off mats at all exterior doors. NOFMA recommends
placing throw-rugs or small sections of carpet just
inside the entrances. Always remember to keep door
• Vacuum regularly, as often as you vacuum carpets;
a brush attachment works beautifully. Don’t use the
beater bar; it can damage the finish. Sweep or use an
untreated dust mop daily or as needed, but do not use
a household dust treatment as this may cause your
floor to become slick, dull the finish, or interfere with
re-coating. Please be aware that vacuum wheels may
scratch the surface.
• Check with the flooring manufacturer before using a
micro fiber pad to clean your floor. The micro fibers
may catch wood fibers and lift a splinter or cause a tear,
exposing unfinished wood.
• It is extremely important that the finish is fully cured
(7 to 90 days depending on the type of finish) before
placing any rugs, rug pads, etc. on the floor to keep from
affecting the finish and leaving a prominent “rug print”.
• Use a rug pad with any rug placed on your wood floor.
(NOTE: Kitchen mats are the exception to this rule.) For
rug pads choose 100% non-solvent based waffle type
rubber, an untreated natural fiber such as wool or
jute, or 1/4" chopped urethane. Do not use sticky or
tacky backers. The plasticizers they use can attack and
discolor finish. These same plasticizers may also be
present in the backer of some rugs.
• In kitchens, use area rugs at high spill locations and at
work stations– stove, sink, and refrigerator. Cotton is
generally the best fabric since it is easily washed.
• Some finishes and certain chemicals in wood are
affected by ultraviolet light and heat, causing the wood
and some finishes to change color, develop a patina,
or age. To avoid uneven appearance, move area rugs
occasionally and drape or shade large windows.
• Wipe up spills promptly with a dry cloth or paper
towel. Use a slightly moistened cloth for sticky spills if
necessary, but be sure to wipe the floor dry with another
cloth or paper towel.
• Keep heels on shoes in good repair, especially high
heels. That also includes most boots with heels, such as
cowboy boots. Heels worn away exposing steel support
rods or nails will dent and scratch any floor surface,
even concrete or steel.
• Pets need a rug for drool and wet coats. Be sure to keep
all toys, bones, etc. that have hard corners away from
the floor. Also, be sure to trim your pet’s nails regularly
to avoid deep scratches.
• Put felt fabric glides on the legs of your furniture; they
allow furniture to be moved easily without scuffing the
floor. Periodically clean glides since grit can become
embedded in the fabric. Replace when the glides show
wear (typically 6 to 12 months depending on use). Avoid
casters made of hard materials like metals or hard
plastics. If casters are necessary, use gray, non-marking
• Older furniture with wooden or metal wheels can
severely damage wood floors when moved. To avoid
damage, place a felt-bottomed coaster under each
wheel, allowing the piece to slide, rather than roll,
Beyond these preventive maintenance tips, your floors
will likely need additional care. Before determining what
steps to take, you must first identify your floor’s finish.
The following section will take you through several steps
to help identify your finish.
Identifying your Finish Floor Care Guidelines
Two principal types of finishes are used on wood floors:
penetrating sealers and surface finishes.
Your builder, realtor or flooring installer/finisher should
be able to tell you what type of finish was used. In older
homes, it might not be possible to contact the builder or
flooring contractor to learn what finish was used. If you
don’t know the type of finish, try smudging the finish with
a finger or scraping the finish with a fingernail or a putty
knife in a hidden area or corner of the room.
• If no noticeable smudge is evident and/or clear finish
was scraped up, follow the maintenance procedures
for a surface finish.
• If the smudge is noticeable, the floors have likely been
waxed and maintenance should follow the guidelines
for floors with a penetrating sealer with wax.
Knowing the brand names of finishing products,
particularly the final finish coat, is also helpful. If
your floors are factory finished note the name of the
manufacturer. Keep this information in your household
data fi le to help you determine the proper floor
As a general rule you can be sure your plank or strip floor
was finished at the factory if it has V-shaped grooves
or bevels along the edges where the boards join and
sometimes where the ends butt. This may be only a
slightly rolled edge.
If the floor has no bevels, it was probably custom finished
on site after installation. To determine what kind of finish
was used, call the builder or floor finisher, if possible.
(NOTE: Some site-finished plank flooring may also have
beveled grooved edges.)
Floors with surface finishes and floors with penetrating
sealers will require similar care; but when it comes to
removing stains or restoring the finish in heavy traffic
areas, different methods are appropriate for these two
types of finish.
Site-applied surface finishes include polyurethane,
Swedish finish, moisture-cure urethane, and water-based
urethanes. These are all blends of synthetic resins,
plasticizers, and other film-forming ingredients which
remain on and protect the surface of the wood. All are
durable, moisture-resistant finishes. These finishes are
generally available in high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin and
matte. Any one of the above surface finishes is a good
choice. They are recommended for kitchen floors or
similar areas where there is exposure to water splashing
or spills. (NOTE: Even if your floor has a surface finish,
penetrating sealers may have been used as an undercoat.)
Most manufacturers of surface finishes do not recommend
waxing because wax can make surface-finished floors too
slippery. Once a surface-finished floor is waxed, it can be
maintained by occasional waxing, but be advised that
once waxed, a surface finished floor cannot be re-coated
to rejuvenate it; it will need to be completely sanded down
to the raw wood to restore the finish.
• Polyurethane (oil-modified polyurethane) is the most
common surface finish. The finish tends to develop an
amber tint as it ages.
• Swedish Finish (acid-curing urethane or conversion
varnish) is another durable finish, generally harder
than polyurethanes. This finish is clear, fast-drying and
• Moisture-Cure Urethanes are the toughest finishes.
Some are non-yellowing (check the can label). Gloss is
the most common sheen.
• Water-Based Finishes are urethanes, acrylics and
blends of acrylics and urethanes, and may be catalyzed.
They are fast-drying, moisture-resistant, durable and
resist yellowing. As the name implies, the vehicular
component is water.
• Varnish, Shellac and Lacquer Finishes are rarely
used today, and generally are not considered as
durable as the more modern finishes. Shellacs are the
softest and show water spots. Do not use a damp mop
on shellacs. You can use a slightly damp mop on the
others if not previously waxed. Varnishes are harder
but not to the extent of modern finishes and will show
more ambering over time. Lacquers are hard and brittle
and scratch easily.
• Polymer Finishes, also known as acrylic impregnated
or irradiated polymer finishes, are used primarily in
commercial applications. Each brand of flooring using
a polymer or acrylic impregnated finish has specific
maintenance procedures which should be obtained
from the manufacturer.
CARING FOR FLOORS WITH SURFACE FINISHES
IMPORTANT: DO NOT APPLY MOISTURE UNNECESSARILY, VACUUM
INSTEAD. SPRAY/MIST/DAMP MOP ONLY AS NECESSARY. CONTACT THE
FINISH MANUFACTURER TO DETERMINE SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS
FOR CLEANING THE FINISH. GENERALLY SPEAKING, AMMONIA AND
VINEGAR SOLUTION WILL DAMAGE OR DULL MANY SURFACE FINISHES
AND SHOULD NOT BE USED TO CLEAN YOUR FLOOR. (SMALL AMOUNTS
OF AMMONIA AND VINEGAR SOLUTION MAY BE NECESSARY TO REMOVE
With a surface finish, a lightly dampened mop can be used
to clean up spills (if you can see even small beads of water
on your floor, your mop is too wet).
For cleaning dirty areas, sweep, vacuum and follow with
the manufacturer’s recommended cleaner(s). To apply
cleaner, dampen or spray a cloth until moistened, not
wet. As you clean, dry up the residue with a dry sponge
mop or terry pad mop. Newly finished floors should not be
cleaned with water until the finish has completely cured,
which may take 7 to 90 days.
When high-traffic areas of surface finished floors begin to
show significant wear, abrading and re-coating an entire
floor is the least involved choice for maintenance.
REPAIRING A SURFACE FINISH
(SCRATCH OR GOUGE)
With special care and skill, you may be able to repair
polyurethane finishes yourself. Such repair may be
necessary after stain removal or water damage.
For a small, relatively inconspicuous area you might be
able to repair by cleaning with steel wool followed by paste
wax. You won’t get an exact match but it could serve as
a temporary repair. The alternative is sanding to expose
bare wood over the entire room and applying new finish.
CAUTION: ADVANCED TECHNIQUES REQUIRE ADVANCED SKILLS. ALSO,
DON’T ATTEMPT THIS IF YOU HAVE AN OLDER VARNISH. THE OLDER
FINISHES ARE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO REPAIR AND MATCH SUCCESSFULLY.
LACQUER AND SHELLAC, HOWEVER, REPAIR MORE EASILY.
Use steel wool or fine sandpaper to remove layers of
the finish from the entire length of affected boards. If
necessary, stain and let dry completely. Apply the same
type polyurethane as the original finish on surrounding
strips. Read application direction. Taping the perimeter of
the area with a quality release masking tape is helpful.
Allow ample drying time. After the finish is dry, remove the tape.
As the name implies, a penetrating sealer soaks into the
wood and hardens to seal the floor against dirt and stains.
Penetrating sealers may also contain a stain to add color to
the flooring. NOFMA strongly recommends these finishes
not be used in kitchens and daily eating areas where spills
are likely. This finish protects the surface from moisture
but will stain, dull and/or whiten if the moisture remains
on the finish for more than a short period.
The beauty and wear resistance of wood floors finished
with a penetrating sealer may be further enhanced by wax.
A wax coating forms a barrier against the most frequent
kinds of abrasion, can be easily renewed, and imparts a
soft shine to the floor.
Use wax with these two cautions:
• The wax (liquid buffing or paste) MUST be designed for
use on hardwood floors.
• Do NOT use a product that has a water base. Some
cleaning product manufacturers actually recommend
water-based products for wood. NOFMA disagrees.
NOFMA suggests only solvent-based products be used
despite those recommendations.
Generally, solvent-based waxes will have the odor of
mineral spirits. Check the label to be sure. Follow the
manufacturer’s directions for applying the wax, and buff it
well. Buffing machines work well for buffing waxed floors.
Commercial buffing machines, with buffer diameters of
15" to 17", are readily available from rental companies.
You may also buff small areas with a household buffer or
by hand with a cloth or pads.
CARING FOR FLOORS WITH PENETRATING
SEALERS OR WAX FINISHES
With a penetrating sealer or wax coating, occasional
buffing helps renew the shine and remove scuffs. With
proper care, you may be able to go a year or more
before having to re-wax your entire floor, though heavy
traffic areas might require more frequent re-waxing.
Wax-coated finishes should NEVER be cleaned or
maintained with water– not even a damp mop.
After four to six months of wear, inspect your floors
closely to see if there’s been a dirt build-up or if the wax
has discolored. If your floors were originally finished in a
dark tone, you may see a lightening of the finish in traffic
areas. After vacuuming, and before any other procedure,
buff an area. If the shine is not restored, apply a new coat
of wax and buff well.
For smaller areas with imbedded dirt, abused areas, and
lightened areas in traffic lanes, use a solvent-based (not
water-based) liquid cleaner or cleaner/wax combination.
Many solvent-based cleaners will be based on naphtha
or petroleum distillate. Follow directions. For dark floors,
choose a product in a compatible dark color. Spread it
with steel wool. Rub to remove grime and the old wax,
then wipe clean. Let floor dry. When using paste wax,
wrap in a wad of cloth and apply a thin, even coat. The
warmth of your hand and rubbing friction melts the wax.
If dull spots remain after drying, apply a second coat to
dull areas and repeat.
IMPORTANT: FOLLOW THE LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR DISPOSAL OF THE
STEEL WOOL OR CLOTH USED. WITH SOME PRODUCTS THERE IS A RISK OF
When deep cleaning excessively dirty floors, or when
refurbishing an entire floor to restore to near original
conditions, use liquid cleaners or restorers. Apply as
directed with steel wool pads and then buff the floor with
a commercial buffer. Follow by waxing with either a paste
or liquid, using the same buffer for final polishing.
Follow manufacturer’s directions for the cleaner. If your
floors are stained (colored), it’s a good idea to use a
colored wax or cleaner to help maintain the original color.
The best place for obtaining wood floor care products is a
local dealer that carries floor finishing products.
CARING FOR SPECIAL SURFACES
White and Bleached Floors: Because of their light color,
these floors need more attention than others. Like white
carpet or vinyl, they show dirt more readily and they more
quickly reveal damage from foot traffic than natural or
darker stained finishes. Vacuum or sweep often. Wipe
up liquid spills IMMEDIATELY. Follow the maintenance
procedures recommended for the type of finish used.
With factory or on-the-job finishes, light-tinted or white
floors will likely change shade over time.
Handscraped/Distressed Wood: These are floors that
have been beaten, scraped, or wire brushed to remove
portions of the wood, giving it an antique, textured
appearance. The resulting uneven surface tends to trap
dirt, so we recommend vacuuming often. If soil remains,
sweep with a stiff bristle broom and re-vacuum.
Such floors are usually stained a dark color with penetrating
sealers and waxed to further convey the aged wood effect.
What remains after the wire brush treatment, however, are
only the toughest wood fibers, and these are somewhat
resistant to penetration by the finish color. That means
more frequent color renewal, which can be accomplished
by the use of a wax or cleaner/wax combination of the
proper color to maintain the original color tone.
Wood floors that have become unsightly from years of
wear or neglect can be restored to their original beauty.
Machine sanding removes the old finish and exposes
new wood. With the application of new finish material,
floors are like new again. While the highly skilled home
craftsman may want to undertake the task of refinishing,
it is advisable to have a professional floor refinisher do
Standard wood tones or other colors are readily available
in penetrating stains. Coloring floors with pigmented
penetrating stain will not obscure the grain markings.
GAPS AND SQUEAKS
All the wood in your home will contract or expand as
the moisture in the air increases and decreases. Doors
and windows may swell and stick during rainy seasons.
In dry, cold weather, cracks and fine lines of separation
may appear in wall cabinets and furniture. The same
reaction to humidity, or the lack thereof, happens in your
wood floors. This is a natural characteristic of wood.
Gaps: Tiny gaps between edges of boards may appear
in dry conditions. This can usually be reduced by installing
a humidifier. Balancing the moisture in your house
creates a healthier environment for both your floors and
Squeaks: First try lubrication. Apply a liberal amount of
wax for waxed floors. For surface finishes, apply talcum
powder or soap stone between adjacent boards where the
noise occurs. Another method is to drive triangular glazier
points between the strips using a putty knife to set them
below the surface.
GAPS AND SQUEAKS (CONTINUED)
If these quick fixes don’t work, drive 2" galvanized casing
or finish nails through pilot holes drilled into the face of
the flooring. Nails should be placed near edges of the
boards. Set them with a nail set and hide with matching
wood floor filler designed for finished floors.
The best solution for silencing squeaks requires more
work and can be accomplished only where there is access
beneath the floor (crawl space or basement). This involves
placing wood screws from below. They are inserted
through the subfloor and into the finish floor to pull the
flooring strips tight to the subfloor. To avoid having screw
tips break the floor surface, be sure not to use screws that
are too long.
For floors with polyurethane or similar surface finishes,
many stains can be prevented simply by immediately
wiping up the spilled liquid.
For waxed floors, most stains can be prevented or
minimized by keeping the floors waxed as previously
suggested, and by wiping up any spilled liquid immediately.
The following stain removal guide offers some helpful
suggestions for common accidents. Remember, when
removing a stain, always begin at the outer edge and
work toward the middle to prevent it from spreading.
Guide courtesy of nofma.org