With just a little regular care, a floor can go decades without needing to be sanded and refinished or even needing a new coat of varnish.
- Vacuum your floor every week. You probably do this already, but it always bears repeating. The reason: underfoot, the fine grit in dust is just like sandpaper and will slowly but surely wear through your wood floor’s finish. So a good vacuuming protects the finish as well as keeps up its appearance. Use an attachment with a brush or a felt surface that runs along the floor. Attachments with rotating brushes or a beater bar can scratch the finish. Disengage the beater bar on an upright. If you don’t feel like hauling out the vacuum, a dust mop or one of the newer microfiber sweepers (such as Swiffer) will work just as well.
- Watch the hairspray and the furniture polish. Both of them can cloud your floor’s finish. Wipe them up immediately with a damp cloth. For a more thorough cleanup, spray with non-ammonia window cleaner.
- Keep out the rain. Water can not only ruin the finish on a hardwood floor but can penetrate deep into the wood and stain it. Close windows when you’re expecting rain. Put trays under potted plants and, of course, immediately wipe up any water you see.
- Remove residue with no-wax wood floor cleaner. Keep it in the hall closet or another convenient location so that you can get to it quickly to clean up small problems before they become big ones. Wipe up spills and dirt immediately; then use the cleaner to remove the residue. Dirt can damage the finish or get ground in. Liquids can damage the finish or stain the floor.
- Know the rules about using waxes and restorers. You can rejuvenate a wax finish with more wax. But never use wax on a surface finish such as shellac, varnish, or polyurethane. It not only makes the floor far too slippery, it also interferes with subsequent finishes. If the finish is polyurethane, use a polish made for polyurethane. If it’s another type of surface finish, get a general-purpose floor restorer, test the restorer on an inconspicuous area to make sure it won’t peel off.
- Use an extra-long “walk-off ” doormat. Doormats, inside and out, earn their keep and then some. While vacuuming and spot-cleaning are great, keeping the dirt out in the first place is even better. Get a 4- to 6-foot-long “walk-off ” mat for the front door. The longer the mat leading up to the door, the more people will rub dirt and moisture off their shoes as they walk in, even if they don’t stop to wipe them.
- Protect high-traffic zones with area rugs. Walking across an area several times a day eventually wears down a wood floor’s finish. Nice-looking throw rugs are the easiest way to reduce the wear. But make sure they don’t have a backing. Vinyl or rubber backing traps humidity, which can ruin your floor’s finish and stain or damage the wood.