Implementing Proper Wood Floor Care Methods Will Reflect on Your Facility and Its Bottom Line

June 18, 2001
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Hardwood floors have become the prominent choice for many facilities and retailers in the U.S. and abroad. Wood floors create an impression of elegance, warmth and naturalness and define an ambience. But in order to sustain that peak impression, wood floors require regular maintenance.

As one of the easiest flooring materials today, wood floors have evolved tremendously over the past 25 years. Technical advances have created protective coatings designed to keep them looking their best with simple maintenance steps. Knowing which steps to follow is absolutely essential — each finishing system has a unique processes and chemical cleaners.

Almost all wood flooring in high-traffic locations will either be finished with urethane, or will be an acrylic impregnated wood floor. Occasionally, particularly a wood floor with a rustic appearance, a penetrating type oil finish may be used. Whichever product type is used, the number one rule is to follow the manufacturer’s directions for maintenance.

With prefinished flooring, the recommendation of the flooring manufacturer should be followed. Unfinished flooring that is sanded and finished after installation should be maintained according to the directions of the finish manufacturer. With all hardwood floors, there are basic steps that should be taken to maintain the beauty and the warranty.

  • Dust mop, vacuum or sweep with a soft bristle broom daily to remove grit and dust from the surface.

  • Place walk-off mats at all entrances to capture much of the harmful dirt.

  • Shake out, wash, or vacuum mats frequently.

  • Replace walk-off mats when they become worn.

  • Place floor protector pads on the bottoms of the legs or contact points of all furniture and fixtures.

  • Use a humidifier or dehumidifier in conjunction with the HVAC systems to maintain relative humidity between 30-50%. This maintains the correct moisture in the wood and minimizes cracks between the boards.

Urethane Finishes

Routine Cleaning. Use the finish manufacturer’s or the prefinished floor manufacturer’s recommended cleaning system. If the manufacturer is not known or has no recommendation, use a neutral cleaner that will not leave a bonding- and recoating-inhibiting residue. Never wax a urethane finish, as this would prevent a new coat from bonding. Do not generally wet a wood floor with water. When using any wood floor cleaner that requires mixing with water, follow directions precisely. Lightly mist the floor with the water-based cleaner and then immediately mop dry. A flat head mop with washable terry covers should be reserved solely for cleaning the wood flooring and not exposed to other chemicals or cleaners. Heel or scuffmarks and stubborn stains may be removed by lightly rubbing with a cloth and a wood floor cleaner. Gum or tar can be quickly removed with a cloth and mineral spirits. Always follow with the recommended floor cleaner.

Long-Term Maintenance. Urethane finishes eventually show wear patterns. When high-traffic areas (entrance, cash wrap, etc.) begin to look dull, then it’s time to recoat or restore the finish. Refer to the urethane finish manufacturer for recommendations on testing for adhesion, surface preparation, coverage and dry time. Many of the new water-based urethane finishes will dry in a couple of hours, allowing for complete renovation overnight.

Notes on Recoating. Recoating, like sanding a floor, used to be a messy, time-consuming disruptive process, often requiring a facility’s area to be closed for days. Technical advances in UV-cured urethanes applied to prefinished floors, while creating excellent resistance to scratching, have made them problematic to recoat using traditional sanding and screening.

Additionally, water-based urethanes are low odor and can be applied without circulating objectionable smell through common HVAC systems. Finally, it’s important to remember that the simple process of recoating and restoring a urethane finish to like new condition is not possible if improper cleaners, polishes or waxes have ever been used on the floor.

Acrylic Impregnated/Non-Urethane Coated

These uniquely manufactured floors technically do not have a surface finish but instead are impregnated with an acrylic resin to harden and fill the cell structure of the wood. Today, most manufacturers of acrylic impregnated wood flooring topcoat their products with a UV-cured urethane finish, effectively creating a wood floor that must be maintained like any other urethane prefinished floor.

Routine Cleaning. The manufacturer’s cleaning system and products should always be used. Maintenance involves spray buffing to remove dirt and restore luster. It’s imperative that grit be removed first by sweeping or vacuuming before buffing. Spills may be wiped up with a lightly water-dampened cloth and then thoroughly dried. Sticky spots or stubborn stains should be spot cleaned by lightly rubbing with a cloth and the spray cleaner, prior to buffing. Water is this floor’s greatest enemy and any cleaning process that regularly uses water will quickly dull or gray the floor and may damage it beyond repair.

Long-Term Maintenance. When the floor begins to look worn, has lost its color, or is showing scratches, it’s time to recondition. Each manufacturer will have very specific products and steps to follow. The steps required may include buffing with an aggressive pad to remove ground in dirt, or screening with successively finer grits, the application of a color toner or conditioner, and final applications with spray buffing to restore luster.

Refinishing. Although acrylic impregnated floors properly maintained according to the manufacturers directions should never need to be resanded, the reality is that improper cleaning processes will severely damage the floor. Sometimes sanding may be the only way to restore these floors. In this event, the flooring manufacturer must be contacted to define the options.

Acrylic Impregnated/Urethane Coated

Routine Maintenance. The manufacturer’s recommendations will need to be followed, but in general these floors are maintained like any urethane-coated floor.

Penetrating Oil Finishes

Routine Maintenance. Unlike urethane finishes, penetrating oil finishes do not sit on top of the wood, but like acrylic impregnation, fill the cell structure of the wood with resin to prevent dirt from entering. Penetrating oil finishes provide a low luster that is often specified for rustic appearing wood floors. Cleaning should never involve water or a water-based cleaner as this will gray and damage the wood. Instead, regular attention to removing dirt, dust and grit by vacuuming, dust mopping or sweeping is the key. Spills may be wiped up with a water-dampened cloth and immediately dried. Heel or scuffmarks and stubborn stains, gum or tar may be removed by lightly rubbing with a cloth and mineral spirits.

Long-Term Maintenance. Periodic buffing with fine steel wool, solvent renovators and/or additional applications of the penetrating oil seal will restore the floor’s color and life. Once again the finish manufacturer will have specific recommendations to follow.


Solvent-based waxes are never recommended for commercial floors due to the liability associated with slipping accidents and compliance with ADA requirements for slip resistance. Acrylic waxes may meet slip requirements, and are often the favorite product of janitorial services because they provide a high shine, giving the appearance of a clean floor. Unfortunately, acrylic waxes scratch easily and require frequent application and buffing, unnecessarily increasing the time and costs of maintenance. Additionally, when applied over urethane finishes, they eliminate the possibility of recoating, which requires messy and costly sanding and refinishing.

Effective maintenance programs involve careful planning and cooperation between the facility’s design, its manager, and its maintenance program. Hardwood flooring is a major investment and an integral part of the character of any operation. Knowledge of and compliance with expected maintenance routines will reflect beautifully on the bottom line.

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