ICS Magazine

Periodic Maintenance for Wood Flooring

February 15, 2008


Wood floor coverings have been and always will be a popular choice for many people in residential and commercial applications.

The assortment of product ranges widely; hardwood or softwood; solid or engineered; strip, plank, parquet, border and medallion; painted, stenciled, stained or natural, they all have a certain elegance that demands your attention.

Newly installed wood floors always look great. For a time the preventive measures of a matting program, along with daily/routine service procedures such as dust mopping and damp mopping, are sufficient to maintain them and keep them looking nice. But as is the case with all floors, they eventually give in to the negative effects of erosion and begin to develop traffic and wear patterns. The tiny scratches caused by soil being moved across the floor will vary from environment to environment, but they all cause the floor to look dull and lifeless. It is at this point that periodic maintenance is required.

The periodic maintenance service procedures will vary, depending on the classification of wood floor covering and the chemical seal, finish or coating applied to the floor. The environment and the traffic conditions will dictate the frequency of these periodic service procedures. Identification of the surface finish will determine the cleaning methodology. Some engineered wood floors have simple spay-buff methods, while other, more durable coatings will require more intensive procedures.

Surface finishes such as polyurethane, acid-curing urethane, moisture-cure urethane and water-based urethanes are blends of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients which remain on and protect the surface of the wood floor covering. Generally they are extremely durable and require very little maintenance to keep them looking good. Most manufacturers of these types of finishes do not recommend the use of floor finishes or waxes on their products. These types of finishes will last for years before they start to show wear. Because it is difficult to blend damaged or repaired areas with the rest of the floor, periodic maintenance may not even exist for them.

Engineered wood flooring is quite popular, especially in commercial applications. Manufacturers of most engineered wood flooring have a spray-buff system that supports the acrylic seal/finish applied at the factory. Relatively simple to use, they involve misting a chemical solution on the floor with a spraying devise and buffing it with an appropriate pad until dry. Systems vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so finding our where the flooring came from can be a big help in selection of periodic maintenance.

One method of maintaining wood floors is by using penetrating seals, with or without applications of paste wax or wood-floor finish. When penetrating seals are used without paste wax, they will occasionally need to be superficially sanded with a fine-grit sanding disk, and followed up with an application of penetrating seal. Paste wax or an additional application of wood finish may be applied.

Different methods exist for the application of wood-floor finish. It may be applied with a fine grade steel wool or soft synthetic pad. Usually the procedure is a two-step process in which the wood finish is applied and allowed to dry, followed by a dry polishing. A pass with a soft white pad will usually finish the process. Although penetrating seal and paste wax may have been the traditional method of maintaining wood flooring, it is not as popular today. Paste wax is a combination of natural or synthetic wax mixed with a solvent or aqueous solution. It is a procedure that both cleans and reapplies wax to the floor surface. A small amount of wax in conjunction with fine grade steel wool pad was the traditional method of application. The first application would pull soil and grit from the old wax and leave a small amount of paste wax on the surface.

After the wax dries, a fresh pad of steel wool was used to polish the floor. Again, a final pass with a soft white pad would bring the floor to a nice gloss. It is important to remember that when using paste wax, use as little as possible to reduce build-up. If paste wax is used frequently and allowed to build up, it can be a difficult to remove. Buffing with dry steel wool for a period of time can reduce excess paste.

Although water-based floor seal/finishes made for resilient flooring are not recommended for wood floor coverings, it does happen. There are many manufacturers of floor seals and/or finishes that claim their products can be used on sealed wood flooring. In most cases the floors look great and can be maintained for a long period of time. The biggest problem with this system is that, over a period of time, build-up may occur which will require a rather lengthy stripping procedure. You can avoid build-up by dry buffing or spray buffing periodically and performing a periodic scrub using a minimum amount of water and a light abrasive pad, followed by a light application of floor finish.

Wood floor coverings are some of the most beautiful in the world and, for the most part, are very easy to maintain. Although periodic maintenance methods vary for the different wood floor covering classifications, they are essential for protecting the customer’s financial investment and extending the productive, useful life of the floor itself. If one wants to get involved in wood floor maintenance, I highly recommend becoming involved with the associations involved in this segment of the industry.