Monday, 04 August 2014 23:45

How to clean hardwood floors — a step-by-step guide

How to clean hardwood floors — a step-by-step guide 

Want to clean your hardwood floor yourself? While it's best to call in the flooring professionals for advice, if you're prepared to work deliberately this DBG Cleaning Cleaning Services guide should help. And, please, as for most a hardwood floor represents a considerable investment, no skim reading!

Cleaning a hardwood floor – the basic principle, the basic rules

Water is the enemy of timber. If allowed to soak into the wood, it will warp and eventually rot it. So the chief principle is to know what is between the wood and any liquid you might apply, i.e. the nature of the protective coating, how much of it remains and how effective it is, and your floor’s basic structure.

From the principle stem the rules. If the surface can be wet-mopped, you must not allow water to stand upon it as it will weaken the coating. Aim to dry your floor as soon as you can. And if the surface cannot be wet-mopped, you must clean it with a minimum of moisture.

How to identify the coating on your timber floor

Dog on clean hardwood floor
The most important step in cleaning a
hardwood floor is identifying the finish
and how well it has stood up to wear.

You need to determine whether your floor has a modern finish, which can be wet-mopped, or whether it has an older and delicate finish or whether it has been waxed. If either of the latter, it will require gentle damp-mopping.

If your wooden floor lacks gleam, it has been stained or is unfinished, which puts it into the second, “great care”-needed category (Method B below).

If it gleams, you have to do some testing. To test for wax, rub an inconspicuous corner with some very fine wool. If the wool shows smudging, the floor has been waxed. Again, this goes into the “great care” category (Method B).

If there is no smudging, there is no wax present but you do need to do more testing. Choose a well-used area, drizzle a few drops of water onto it and watch them closely. If the wood darkens or the water seems about to penetrate into the timber, dry it off quickly in the knowledge the seal is one of the older varieties, such as shellac, varnish or lacquer, or that it has a penetrating seal – that is, a treatment such as oil that has penetrated into the wood and hardened. Once more, this goes into the Method B category.

However, if the water beads and remains standing, the seal is likely to be a modern type – most likely polyurethane, urethane or apolyacrylic. These are effective against water and they resist stains, too, which will make cleaning your floor a simple sweep, mop and dry job (Method A) – unless …

Unless their edges are bevelled.

Determining whether your floor is bevelled is easy – all you have to do is check the edges of the boards. If these edges have a slanted cut instead of being sharply cornered, they are bevelled, and likely to have been pre-finished. This is significant, because they could allow water to seep between the boards, making them susceptible to water intrusion.

Method A: Cleaning timber floors that have modern finishes and no bevelled edges

Let’s begin with a few notes on cleaning agents. Oil, wax and furniture spray are on the banned list. Oil leaves a residue that will hold dust and dirt, furniture spray makes the floor dangerously slick – a particular danger for elderly residents or visitors and senior pets  – and wax creates problems should you ever decide to recoat your floor.

Don’t use products or home-made mixes that contains ammonia or anything alkaline, which will dull the surface, or anything abrasive, which is sure to scratch.

Opt instead for a product recommended by the installer or use just soap (liquid dishwashing soap is good because it is so mild) and water. A well-meaning non-expert may recommend vinegar and water but if you try this be prepared to be disappointed. Vinegar and water will not work as well as soap and water and might even leave the floor looking duller.

Consider using distilled water, which is cheap and should be available at your supermarket. DBG Cleaning Cleaning recommends this as it will not leave streaks.

Enough preamble! It’s time to get to work ...

Sweep the floor with a soft-brushed broom or vacuum it with the soft-brush attachment in place. It’s important to avoid grinding grit against the surface seal.

Now mop, using your weak soap and water solution. Do not soak the floor but do mop with the grain. Change the water when it darkens. Work as quickly as you can.

Spot-clean any grimy areas with a soft cloth – nothing abrasive! – dipped into the soapy water in the bucket. You’ll have to get onto your knees for this. Again, work quickly.

The next step is mop up the soapy water. Use the original mop, rinsed in clean water and then wrung thoroughly – you might want to use your gloved hands for this. Then, working quickly, dry the floor. This need not be a perfect job – the rinse phase is ahead – but water should not be allowed to stand on even new and modern seals as it will weaken them.

Nearly there! Rinse-wash the mop once more and then refill the bucket with, hopefully, store-bought distilled water (which, as mentioned earlier, will minimise streaking). Rinse-clean the floor with the distilled water. As before, work quickly. You need to get to the final step as soon as you can...

The final step. Buff the floor dry, using either a fresh, second mop or, again on your hands and knees, using a terry cloth. If it is a warm and sunny day, open a window or two to help to dry the air, which will help to dry the floor. If is a less than fine day, consider running the air-conditioner turning on a ceiling fan for a little while.

Method B: Cleaning all other timber floors

The essence of this method is minimalism. Do not add soap to the water, use a mop that has been wrung nearly dry of water and do not use vigour. Be gentle.

Step one is to quickly read the guidelines given in Method A above as many of the same principles apply.

Ready? Good. Once more, you should work in your socks, so slip off your shoes.

Again, sweep the floor, ensuring the brushes you use will not grind grit into the surface.

Fill a bucket with water. More than ever, we suggest you use distilled water.

Ensure your mop is absolute clean, especially of any grit. Dip it into the distilled water, and wring. Then wring it again, preferably with your gloved hands. Run the damp mop over the floor, working with the grain. As soon as the water in the bucket changes colour, change the water.

Spot-clean with a soft cloth, dabbed perhaps with mineral spirits if a spot-test shows your floor can tolerate this.

Dry and buff with a terry cleaning cloth. To help the floor dry as quickly as possible, open the windows (if a fine and warm day) or run your ceiling fan or air-conditioner.

Maintaining your hardwood floor – some general notes

You might have noticed that waxing gets barely a mention here. That’s because DBG Cleaning Cleaning Services is not a big fan of waxing hardwood floors. A wax build-up can cause major problems in the future if you ever decide to have your floor resurfaced. We also think waxing is problematic for any elderly residents or visitors, and any senior pets, as it makes floors and especially stairs dangerously slippery.

Lay mats at the thresholds of your home. These will help to minimise the dirt and, more significantly, the grit tracked into your home and onto your floors.

If you’re expecting guests, lay carpet runners over the most heavily used areas of your floor.

If seven years or more have passed since your floor was coated, the finish is probably wearing out. Consider having it recoated.

 

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