Hardwood Floor Maintenance: The Danger of ‘Polishing’ Your Floors

When living on hardwood flooring, we want to ensure proper maintenance. Proper maintenance will prolong the life of the hardwood floor, and may decrease the future need for multiple refinishings or replacement. However, the products used to maintain a floor should be carefully considered prior to application. Some products can have an impact on how the floors can be treated down the road. It can be quite a costly mistake to make. Here is an example of how one homeowner learned the hard way.

Mrs. Anders purchased a new home in January. The home was about 7 years old, and had existing engineered, pre-finished Brazilian Cherry smooth hardwood flooring throughout the main floor. When she purchased the home, she loved the floors, and was very excited to find such beautiful floors in the home, and it was truly one of the selling points. The floors were used, showing their 7 years of wear, but still in very good shape. Overall some micro-scratches and dull look covered the flooring area. Mrs. Anders contacted a local hardwood flooring specialty company to add some additional flooring on the upper floor and stairs. During the install process, Mrs. Anders discussed her existing flooring with her contractor.

Brazillian Cherry They determined that the existing flooring was not ready to be refinished – which would involve sanding the wood all the way down to raw wood, remove the existing factory finish, and they would apply a new finish, that was not the same. Mrs. Anders and her contractor determined that a deep cleaning would freshen up the floors, remove any grime and grit, and keep the floors looking fresh. The contractor was using a proprietary system that includes a professional deep cleaning machine with nylon bristle scrubbing pads, and a professional cleaning solution, specifically designed to cut through grease, grime and build up on a hardwood floor.

Hardwood Floor Cleaning

Before the contractor began the cleaning process, he had asked Mrs. Anders if she knew what the floor had been cleaned with regularly or if there were any other known substances applied to the floor. As the new owner, Mrs. Anders stated she had never cleaned the floor with anything and she had spoken with the previous owners, and they said they just used a common household hardwood floor cleaner. Unfortunately, Mrs. Anders and the contractor did not do any pre-testing to see how the cleaner would work on the floor, or to determine if there were any unknown substances or contaminants on the floor.

When the contractor began the cleaning process, he immediately noticed a ‘smeared’ look to the finish. It almost looked like water beading, that smeared and wouldn’t disappear. The contractor assumed that the cleaning product was leaving a residue, and would dry after it was completed. However, this residue did not go away, and Mrs. Anders thought the contractor had scratched the floor and ruined it with his cleaning system.

Brazillian Cherry Before Deep Cleaning

The contractor was confused, and immediately contacted his manufacturer’s representative for questions. The representative asked if the contractor had performed an Acrylic test on the floor prior to applying the cleaner. The contractor had not performed this test. They scheduled a time to come out and perform an Acrylic test, and determine the next steps in the system.

When they performed the Acrylic test, it immediately came back positive. The contractor and representative again asked Mrs. Anders if she knew what products had been applied to the floor before. She got on the phone, during the meeting, and the previous homeowners texted over a picture of a well-known, readily available hardwood floor polish. This polish was marketed as ‘A durable, urethane acrylic blend with exceptionally fast dry time and no waxy build-up….Adds a subtle sheen and protective new layer and fills in micro-scratches, evening out the appearance of your floor…specially designed for wood floors, including factory finished floors…’ The key term in that marketing is “Acrylic.” Acrylic is a chemical substance that notoriously reacts badly with most professional flooring maintenance and finish systems.

Hardwood Floor Acrylic Cleaner

Once the product on the floor was determined, a plan of action was put in place. Luckily, the cleaning system can be followed by a deeper penetrating cleaning solution, that will remove the Acrylic polish. Then a new coat of finish is applied, without damaging the existing factory finish.

When this final step was performed, the floor was almost like new again. All of the grit, grime, build up AND the micro-scratches had disappeared. Mrs. Anders was thrilled to pieces, and was so happy her existing hardwood floors were saved and would be just as beautiful, if not more so than before!

Often homeowners don’t understand the variety of products available for hardwood floor maintenance. There are hundreds of products, all marketed for hardwood floors in one fashion or another. What many homeowners find is these ‘fresheners’, ‘cleaners’ and ‘polishes’ only mask a problem, add to a problem, or create a problem when in reality, professional hardwood flooring companies should be consulted to see what is the right maintenance for the flooring in question. Each floor is individual, and will have its own requirement for maintenance depending on finish, species and traffic.

Brazillian Cherry After Deep CleaningThe lesson learned is this: make sure you know what you are using to maintain your floors, how it will affect any future maintenance, and always pre-test an area so that you know how the solution be applied with react on the floor. In Mrs. Anders case, it turned out better than expected. Don’t get caught in a situation where your only solution is a full refinish of the flooring to get back to square one. Contact your local hardwood floor professional, to speak about the proper maintenance for your floors!

by Kelly Ragalie, Treadline Construction