Go with the Grain: Caring for Wood Floors and Furniture
Keeping your wood floors in tip-top shape is one of the most important things you can do to maintain the beauty of your home. Everyday life can easily wreak havoc on your floors, leaving an unsightly trail of scuffs, scratches, and other marks in its wake. The result: A costly refinishing job down the road. But there are a few routine steps you can take to keep both wood floors and wood furniture pieces—like armoires, seating, or bed frames—in good shape for many years to come.
In order to start taking better care of your floors, it's important to know how the floor itself was made. Hardwood floors are different than laminate or vinyl flooring, which can create the appearance of wood without requiring special upkeep. And while the composition of your flooring is important, the finish is an even bigger determinant of how you should proceed with regular cleaning and maintenance. Polyurethane-coated floors, for example, should be primarily cleaned with a natural cleaner like vinegar whereas waxed floors may require a special cleaning compound that doesn't tarnish any surface layers. You can easily discover which kind of wood floor you have with a simple water test: If water beads and stays on the surface of the floor, there's a good chance the floor is polyurethane, but if it soaks after a minute or so, it's likely coated with wax.
Wood furniture, on the other hand, is easier to care for, though you'll still want to be mindful about the techniques and methods you use. Read on for our guide to caring for lacquered furniture—one of the most common materials used in furniture production—and how to keep all of your wooden surfaces looking like new.
This durable layer, which is the most common finish on post-1970s wood floors and staircases, forms a thick, shiny coating that help fend off stains and scratches. If they are damaged, however, polyurethane finishes can be difficult to repair. For small scratches, try spot-repairing blemishes, using the steps outlined in the guide below, before calling in a professional to redo the entire floor.
Bare wood develops a lovely patina as it oxidizes, but it can also quickly pick up marks and stains without that protective layer of varnish to ward off damage. For that reason, unfinished wood needs to be cleaned more frequently than finished wood. Use soft-bristle brushes, dusters, and vacuums to remove everyday debris, and for deeper stains, our experts recommend a small amount of castile soap and water.
Oiled and Waxed Wood Floors
Oil and wax create a warm, natural luster when applied to wood pieces, but these finishes can be like magnets for other oils and grease. They're also susceptible to scratches. Try removing scuff marks or scratches on waxed floors by using a steel wool pad and then reapplying wax paste. A heated iron is another quick way to reform oiled wooden slats where divots from furniture have appeared.
This common coating on antique furniture may show white rings when moisture or heat are left to set in (always use a coaster, if possible!). Wipe up any spills or moisture quickly, and definitely avoid placing this kind of furniture in close proximity to heat.
To maintain a shellac finish, experts at the Wisconsin Historical Society advise applying furniture sealers at least twice a year. If you come across water stains or heat deviations, you can buff out the blemish with a small amount of lemon oil and steel wool—but don't clean with oil-based soaps, as these can remove shellac. Try using a mild, biodegradable liquid dishwashing soap diluted in warm water. And be sure to dry thoroughly.
Lacquer is what you'll find on most commercially produced furniture pieces. However, overexposure to heat or sun can cause this finish to dent or chip. Avoid placing your furniture in direct sunlight, but if you simply must restore faded, lacquered wood, there are a few commonplace materials to help you do so.
Reclaimed wood could be anything but actual wood, so be sure to ask about the piece's true origins. Just like unfinished wood, it's best to keep regular upkeep to careful, gentle methods, including using soft-bristled brushes and dusting. One of the most common problems for reclaimed wood is that it may splinter easily, so be sure to maintain any problem spots with light sanding if needed, and reapply wax if it makes sense to do so.
How to Paint Wood Surfaces
Paint can give inexpensive yet useful pieces of furniture new life, as long as it's applied properly. Before you get to painting, you'll need to smooth your wooden surface with sandpaper before vacuuming the floor and using a tack cloth to remove extra dust. Last, add a coat of primer to seal the area; once it's dry, you're ready to paint.
How to Apply Finishing Wax to Wood Surfaces
Most modern wood floors and furniture are made with lacquer or polyurethane and don't require it, but waxing provides a vital barrier between yourself and delicate oiled and shellacked surfaces. Once or twice a year, apply wax (use a microcrystalline one, such as Regency, for shellacked antiques; blended paste waxes, such as Butcher's, are for floors) with a clean cotton cloth folded into a square pad; a toothbrush can help work it into curves and moldings. Let it dry 10 to 20 minutes, then buff it out with another cloth, taking care to remove all the wax. You'll know you need to wax again when buffing no longer restores the sheen.