How to Protect Hardwood Floors From Damage

Cleaning wood floor with mop
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Solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring are both gorgeous and durable. With such a reputation for toughness, it would seem that hardwood floors are impervious to any manner of abuse that homeowners can dish out. Not so. There are plenty of things that will ruin hardwood floors.

Treating your hardwood flooring with the proper care it deserves is the first step to maintaining it and keeping it beautiful for decades to come. Learn how to protect hardwood floors with these simple and inexpensive tips.

9 Ways to Protect Hardwood Floors From Damage

  • Limit traffic
  • Avoid or limit cleaning your floor with water
  • Clean up pooled water immediately
  • Clip pets' nails
  • Keep the floor clean by sweeping and mopping it
  • Do not over-sand your flooring
  • Lay down mats and runners
  • Choose the right cleaning products
  • Use furniture protectors on legs

Limit Floor's Traffic and Impact

Hardwood flooring is excellent at standing up against normal traffic and impact. But floors need protection against abnormal wear and tear. Take precaution with the following issues to keep your hardwood flooring in pristine shape:

  • Keep indelible markers out of children's hands or your little artists may accidently permanently damage your hardwood flooring.
  • Stay vigilant and keep wheeled toys out of the house. Wheeled toys that are used outdoors may pick up pebbles in the treads and scratch the hardwood indoors.
  • Enforce a no-shoes policy in the house, including high heels that notoriously damage hardwood floors. Most shoes pick up small pebbles in the soles, so it's always best to remove shoes before entering a home.

Avoid Cleaning Your Hardwood Floor With Water

Water and wood do not mix. Hardwood floors are an organic product and their cellular structure responds immediately to the introduction of water. Swelling and decay eventually follow. The problem is not so much with the surface of the floor since this should be sealed, as with the unsealed raw wood of the sides and bottoms of the floorboards.

At the most, you should only use a very dry damp mop, thoroughly wrung out. Most flooring experts, though, recommend that you never use any kind of water on the hardwood. Instead, clean your hardwood floors daily with a soft-bristled broom and dustpan. Weekly, clean with a vacuum that is designed for hard flooring as well as for carpeting.

Tip

If you clean your hardwood with liquids, mist lightly with a cleaner formulated specifically for hardwood floors. Even steam-cleaning hardwood can be damaging. Swiffer-type mops and cleaning products, praised for being gentle on laminates and hardwood, need to also be monitored. Disperse the Swiffer cleaning liquid in very small squirts to minimize damage.

Quickly Eliminate Pooled Water

Wet-mopping isn't the only way that liquids end up on your hardwood floors. Dishwashers leak, kitchen sinks splash, kids tramp through in rain boots, dogs shake off water, and drinks spill, among other accidents.

When liquids spill in small quantities and remain within the confines of a single floorboard, clean-up should be done as quickly as possible but it isn't a cause for alarm. When spilled liquids bridge floorboards, though, it is possible that these liquids will leak through the seams and between the floorboards and cause more problems.

Site-finished wood floors have a lesser chance of damage since sealant has filled the seams. But pre-finished wood flooring, which is being installed in far greater numbers today, does not have filled seams. Seams are usually tight, but not tight enough to hold back pooled water sitting for a long time.

Help Your Pets Protect the Floor

We love our dogs and cats, but our hardwood floors do not love them. Some of the deepest, longest, and most plentiful gouges in wood flooring come from dog claws and, to a lesser extent, cat claws. Your dog loves to scramble for the mail or chase after the cat, all of which is normal. But you can help your dog and cat be better guardians of your hardwood flooring by doing the following:

  • Install hardwood flooring that ranks high on the Janka hardness scale. Species like Brazilian walnut (ipe), maple, and bamboo (not truly a wood but a type of grass) do an excellent job of standing up to frenzied claws.
  • Lay out mats and rugs where animals tend to rest.
  • Clip claws regularly. It's the best way to reduce nail damage on flooring.
  • Put a hallway runner under the mailbox slot on the front door to slow down a zealous dog, or install an exterior mailbox.

Keep the Floor Clean

It might be time to start better enforcing that policy you have about no shoes in the house. Outside debris tracked in with shoes or paws deposits itself on your gleaming hardwood flooring. Left in place too long, abrasive materials act as a kind of sandpaper, slowly abrading your flooring's topcoat. Every box that gets slid across the floor further dulls that topcoat and brings you closer to the next refinishing or re-sanding. 

Cleaning your floor on a regular basis eliminates abrasive dust than can dull your floor's topcoat.

Be Careful When Sanding Your Flooring

Sanding your wood floor, while a great way to revitalize it, should not be a frequent event. Hard sanding with a drum sander rips off the top coat, plus a fair amount of the wood itself. Too many drum sandings can weaken floorboards. In fact, if you have engineered wood flooring, you should never use a drum sander, as it can chew through the thin top veneer layer down to the plywood base.

Strategically Lay Down Mats and Runners

Laying down runners, mats, and area rugs all throughout your hardwood floors may seem to defeat the purpose of owning hardwood flooring. You want to be able to enjoy the deep, rich luster of authentic wood flooring. At the same time, every home has certain zones that experience high foot traffic, and these zones should be protected.

Entryways and mudrooms that lead to the exterior are at the top of that list. Second are interior hallways, plus specific areas of larger rooms such as kitchens and living rooms that receive pass-through traffic. By laying down attractive runners and no-slip rugs, you go a long way toward slowing down the wear and tear on the floors of those highly trafficked areas.

Tip

In kitchens, lay down mats in front of the kitchen sink and dishwasher to capture spills, as well as to provide a comfortable surface for standing. Boot trays and small mats just inside doorways encourage people to leave their footwear and mess at the door.

Choose the Right Cleaning Products

It takes a little time to determine the perfect cleaning method and products for your particular hardwood flooring, but it can make all the difference. Before choosing the best cleaner, you need to know what type of finish has been applied to the wood flooring. Test it by dropping a bit of water on the floor. If it's absorbed, the floor wasn't sealed. If it beads up, the floor has been sealed. If your floor is sealed, use an appropriate product, such as Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner, because it's formulated for sealed wood floors, and follow manufacturer guidelines for use. 

Warning

Never use harsh chemicals, such as chlorine bleach, ammonia, undiluted vinegar, or pine oil, because they can seriously damage floor finishes.

Use Furniture Protectors on Legs

If you have furniture with legs, they will likely cause unsightly scratches on your beautiful wood floors, even if they are slightly moved. To combat this problem, invest in inexpensive leg protectors, such as glides and sliders. Some protectors can be placed under the leg and remain out of sight while others create a little sock on the leg. Leg protectors come in all sizes, shapes, and now colors to closely match the legs, or they can be clear so they remain nearly invisible. In addition to saving your floors, these protectors may also help reduce unsightly gouges if you accidently slam your vacuum cleaner into the legs.