How to Maintain and Clean Hardwood Floors, Part Two: Flooring DOs

I didn't expect Part One of this series, our biggest Flooring DONTs, to garner nearly as much interest as it did. A lot of you told me you had cleaned your hardwood floors with at least one of the products we mentioned and were clamoring to know what to replace them with. (One of you even called me because I wasn't quick enough with this follow-up post!)

Let's go ahead and get down to the nitty gritty so you can start taking care of your hardwood floors correctly!. First I'll go over some maintenance tips, then I'll show you the best way to clean hardwood floors.

Clean up spills immediately!

Everyone knows water damages hardwood floors, but most people think it takes a burst pipe or a full-fledged flood to ruin them. The truth is that even a small amount of water or other liquid can damage your floor. The liquid seeps into the spaces between boards and wreaks havoc, not to mention the fact that if allowed to sit it can damage the finish on top.

If someone in your house spills a drink or other liquid onto your hardwood floor, ask them to clean it up immediately. If they answer with the standard "I will in a minute," explain that they're ruining the floor simply because they won't do what you asked when you asked them to do it. We take no responsibility for the frustrated sighs and angry confrontation that follow.

Place felt pads on the bottoms of all your furniture pieces to prevent scratches on your hardwood floor.

This is especially important for chairs, barstools, and any other pieces that move around. It doesn't matter what material the furniture is made out of; you need to place a buffer between the furniture's feet and the floor to prevent scratches.

We also recommend replacing metal or plastic casters with soft rubber ones. Most casters that come on office chairs or other furniture are made of nylon, which don't actually roll. They slide across the floor, which scratches and mars the finish.

Place mats and rugs in high traffic areas.

Shoes track in dirt and grit that can scratch hardwood floors and dull their finish. At least place mats around entry areas, where you can scrape dirt and grime off your shoes before you walk on the floor. Area rugs in other high traffic areas also help prevent accelerated wear and tear. Do not use rubber backed mats or rugs. Over time they can discolor hardwood floors. (The rubber casters mentioned are very small and do not remain stationary, so they won't cause discoloration.)

Take off the high heels, ladies!

I love a good stiletto. They're awful for your back, hurt your feet, and are a risky proposition for anyone even remotely clumsy. But nothing else makes legs look as good as they do in a 4-inch heel. Especially if you're all of 5 feet tall like yours truly.

Unfortunately, high heels are bad news for your floors as well as your body. They are the number one cause of dents in hardwood floors, because high heels, especially stilettos, transmit a large amount of pressure in a very small area. In fact, a 100 pound woman in high heels exerts more pressure per square inch than a 6,000 pound elephant standing on all fours. Need I say more?

Photo: Southern Oaks Flooring, Nashville, TN

Clip your pets' nails or take them to the salon to get acrylic ones.

Ok, so the last part of this tip could be a little confusing. If you can't clip your pet's nails, like we suggest in this blog post on pet-friendly flooring, there is an alternative.

A company called Soft Paws makes nail caps for cats and dogs that protect doors, walls, furniture, and hardwood flooring. They're safe, humane, and painless; despite all this, your cat will probably still hate you for making them wear acrylic nails. But if you can't dress up your pets in ridiculous outfits and outlandishly colored nails, what are they there for?

Also, we have no connection with Soft Paws. I'm sure there are plenty of other products that promise to protect hardwood floors from pets. But do they come in colors called Pink Passion and Hot Topic? That is the question.

The last maintenance tip is to just use common sense. If a high heel or dog's paw can damage hardwood floors, you can imagine what heavier and sharper objects can do. Remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! (And an ounce of pretention is worth a pound of manure, Steel Magnolia fans.)

Now that you know preventative measures, let's move on to cleaning hardwood floors.

First and foremost, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Every box of flooring (or finish, if you're starting with untreated wood) comes with specific cleaning instructions issued directly by the manufacturer. The best advice we have is to follow those instructions! If you long ago discarded that information, don't worry. The vast majority of hardwood flooring requires the same basic care.