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How to Clean Wood Floors

Cleaning wood floors presents a quandary. They’re the ultimate in hard-wearing surfaces – go round a stately 19th-century home and you’re likely to see many original boards. Yet if you don’t clean them correctly, they can warp, rot, and become permanently stained. The big enemy is water. Mop up spills promptly and if you have a wood floor kitchen, go easy on the kitchen tap to avoid splashing.

The simple beauty of a wood floor deserves special attention. To keep wood floors looking great on a daily basis, use the following tips:

  • Avoid scratches: Table and especially chair legs can scratch a wood floor. So fit protective pads using colourfast felt on the bottoms of chairs. When you move furniture around, make it a two-person job and lift, don’t push.

  • Pay attention to the shoes you wear: Take high heels off at the door! Stilettos bearing down onto the floor can cause dents. It’s not automatic – typically a heel needs a worn, sharp bit to make a mark. But why take the risk? Wear trainers (sneakers) with non-marking soles.

  • React to spills and stains promptly and properly: Wipe up spills promptly with a soft, just-damp cloth. Scrape up solids ever so gently using a blunt knife. Always follow the grain as you work.

  • Be sparing with the wax. When the floor dulls, try buffing with a soft cloth before you get out the wax. With patience, and a lint-free cloth folded up into a smooth, thick pad that you can rub and rub again, you can generally bring back the shine.

  • When you really must wax again, stick to high-use areas that need it. Wax build-up dulls the floor, and when you put on too much, the only way to deal with this is to strip it off and start again. So save yourself a deal of work by not re-waxing corners or low-use parts of the room.

    Type Method
    Polished wood Sweep only. Do not wax because it makes the floor slippery.
    Sealed wood Sweep with a soft-bristle broom – daily if you can manage it – and damp mop from time to time.
    Unsealed waxed wood Sweep and reapply wax as needed; in a well-used room, and if you love your floor to look good, this might be every three months. But every 6 to 9 months is acceptable if you’re time pressed. Liquid wax is easiest. It’s elbow grease, not a heap of product, that gives a great result.

Every few years, when unsealed wood gets too dark and greasy, use white spirit (turpentine) to strip off the top layers of wax. Go easy on the stuff – it’s a heavy-duty chemical, so wear gloves and a protective mask as you work. Add a few drops of white spirit to a thick wad of old white rags and rub down the floor to remove surface wax. Apply fresh wax the next day.

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