So, how do you discern exactly what type of finish your floor has?
Most pre-finished floors installed these days have polyurethane surface finishes or a water-based urethane type of finish. The purpose of the finish is to provide protection from harmful agents while allowing the floor to appear shiny and bright. If you pour a very small amount of paint remover in an unassuming corner on your floor, the finish will bubble indicating a polyurethane coating.
Another popular finish consists of an acrylic, oil or wax penetrating seal. Unlike the bright, glossy look of a polyurethane finish, oils and waxes create a satin or matte appearance. A penetrating seal is easily spotted; if you can feel the wood grain on the floor’s surface, it is most likely a penetrating seal. Paint remover has no effect on this finish; you will need wax stripper or ammonia. These agents will cause the wood’s surface to whiten indicating the finish type. Penetrating seals, as the name suggests, penetrate the surface and protect hardwoods from within.
Now that we have determined your floor’s finish, we can move on to the important issue of maintaining your finish.
Damp mopping is an oft-advised method for cleaning your floor. That said, there are more than a few dissenting opinions regarding this method. Water will stain your floor if the condition of the finish is poor. This applies primarily to polyurethane finishes. It is unlikely water would penetrate oil and wax finishes. Water should only be used if your finish is in good condition. Damp mopping is widely regarded as the fastest and best way to clean your floor’s finish. We recommend utilizing a pH wood cleaner with water; other products are acceptable if recommended by the manufacturer.
Going over your floor’s surface with a damp mop which is half-dry is fine; however, be careful not to mop excessively. Ensure your floor’s seal is in good to excellent condition before employing a more aggressive approach.
You may also have heard that vinegar is recommended for cleaning your floor. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception. Vinegar will not remove soil or grease and makes a poor cleaning agent.