Taking care of hardwood floors can be challenging given the everyday conditions of a family and pets. But keeping your home looking crisp is crucial to maintaining your home’s value and what is likely your biggest investment.
Generally there are two types of residential wood flooring: real wood and laminates that are man-made to look like wood.
Don’t know what you have exactly? No worries. When it comes to cleaning wood floors (real or fake) the only thing you need to figure out is whether or not your floors have a finish. You don’t really need to know the type of finish, just that the floors have been treated in some way to make them resistant to standing water, which is the enemy of all wood and wood-like floors.
To find out if your flooring is finished, drop a single drop of water on the floor. If it beads and just sits there, the flooring has been finished; if the drop of water soaks in and disappears leaving a dark spot, the wood it not finished.
If your flooring does not have a finish you can stop reading now. What follows is for finished real wood and laminate flooring only.
When it comes to wood and laminate cleaners, you can spend a fortune on commercial products like Bona and Black Diamond — or you can make your own for pennies.
When it comes to cleaning your floors, you need to have the commitment of a physician: first, do no harm. The trick is making a product that will clean well without harming the finish.
NO VINEGAR. White vinegar is a fabulous cleaning product. But it is highly acidic, and over time it will attack the finish on your wood or laminate floors by dulling the finish. It can also soften the finish, making it feel gummy or sticky. So let’s just agree that when it comes to cleaning wood or laminate floors, no vinegar.
YES ALCOHOL. Alcohol is a fantastic cleaning product — rubbing alcohol, denatured alcohol, even gin or vodka. Alcohol is also a disinfectant, as you know from visiting a doctor’s office or hospital. The odor of rubbing alcohol is unmistakable. The great thing about alcohol is that like water, is has a nearly neutral pH — neither acidic nor alkaline. This makes alcohol the perfect ingredient in your homemade cleaner to both to protect and preserve beautifully finished wood and laminate floors.
THE RECIPE. One part rubbing alcohol (or your alcohol of choice) to four parts distilled water plus 1/2 teaspoon blue Dawn dishwashing liquid.
You want to use distilled water (available in any supermarket) to eliminate streaking, hard watermarks and mineral build-up. The very small amount of Dawn will break the surface tension of the water, making the cleaner much more effective — but not require rinsing. Mix this up in a spray bottle each time you clean the floors. Or if you make it up ahead, be sure to label it well and keep it out of the reach of children.
APPLICATOR. Spray, scrub and immediately wipe the area dry with a microfiber cloth. Do not soak a large area and allow it to just sit there. The secret is to spray, clean and wipe dry. I highly recommend a hardwood floor spray mop for both wood and laminate floors: it has a removable bottle that lets you make your own cleaner and a large surface mop with even bigger detachable microfiber cleaning pad that swivels for really easy handling.
MAINTENANCE. At least twice a week you need to vacuum or sweep your wood or laminate floors to remove the real enemies here: dirt, sand, grit, pebbles and grime. It comes in on your shoes and gets ground into the finish and surface of your beautiful floors every time you and the kids walk on them. Make sure the vacuum you use has a hard floor attachment (not just a setting for hard floors) or you might as well not even bother. You can be sure my Shark Navigator Pro vacuum (www.everydaycheapskate.com/sharkvacuum) has that attachment plus a washable microfiber pad that acts like a dirt and dust magnet. Every two weeks, clean and scrub the floors with your homemade cleaner and a good mop that cleans and wipes the floor nearly dry in a single effort.