Cleaning and Maintaining Untreated Hardwood Floors

When my Husband and I began renovations on our house a year ago, almost to the day, the house was in such a state of disarray that it was almost absurd. What we didn’t expect to find, however, was gold hidden beneath a layer of carpet and linoleum.

Of course, I’m not talking about real gold! That would be equally as absurd as the state of the house when we took it over- though I have heard of people finding some very real, and very wonderful treasures when renovating houses as old as ours. That was not the case with us, of course. Instead I am referring to one of the best things (in my opinion) that you can find in an old home- which is equal to gold when it comes to historic and semi-historic real estate: Original Hardwood Floors.

Yes, you read that right. Most people wouldn’t be excited to find hard wood floors hidden beneath a layer of industrial carpet and another two layers of linoleum. But I’ve always wanted a house with hardwood, and discovering the original hardwood floors of the house was a big deal for me.

Ripping up a portion of the carpet in the remaining two original rooms, we also discovered that our whole house had once been floored completely in hardwood! Even better was the fact that, with a few exceptions, the flooring was intact and in relatively good condition. I tried to convince my Husband to allow me to rip up the carpet altogether, but he resisted and won. He just didn’t want a house full of hardwood flooring (not that many people can blame him).

We relaid the portions we ripped up in the other rooms and set to evaluating which of the other two rooms we could actually keep it in. The winner was the Kitchen; unfortunately the bathroom was in such poor condition we had to subfloor it. Some portions were simply too rotted thanks the the carpet that was installed by the previous owners.

And here is where we ran into a bit of a pickle: Now-a-days, most wood floors are covered in a sealant like Polyurethane in order to protect them, but we had no such luck; unfinished wood floors are more common in old homes like ours that haven’t been truly restored or updated. When we priced the restoration of the Kitchen floor, we found that it wasn’t within our budget to restore it at the moment. Since then we’ve been slowly stashing money away to do so, but one of the largest issue that we face in the interim is the fact that our floors are unfinished.

The problem, here, is that unfinished hardwood floors are prone to a lot of issues; they are easily damaged, they can warp, they splinter, humidity and water may cause rotting, and the list goes on. Because of this you can’t clean them using conventional methods like mopping. Doing so risks more damage, warping, and rotting of the wood. And we don’t want to seal them yet, because we quite like the look of them untreated.

So how do you care for an untreated hardwood floor and prevent damage while you try to save money and figure out what you would like to do with it? That question is answered a lot more simply than one would expect.

General Maintenance

I sweep my floor almost daily. This keeps the dirt and other debris from causing more damage to the floor and helps remove food and other matter that may stain it as it decomposes. Additionally, anything that I spill on the floor gets wiped up immediately so that I keep as much as possible from soaking into the flooring and doing more damage.

Since we have cats and the only place we can store the litter box is in the kitchen, their box sits on a raised platform. We also have a litter mat beneath it for added protection. This prevents any urine or fecal matter from hitting the floor and potentially soaking into it as well.

Cleaning

I do not clean my floor all that often. When I do, it is once monthly or once every couple of months depending on foot traffic through the kitchen.

First I take a super fine grit sand paper and lightly sand any splinters or rough edges that I find. I learned my lesson about not sanding the problem splinters after I pulled a rather sizable chunk of wood off a panel in the floor- discovered when a splinter caught on my stocking while I was running through the house! It doesn’t take more than a light hand, though. You don’t want to over sand the floor, however, as sanding does damage it and eventually makes it uneven. Doing this with a light hand only on problematic areas, however, will help to protect your feet and keep splinters from becoming bigger problems in the future.

After all of the major splinters have been lightly sanded, I will take a wood cleaner that is safe for untreated wood, and a mop with a soft head- preferably cotton, but anything that is not abrasive will generally work. I apply the liquid cleaner to the mop head until it is damp (never wet), and mop the floor in small, even sections.

Make sure to read the labels on the wood cleaners, however! Not all modern cleaners are safe to use on untreated wood floors and can do more damage than good. You also want to be careful not to saturate the floor too badly, or it will still cause warping and damage.

Protecting it from future damage

At this point, most people will suggest using Wax on the floors as a temporary sealant. I dislike this idea personally. Wax builds up with regular use, making it harder to sand and refinish them later. Instead, I tend to use another cleaner that’s safe for untreated wood, but which contains an oil based protectant… I’ve found that, once set, it helps to prevent anything else from soaking into or staining the flooring just as well as a sealant will.

And here is our floor a year later!

You can really see the difference that it makes. Most of the stains have come out on their own simply with regular cleaning using this method. And they look just as great, if not better, than when we found them under the layers of carpet and linoleum.

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