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.

Hardwood flooring's long-lasting nature is only as good as the treatment it receives from the homeowner. 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 simple, inexpensive ways to protect your hardwood floor.

7 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

Limit Floor's Traffic and Impact

Hardwood flooring is excellent at standing up against normal traffic and impact. But it's the abnormal wear and tear that you need to protect against.

Children are not the sole cause of ruined hardwood flooring. But they do rank on top as one of the major causes of hardwood damage. Kids, of course, can sometimes be intentionally malicious: gouging floors with protractors, pounding floors with toys, letting loose with indelible markers. But most often, kids ruin hardwood floors because adults have not taken proper precautions.

Be vigilant about keeping wheeled toys out of the house. Wheeled toys that sometimes go outside are sure to pick up pebbles in the treads and scratch the hardwood. The same goes for children's shoes. Enforce a no-shoes policy in the house.

It's not just children who can ruin a hardwood flooring. Adults contribute their share of damage. Watch for and limit:

  • High heels
  • Sliding furniture legs
  • Small rocks underfoot
  • Sliding large boxes

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.

If you decide to clean your hardwood with liquids, mist lightly with a cleaner formulated specifically for hardwood floors. Since steam is water, keep in mind that steam cleaning hardwood can be damaging, too. Even Swiffer-type mops and cleaning products, vaunted for being gentle on laminates and hardwood, have a greater reputation than they may deserve. As with any liquid-based cleaning method, you must disperse the Swiffer cleaning liquid in small squirts.

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, drinks spill. And that's just the start of it.

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

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 that sits 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; this is normal. But you can help your dog and cat be a better guardian of your hardwood flooring.

  • Installing hardwood flooring that ranks high on the Janka hardness scale is a start. 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.
  • Regular claw clipping, though, is the best way to reduce nail damage on the flooring.
  • If the dog does love to race for the mail coming through the door slot, consider put out a hallway runner 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 top coat. Every box that gets slid across the floor further dulls that top coat 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 top cost.

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

Even if you don't have pets, children, or other high-impact sources of damage, your hardwood flooring still can benefit from 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 bear the brunt of most 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 those highly trafficked areas.

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.