An ounce of prevention and care can give hardwood floors a lifetime of beauty.

The season for trimming the tree and decking the halls has arrived, and all this activity can give your floors a beating--particularly if they're hardwoods. Before the holidays leave their indelible mark, consider these helpful tips for maintaining your wood floor surfaces.

An Ounce of Prevention
When cared for properly, hardwood flooring can provide a lifetime of beauty and value. The following suggestions will enable you to prolong these benefits even during the most hectic time of the year.

  • If you must move furniture or other heavy items to make room for a Christmas tree and decorations, remember to lift objects completely. Dragging furniture is a sure way to scratch wood floors. Felt or plastic pads placed under table and chair legs are another method of preventing damage.
  • Don't wait until all the trimmings are in place before cleaning your floors. Dirt and sand act as abrasives. A good rule is to clean before and after decorating to prevent scratches, dents, and dulling. Use a broom with fine, exploded ends or a vacuum with a special bare floor attachment.
  • Check the labels on your floor cleaners. Products that consist of oil soaps aren't beneficial to hardwoods because they can cause buildup that will dull the surface. To avoid this, use neutral pH cleaners specifically made for that purpose. Many professionals recommend a capful of white vinegar mixed with a gallon of warm water to serve as a cleaner. (Tip: Be sure to determine what type of finish is on your hardwood floors because cleaners can react differently with wax and polyurethane finishes. To test, run your fingernail along the surface of the floor. Wax will feel soft and often build up under the nail.)
  • Two of the most common unfriendly elements to hardwood surfaces are sunlight and standing water. To prevent the sun's UV rays from fading your floors, keep curtains and blinds closed whenever possible. Likewise, water left standing can cause damage. Spills should be wiped up immediately.
  • Generally, a floor will let you know when it's time to refinish. The finish can last for 3 to 10 years, depending on traffic volume. Look for the telling signs of uneven wear, dull spots, or rough patches.

For more information consult the Hardwood Information Center at 1-800-373-WOOD (9663), or visit

Prefinish or Site Finish?
Hardwoods are often the best choice for flooring. They are versatile, easy to clean, and add a rich glow to your home. But one question plagues homeowners when it comes to selecting a flooring type. Should I opt for a prefinished or site-finished floor?

(Applies to ¾-inch-thick factory-finished flooring only.)Pros

  • Consistent factory colors and controlled applying and drying environment.
  • Up to six coats of polyurethane, depending on manufacturer.
  • Completed when it goes down; eliminates the week or more of the finish and staining process.
  • Limited range of colors and widths.
  • Often only available in oak or maple.
  • Harder to match repairs.


  • Custom colors and finishes.
  • Sanded after installation to create a smoother appearance.
  • Readily available product and wide selection of wood types.
  • Uncontrolled and often dirty staining and finishing conditions.
  • Long drying time. (Note: The longer polyurethane dries, the harder and more protective surface it is.)
  • More mess, especially in a renovation environment. (Note: Keep in mind, too, that site-finished floors are often $2 to $3 a square foot less expensive than prefinished ones.)

What's New in Wood Flooring
While the subject of decorative inlays and borders is not new, some of the techniques in obtaining these finishes are. Today, laser cutting has provided an affordable way to give hardwoods a signature look. For more information concerning this technology, call The Hardwood Council at (412) 281-4980, or visit

Hardwood Floor Primer

  • Burls--on a tree, these are the rounded growths that, when cut, produce ornamental patterns in lumber
  • Grain--the appearance, direction, size, and quality of a tree's inner fibers that give it strength and distinctive patterns
  • Growth rings--during a single growing season, layers of wood are added to a tree, which enable the age of a tree to be determined
  • Knots--branch locations that have been encased in the later growth of the tree. These areas create hard, cylindrical regions within the wood.
  • Plain sawn lumber--boards cut tangent to the growth rings (also known as flat sawn)
  • Quarter sawn lumber--boards that are cut radially, across the growth rings.

"Hardwood Flooring" is from the December 2001 issue of Southern Living.