The Uber-Easy “Always and Never” Guide to Making Hardwood Floors Last Forever

published Oct 27, 2017
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(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

Wood floors are beautiful and cozy and add so much personality to our homes. But maintaining them can be confusing. What kind of finish do I have on my floors? Is it really okay to clean them with white vinegar? Should I have people take off their shoes in order to keep my floors nice? And when do I need to refinish them? This guide takes the guesswork out of caring for your hardwood floors with some “always and never” tips to keep that gorgeous wood in tip-top shape.

Never Use Vinegar on Your Wood Floors

So many DIY cleaning solutions call for a water and vinegar solution for just about everything, including hardwood floors. But the acetic acid in white vinegar isn’t good for the finish on most hardwood floors. Even if it doesn’t happen right away, over time the vinegar will eat through the finish on your floor, making it look dull. While all wood finishes will dull eventually, using vinegar will speed up the process. To us, it’s just not worth the risk.

Never Wear High Heels on Your Wood Floors

High heels concentrate most of a person’s weight in about one square inch of space, causing heels to strike the floor “with more force per inch than an elephant’s foot,” according to one wood flooring provider. (Yes, this will damage your wood floor.) To avoid pits and dents, carry your heels to the door and put them on right before you leave the house. For guests, decide if you will endure the damage or request that they remove shoes. Asking everyone across the board to take off their shoes will keep heel-wearers from feeling singled out, but we know a shoe-removing policy is a topic that draws out strong feelings.

Check out How To Fix Dents in Wooden Floors & Furniture (With an Iron!) if you already have some heel marks in your wood floors.

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Always Sweep or Vacuum

Build regular sweeping or vacuuming into your daily cleaning routine, mainly because the dirt, grime and the sand your preschooler carries home in all his clothes can act like sandpaper and scratch your floors. (This is another reason to consider implementing a shoe-removal policy.)

Never Use Rotating Bristles When Vacuuming

While frequent sweeping or vacuuming is key to maintaining nice hardwood floors, be sure to turn off any rotating bristles that are intended for carpeting, as they could scratch your floor’s surface.

Always Pay Attention to Temperature (and Humidity)

Keeping your home’s temperature and humidity (they’re inter-related) at ideal levels for your home isn’t an issue when you’re at home; if you’re comfortable, your floors are fine. However, if you leave for vacation and decide to turn the air conditioning or heater off, you could be putting your hardwood floors at risk. High humidity causes the wood of your floor to swell; lower humidity causes them to contract. A bit of movement in your floors is normal, but maintaining good levels of temperature and humidity can keep fluctuations from becoming an issue. The ideal temperature range for your floors is between 60 and 80 degrees, with humidity levels in the range of 30 to 50 percent.

Never Wet Mop Your Floors

If excess humidity can affect your floors, it’s no surprise that cleaning with too much water is a major no-no when it comes to your hardwood floors. Microfiber mops (like this one) are good because they pick up moisture, and any cleaning products should be lightly misted.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Never Refinish Your Floors Unless They Really Need It

While it’s safe to assume that every twenty years or so it’s inevitable, refinishing hardwood floors is a major undertaking. The job requires sanding and re-sealing, both of which drastically affect your living environment (and should be done by a professional). You’ll need to leave your home for the duration of the project.

Before you go all out for a full-blown refinishing job, consider if a screening would be sufficient. A faded finish and light surface scratches can most likely be fixed by this type of service, which involves roughing up the existing finish and then applying a new coat of finish, such as polyurethane.

Here are some tips for testing whether your floor needs a refinishing job.

Keeping these “always and never” tips in mind takes the uncertainty out of wood floor maintenance and allows you to stop spending time trying to figure out what’s okay and not okay and to instead get to work on actually keeping them nice.