Maintaining Wood Flooring Without Sanding

March 10, 2011
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The maintenance of wood flooring is significantly different than that of most other flooring materials. The reason for this has mainly to do with the fact that wood is water sensitive as well as abrasion sensitive.

All wood flooring can be negatively affected by water and even the hardest of hardwoods is really not that hard. It is easy to forget this and, as a result, damage can occur.

Wood floors, as one might expect, begin as trees. Hardwoods are from deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in the winter) and softwoods are from conifers or evergreen trees (trees that do not lose leaves in the winter). The live timber is cut down, removed from the forest and sent to mills to be cut and fabricated into usable building materials. Some of those building materials end up as finish flooring.

Finish flooring, whether hardwood or softwood, has the potential of being used as solid wood flooring, engineered wood flooring or as wood byproduct to be used in other types of flooring such as high-density fiberboard and laminate. The type of flooring material selected will dictate the maintenance program.

Solid wood flooring, softwood or hardwood, is cut directly out of the tree and is solid in construction throughout the entire body of the strip, slat or board. The grade of the lumber as well as the way it was cut, will determine the cost of the flooring and how that flooring will perform.

Solid wood flooring is traditionally unfinished at the mill and sent directly to the job site. The wood flooring will sit at the jobsite for a number of days to acclimate to the weather and humidity conditions that it will be exposed to. These types of floors are sanded and finished on site as part of the initial maintenance of the floor.

Today there are many manufacturers that incorporate application of sealers and coatings as part of the system and send the flooring materials out pre-finished or factory finished. After installation of these floors, sanding and refinishing should not be required for several years.

Engineered wood flooring is constructed of 3 to 5 cross layers of softwood underneath, and a layer of hardwood on the surface. Engineered wood is factory finished with polyurethane or acrylic impregnated finishes and shipped to the jobsite. There is no need to finish the floors once they are on the jobsite.

Maintenance for wood flooring is not all about sanding and refinishing the floor, although that is the perception. Solid wood floors are seldom sanded and refinished and engineered wood is more often replaced or worn out before screening and refinishing.

Maintenance of wood flooring is the key to keeping them looking great. The coatings used on wood floors are extremely durable; they have to be. They protect the wood floor from the damaging effects of erosion, but they are not invincible. Maintenance for wood flooring is primarily about keeping soil off the floor before it causes damage.

The tiny particles of micro grit that reside in soil have sharp edges that continually attack the surface of any floor. Keeping soil outside is the first defense and is usually accomplished with a good walk off mat program. A good matting program will have exterior and interior matting that will pick up large debris, moisture and soil that is attached to the shoe. Stopping the soil from coming into contact with the wood floor will eliminate or reduce potential damage to the surface.

For soil that gets by the mats, the next step is the dry service procedures: dust mop using a microfiber cloth system, or vacuum the floor to remove as much dry particulate as possible. In facilities that have heavy traffic, the frequency of these service procedures can be increased to accommodate the additional soiling. The more dry soil you remove, the less abrasion occurs.

Unfortunately, the dry service procedure will not eliminate all soil. In some cases of light soiling it may be easier to take care of the problem areas with a spray bottle of neutral cleaner solution and some towels, but when soil is widespread on the surface the damp mopping procedure may be required. Damp mopping is a mopping technique in which most of the cleaning solution is wrung out of the mop, leaving a minimum amount of moisture in the mop.

Many building service contractors use microfiber mopping systems today. When using a microfiber system it is very important to go back over the floor with a dry towel or microfiber to pick up the residual moisture left behind. The key is not to allow standing solution on the flooring.

It is impossible to eliminate all soil in the facility at all times, so eventually the coating on the wood flooring will begin to get scratched. These scratches are minute and barely visible to the naked eye, but they are there. We know this because the floor develops dullness in appearance and usually a clear traffic pattern. Buffing of these floors with a soft polishing pad can bring some of the luster back. In many cases, especially with engineered wood flooring, there are aerosol or spray buff systems that are part of the system that can be applied periodically to restore some of the gloss to the coating.

Larger scratches that occur on wood floors are considered damage. Polishing and spray buffing will not make these go away. There are systems available today that help to address these scratches without sanding or screening, they work more on the principles of scrub and recoat. Specialized machines are used for removing the surface soil and solution, followed by application of polymeric finishes that protect the floor from additional damage.

Wood floor maintenance is all about keeping soil off the floor. The combination of a good matting program followed by removing dry soil frequently will extend the times between damp mopping. Periodic services will reduce unsightly traffic patterns and new methods for recoating wood flooring reduce the need for sanding or screening and refinishing.

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