There are many types of floor finishes and different finishes may have been used in different rooms, so the type of care you need may vary. Your builder, realtor, or flooring professional might be able to tell you about your floor finish. Try to get the brand names of the finishing products and the name of the manufacturer if you can. Keep information about your finish in your files to help you determine the proper floor care products. Here are some things you need to know about the restoring various types of finishes.
This includes the polyurethane family. These finishes require the least effort to maintain.
For general cleaning:
- Use the manufacturer’s recommended product or just add ¼ cup of white vinegar to one quart of warm water.
- Dip a clean cloth or sponge mop and wring nearly dry.
- Clean the floor and wipe dry with a towel as you go.
- Buff to restore luster. If luster does not return in traffic areas such as doorways, kitchen sink, stove area, or hallways, the floor may require recoating. Consult your wood floor contractor, or you may apply a compatible aerosol finish to areas that show wear.
NOTE: NEVER WAX a surface finish. In most cases, wax will be slippery. Once waxed, the floor cannot be merely recoated to rejuvenate the finish, but will have to be completely sanded down to raw wood before you can refinish.
Normally these include: oil-modified urethane finishes, a sealer coat with wax over the finish, or possibly a stain with wax.
For general cleaning:
- If the floor looks dull, buff first to see if that will restore the luster before re-waxing.
- If areas of heavy use no longer respond to buffing, wax only those areas and buff the floor to an even luster.
- NOTE: If the whole floor needs attention, clean and wax with a liquid wax and cleaner specifically for wood floors.
- You can be sure if the can says ‘Contains Petroleum distillate’ or ‘Naphtha,’ which it is specifically for wood floors.
- If your wood is stained, select the type that also contains stain.
- Follow the instructions on the label, being certain to apply evenly and wipe up any excess as you go.
- Let dry then buff to the desired luster.
Depending upon traffic, the floor should only need complete rewaxing once a year.
If your goals are to restore the floor to its original finish or to use the products of prior eras, here is some good information about the history of floor finishes.
The historic floor finishes were all surface finishes that are rarely used today and do not have the moisture-resistant characteristics of modern surface finishes. You should never damp mop a varnish, shellac, or lacquer finish. Floors finished with varnish, shellac or lacquer should be cleaned periodically with mineral spirits.
Shellac was used prior to the 1850s, but it is much too soft for a finish and it spots easily whenever a drop of water is spilled. Shellac was considered by many, however, to add to the beauty of a floor, primarily because of the warm orange color that its impurities gave to the finish.
Next came varnish, softer with longer drying times. Varnish can take weeks or even months to dry completely. It is still used today, however, on some historic floors. Spar varnish gives a high-gloss finish, tung oil a semi-gloss, and satin tung oil a low-gloss finish.
Polyurethanes came next after varnishes. You can’t really draw a line between varnishes and polyurethanes. They are all products developed from resins. Early varnish was made from natural oils, then came man-made alkyd varnish, and finally polyurethanes that are synthetic resin varnishes with drying agents added.
If you want a natural looking finish and you also need to provide protection for your historic floor, take heart! Water-borne polyurethane when used on heart pine over an oil-based sealer and applied in thin coats, can look similar to a natural oil or varnish finish.
When all else fails, or you acquire a disaster floor, you can work with a type of product called ‘renovator.’ Renovator is a special class of products made by several of the finish manufacturers to help restore old floors. They do not contain any waxes and can clean off residue that may be left from oil soaps and waxy dusting compounds. These products will rejuvenate and “leave the wood with the natural glow of the original finish,” according to one manufacturer.
Renovator is for floors finished with penetrating floor products (not surface finishes). It is specially formulated to clean, restore and reseal hardwood floors, terrazzo, concrete or unglazed terra cotta tile without requiring that they be sanded first. Renovator works by softening a thin layer of the finish coating and simultaneously cleans the surface and replaces the softened layer with additional sealer.
Paint thinner (careful – it is flammable) and fine steel wool may work to partly restore old floors. Do not use the steel wool dry – work in a puddle of the thinner and wipe the floor clean as you go. Follow these simple steps to refinish your floor with paint thinner:
- After the floor is dry, apply paste wax – clear or with a stain, either liquid or solid.
- When using solid paste wax, wrap a ‘wad’ of wax in a cloth and apply a thin even coat. The warmth of your hand and the rubbing friction melts the wax.
- Buff to a luster.