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How To: Care For Hardwood Floors

How To: Care For Hardwood FloorsWe do a lot of hardwood floor refinishing at Austin Historical and I often get asked by clients how they should care for their newly refinished wood floors. There is a specific timeline of how to treat and care for a wood floor after it was just refinished. In this post, I’ll outline what chemicals or actions are safe for your hardwood floors and when they become safe.

How Long After Refinishing Will My Wood Floors Be Ready?

All of these timelines are dependent on environmental conditions, though. This is an average only! If your weather is warmer and drier than average, then you can speed up the timeline a bit (but not too much). And inversely, if it is cooler and more humid, you’ll have to wait longer for your floors to be ready.

  • Up to 12 Hrs After Coating – Floors should NOT be walked on at all, and adequate ventilation must be provided to allow the finish to dry properly.
  • 12-36 Hrs After Coating – Floors should be dry to the touch and are safe to walk on in socks or stockings. No shoes!
  • 36 hrs After Coating – Floors are safe for light foot traffic with shoes, but high heels and furniture should be avoided if at all possible.
  • 1 Week After Coating – Furniture can be replaced and normal activities can be resumed. However, avoid placing rugs on the floors until 1 month after finishing. Also, avoid using vacuums any cleaners, or even mopping the floor during this period. A broom and dust pan will suffice just fine for now.
  • 1 Month After Coating – Set your rugs, use your vacuum, mop your floor. Anything goes at this point. The finish has cured enough and is as hard and free of VOC’s as it will ever be.

General Care Do’s & Don’ts

After your newly refinished wood floors have fully cured and life has gone back to normal, there are a few things you can do to make sure the finish on your floors lasts. There are only so many times you can sand and finish a floor before you sand right through the floor. So, by taking care of your new finish, you can extend the life of your floors and save thousands of dollars by putting off a refinishing for an extra 10+ years.

DO’S

  • Sweep Regularly – Dust and dirt that sit on your floor get walked on and ground into the finish. It can quickly wear down your finish.
  • Mop Regularly – Depending on how dirty your house gets, you need to mop your wood floors about every month. There are plenty of good wood floor cleaners to use but I recommend Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner.
  • Use Felt – Put felt pads on the feet of any furniture you have that will be residing on your floors to prevent scratching and denting from the furniture.
  • Change Rolling Chair Wheels – If you have a rolling chair, you likely need to get new rollers. The typical nylon rollers on most chairs will scratch and destroy a wood floor’s finish. A set of polyurethane casters will smooth out your ride and protect your wood floors.

DON’TS

  • Leave Spills For Long – If you spilled food or liquid on your wood floors clean it up right away. The wood is protected on the face, but if it seeps into the cracks and isn’t dried soon, the wood can stain or swell or both. Pets are often the biggest offenders in this area.
  • Use Oil Cleaners – Cleaners with oil in them like Murphy’s Oil Soap can create an oily residue on your floors that is often difficult to remove. These cleaners were great for floors when the finish was mainly wax, but with a polyurethane floor, you don’t want these as part of your cleaning regimen.
  • Drag Anything…Ever – A sure fire way to put a gash in your finish is to drag or slide a piece of furniture across your floor. Even if you put something soft underneath the item, you might have a little bit of sand or dirt that gets dragged along and puts fine scratches in your finish.

Without this basic care, you may end up needing a hardwood floor repair or board replacement and that begins to get expensive. Wood floors can last centuries if taken care of properly. So, follow these simple guidelines, and your floors will be a blessing and not a curse for as long as you hang your hat there.

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27 thoughts on “How To: Care For Hardwood Floors

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. We are in a quandary and need advice. We just had our floors redone with oil base that we now know needs to cure, but unknowingly lined up painters to work on the same areas in 5 days. We do not want to damage the floors, but would like to get the painting done. Is there a way for them to safely complete the job? PLEASE advise!
    Thank you!

  2. Great thanks for this excellent blog. I will shift in a new home after the hardwood flooring. The work not started yet. You have explained how it will take me to shift there. It is my dream to have well polished floor at my bedroom, kitchen, everywhere in my house. But before started I want to know the procedure and time span for the total hardwood floor refinishing. So that I can value the time and money. I thought about the repair of the floor. But after reading your blog I think it will take long time to think about repairing.

  3. Hi Scott Thanks for the blog. I have been a great fan of the Bona line of product, but have recently grown extremely dissatisfied with one product in particular. We have a 1930 Todor Revival with red oak original flooring, they were refinished with polyurethane about 7 years ago. I wanted to spruce up a recently empty bedroom with “Bona Low Gloss Floor Polish” and made the mistake of thinking that this product was one of those pre-mixed, pre-diluted, consumer-friendly easy to apply (urethane) finishes you spoke about in your article on how to determine finishes. Yet, after I applied the product and grew dissatisfied with the dull results I decided to try to figure out just what I put on the floor (ingredients are not on the bottle). I realized contrary to the label, that says it is a urethane coating, this is not a urethane, polyurethane or anything like that, but an acrylic. Now, I am faced with the ever so labor-intensive task of removing the wax so that I can re-poly the surface as originally intended. So, just for the record, BONA, although I love their cleaning products does not carry a line of products that are fully conducive the good wood floor care. I plan to use ammonia or would it be easier to use something else? Also, I found that several coats of diluted shellac works better than one heavy coat and assume the same is true for polyurethane, what product would you use and in what ratio?

  4. I see that Murphy’s wood oil soap is not recommended but what about Scott’s liquid gold wood wash? I’ve used it a couple times. Does that also create a build up?

  5. We refinished floors in one part of house and had new construction hardwood put down in july. We covered the floors with cardboard one week later and theyve remained covered for about a month. We are getting ready to put down a large area rug but noticed that there are areas where the finish appears to have bubbled up berween boards in several spots. I assume they can hand polish, but wonder if this is continuation of curing process, stunted by our having kept them covered.

    Also we put down area rugs on the refinished rooms maybe 10 days after. One room is engineered white oak, the other red oak…if makes difference in curing time.. They seem fine but you post says wait a month, so wonder if should pull up the rugs again…its been 2-3 wks theyve been down now.

  6. Thanks for your lovely post, great furniture design. good work keep going. Great information for hardwood floors. Thanks

  7. Scott –

    I enjoyed your wood floor presentation at the Restore Omaha conference this weekend. I am searching your site for the page that describes the tests for determining what existing finish is in place on wood. I cannot find that text. I think you said there were 8 steps to testing, and that they must be done carefully, and in sequence?

    I will pull up carpeting from the wood floors of my 1931 Tudor Revival home at some point. I am hoping I will just need to do a bit of cleaning and minor prep, and then roll out a new topcoat (or two).

    But I want to make sure the new topcoat is compatible with the existing finish, and that it will bond – and look – appropriately and nicely.

  8. Scott,
    I recently had my floors refinished a few weeks ago. With all the reading Ive done, Ive come to expect some flaws with a real wood, in home refinish like dust, etc.
    If there are a few spots in my finish that have debris or dirt, leaving a poly bump, can this be a SPOT FIX from the contractor? I know it takes time to cure, but can this be worked out without a complete floor resand? Please advise
    Also, can poly pooling in small spots be fixed as well?
    Thanks
    Deb

    1. Deb, it sounds like your refinisher made a few mistakes. The bumps and dust can most likely be resolved by having the floors screened with an orbital polisher and then recoated with poly. Just make sure whoever puts the next coat on knows how to keep the dust out. As for the pooling poly maybe it can be smoothed out but likely it’s part of the floor unless you do a full refinish again.

      1. Can this orbital sanding be done on the two spots I have found… the entire floor doesnt have to be redone does it?

  9. I just refinished my hardwood floors myself and used a semi gloss poly for my finish, which I did 3 coats of it. And it’s been a week for my living room/dining room since I’ve finished them but probably 3 for my hallway. I got the bona spray mop and tried it on my vinyl floors, WORKED AWESOME! But then tried it on my hallway and it picked up the dirt and cleaned well but now the floors look dull and hazy. Did I try to use cleaner too soon?! Can I fix it somehow? I don’t want to use it on the other rooms until I know for sure! Thank you!

    1. Jessica, you are a bit early to be cleaning the floors with any chemicals yet. Oil-based finishes take a full 30 days to cure completely. I doubt all is lost though. Do a little test in an out of the way area to try cleaning the haze off with a mixture of 3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar and see if that makes a difference.

  10. What about recommendations for general maintenance and care/cleaning for ALL woodwork in your craftsman home (i.e. built-ins, baseboards, door frames, interior sides of windows, etc.? Is there a certain polish or cleaner I should be using on a regular basis that doesn’t promote build up (I don’t like dusting with pledge, for example)? Also is there something I should be doing annually to keep my wood from drying out (conditioning)? I live in the upper Midwest where we’re prone to temperature extremes. Thank you!

    1. Nicole, I’m definitely not an expert on this topic but here’s what I do. Just use a lightly damp cloth to wipe any residue from baseboards, trim or windows unless there is some grease. In that case I use a little dish soap mixed in with the water. It’s not fancy but if your wood is sealed there is little more that you need and any sealed wood doesn’t need to be conditioned.

  11. Is there a way to tell what kind of finish your hardwood floors have? Should I assume it’s a polyurethane finish if it has been refinished in the last 10 years? I think the oak floors in my 1950 cape had been refinished prior to us purchasing and I’m trying to find the best way to clean as well as handle light scratch marks from my dogs nails and previously unfelted dining room chairs. Thanks!

  12. OMG, it doesn’t have to be so complicated. If you have ancient untreated (i.e., no laminate) wood floors like I do, the following is just fine:
    – Vacuum once a week.
    – The only way to truly clean a floor is handsees/kneesees. Sorry. Mops just push things around. 1 bucket of warm water plus 1 capful of Murphy’s Oil Soap. Dip in a rag, wring out as much water as you can, and wipe, wipe, wipe. Rinse, repeat. Change the water when it gets dirty.

    1. James, I have to beg to differ. Murphy’s Oil Soap is the last thing you want to use on a floor that is finished with polyurethane. Over time it creates a waxy residue that becomes difficult to clean and impossible to recoat with poly should you ever need to.

      1. I agree Scott. No Murphy’s or anything but Bona on my hardwood. But I don’t agree with the polish part. Polyurethane finished floors should not need polish. I did all that in the 60s but no more.

  13. Thanks Scott for the helpful post. Previous owners’ pet urine has ruined the finish in places on my 1923 oak floor. Is there a way to disguise that without redoing entire floor?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. You can try using some oxalic acid (wood bleach) and see what happens. It’s no guarantee but it may work if the stains aren’t too bad. Take the finish off the selected areas and fab some on starting with a little at first then more if it needs it. Rinse with plenty of water to neutralize the acid afterward.

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