All About Hardwood Flooring + The Common Cleaner That’ll Ruin Them!



Someone the other day suggested a post about hardwood flooring. So, here we are. This subject is so broad that one could have entire blog, not post, but blog just devoted to hardwood floors! I hope that you’ll discover some things you didn’t know already which will help you moving forward with your hardwood floors.

There are three basic types of hardwood flooring

  • Solid
  • Engineered
  • Laminate

Solid hardwood flooring is just what it says. These days, it is most commonly made from oak, usually red but sometimes white oak.  There are many different types of wood and cuts of the wood (plain sawn, quarter sawn, rift sawn, etc). Are you asleep yet? ;]  I know… so, in the interest of  getting into other interesting and useful stuff, here’s  a fabulous link which can serve as  a reference for everything you ever wanted to know about the technical aspects of hardwood flooring.

Always use a highly experienced master craftsman for hardwood flooring installation and refinishing.

The wood needs to sit in the room for a few days before installation. I think that in humid summer climates, it is better to have the flooring installed in the summer because the wood will be at its “fattest.” (wettest) A good installer will leave a very tiny almost imperceptible space between the floorboards in any case. In the winter, the wood will dry out and shrink. Too much space and there will be big gaps between floorboards. Too tight is a bigger problem. Nothing worse than a hardwood floor that buckles in the humid summer months.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring is sometimes referred to as laminate but it is not laminate in that engineered hardwood floors do have a thick layer of real wood on top. That means that it can be sanded and refinished but how many times depends on how thick that layer is.

It is constructed in layers of plywood underneath the finish floor layer. Therefore, it is wonderful for high moisture areas and the only type of hardwood flooring that can go directly over concrete.

It is also terrific for basements or if your ground floor is built on a slab. It is also the preferred product for radiant heated floors if you should be so lucky to have that.

Below is a white oak wide plank engineered hardwood floor.


Laminate does not actually belong in this group. It is not hardwood flooring. It is pressed cardboard with an image of real wood stamped on it. Fake. And you’re not to use it–ever. Understood? ;] ;] ;]

Okay. okay! Stop your grousing. I know… You have a basement which you spent $80,000 trying to keep dry and you might as well have flushed the money down the toilet. Or, you live in a swamp. (aka: Florida).

It’s laminate or bust.

Alright. I’m sorry. I will soften my stance— a little. :] Laminates have come a long way from the cheap, totally obvious fraud to something that can resemble real hardwood floor pretty damned well. It is fade resistant and scratch resistant, good for moisture and high traffic areas, however, it can never be re-finished. It’s not real wood. There are also some pretty good vinyl fakes out there. I’d far rather you have a good fake than some hideous pinky beige tile.

I’m going to end my discussion here about laminate and engineered wood flooring because there is much to say about real hardwood floors.

Finishing Your Hardwood Flooring

I want to work backwards and discuss the top coat that’s applied to your hardwood flooring. All hardwood flooring requires a protective coating. Everything I am saying is based on my years of experience As with every bit of advice I give here… please do your own research, consult with your trade professionals, TEST and derive your own conclusions.

Wood is not a stable substance. Even when cut it has an afterlife like none other. Breathing, growing, shrinking, fading, etc. I want you to be happy with your outcome so I can’t stress enough how vital it is to go with what feels best for you.

Here are the main types of hardwood flooring finishes.

  • Wax
  • Tung Oil
  • Water Based Polyurethane
  • Oil Based Polyurethane

(note: I have also seen lacquered and varnished floors, but they are rare and have problems like the finish will come up if certain things spill on it. So don’t recommend them)


Did you ever go into an old home and perhaps it has wide planked pine or walnut floors that have a deep, rich, warm gorgeous luster? That finish is most likely wax.

Yes, it is beautiful, but it comes with a price.


  • Once you’ve used wax it is very difficult and ill-advised to use a traditional polyurethane be it water or oil based. If you don’t get it all up, you’re going to have a big bloody mess on your hands. Or rather, your feet! (unless you walk around on your hands). The reason being… poly doesn’t stick to anything waxy or oily.

austin patterson disstonAustin Patterson Disston Architects

I have had clients who have a waxed finish and won’t do anything else. Ever. That is how much they love it. Of course, they have the means to maintain this type of finish.

Tung Oil

Another fabulous product that is not as well-known is called Waterlox  made from Tung Oil. You can find out much more from the link. It has been around for about 100 years. It is a natural substance but quite noxious when applied. You need to wear a mask and have excellent ventilation. After several days, it dries to a rich, beautiful, durable sheen. It is easy to reapply and the floors are easy to maintain. Unlike wax, you can use a damp mop to clean the floors. (more about cleaning later). There are also waxes that you can put on top of it. It’s all in the link. Anyone have any experience with this stuff? I’ve read several reports from people who love it!

hardwood flooring with tung oil finish

Like wax, Waterlox requires reapplications every year or so. However, if you get tired of that, after it’s good and cured, you can have it screened and apply traditional poly. I read this in a few places, however, do check with your flooring professional.

Water-based Polyurethane

I hate it. I don’t care what your flooring guys says, I have never seen one that doesn’t look like plastic or holds up very well. Never. Do all of my clients use it anyway? Yes, 95% of them do. I don’t press it. It’s their contractor and their house. There are some very compelling reasons to use water-based polyurethane.

  • far less odor
  • very quick drying time

I have read that the trick in having it hold up well is FOUR COATS. Yes, four coats of water-based poly. However, with only two – three hours drying time, in between coats, unless it’s a really big floor, could actually happen in one or two days!

Oil-based Polyurethane

Well… I bet that you were going to say that I love it! I DID love it. That is until the EPA BS came into effect. They changed the formulations. Can you still get the old formulation? Yes, but only in pint-sized quantities. For the Bronxville kitchen, they had to get 24 pints to do the job!

Why oil? Oh my. I had it in my home in Goldens Bridge. It was absolutely gorgeous. It dries to a rich, warm, tawny luster that only gets better with time! It does deepen in color as well a little. It held up beautifully! 17 years later, it was still in excellent condition. This was despite two wild and crazy boys, a 200 lb husband, Peaches (our dearly departed kitty) and me, but I walk around on my tip toes. ;]

Well, Laurel, are you going to tell us what you used for G sake!

Oh, yes… sorry. It was this stuff.




Fabulous Fabulon! But again, you have to get the old formulation which in New York only comes in quarts. grrrr…

Are there any drawbacks to oil-based poly? Yes. It does have an amber tinge, but that is a good thing for brown stained floors. It’s not a good thing if you wish to have a white floor. In that case, you must use a clear water-based poly. I have read that oil-based poly yellows over time. I did not notice any yellowing in 17 years of our Fabulon floor finish. It did fade a good amount by the south-facing bay window, so do get your windows UV protected if they aren’t already.

Can you put water-based polyurethane over oil-based and vice versa?

That’s a very good question. Here’s my answer.  If you put down oil and decide after one coat that you can’t stand the fumes. Ideally, you’re supposed to wait 30 days for the oil to be thoroughly cured. However, I found a forum where a master floor-guy says that he does this all the time, maybe waiting just a few days and no problems. You can read that here. It’s quite interesting. I do think however, that it is easier to apply oil over water, but as long as it is very dry, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Can you put a waxed finish over polyurethane?

I had a client who told me that this is what she had done. Her floors looked alright. But here’s the deal. Once you put wax on the floor— of any kind, it is a waxed floor and will forevermore require more waxing and will give you potential problems down the road. I don’t advise it. Either do poly OR wax. If you decide or someone else decides years down that they want to change the color of the floor, you could have problems. I recommend first removing all the wax with  mineral spirits and then of course, the floor will need to be sanded, then stained. If you want to be sure of a great result, I would go back to wax. I am not saying that you can’t use traditional poly, but I have had clients who’ve had problems with the poly adhering. Polyurethane will not stick to wax or oil.

And worse yet?

Stuff like Mop ‘n Glo. Should be called Mop & Glop. It contains silicone. Silicone is your floor’s worst nightmare. STAY AWAY!

Same goes for Murphy’s oil soap.

[tweet_box design=”default”]Yes! Murphy’s Oil Soap. Evil Stuff. NEVER use it on your hardwood flooring![/tweet_box]

It is made from a vegetable oil and detergent. It will penetrate into tiny pores, hair-line cracks and seep deeply into the wood underneath the poly coating. You will never get it all out. Over time, it will derail your finish into a softy gloppy mess as it breaks it down.

I don’t care what their commercials say. The stuff seems innocuous enough. It’s not. It’s death to your beautiful hardwood floors.



Please note. When you are cleaning your hardwood flooring that has a poly coating, you are cleaning the poly, NOT the wood! Would you use Murphy’s Oil Soap on your windows? Case closed.

Here’s a simple recipe you can make at home to clean POLYED hardwood floors

Take a gallon of warm water. One capful of vinegar and maybe one drop (yes, one drop) of dishwashing liquid or something like Fabuloso. You can also throw in a capful of rubbing alcohol. And that is all. You do not need to go out and get some expensive floor cleaner. BTW, you CAN damp mop polyurethaned floors. Not soaking, but damp is fine. More importantly than mopping is keeping the floors vacuumed. Swiffers are really good too. Keeping the floor dust free will elongate their life and help prevent scratches.

NOTE: This is only for polyurethaned and tung oil finished floors. Waxed floors should not be damp mopped, unless it is dried–immediately! And then, the wax may need to be reapplied. Also look into Restore-A-Finish for waxed hardwood flooring.

“Oh my, Laurel. Now, I’m worried. How do I know if the previous people used any of that Murphy Oil stuff? The house was totally empty when we bought it!”

Well, if you are still on speaking terms with them, I would ask or if not, perhaps your realtor can get this information for you. Better yet. Ask before you buy the house.

Consult with your flooring expert. However, I have read that a mixture of trisodium phosphate and water followed by a clear rinse should get rid of a lot of the MOS residue. But please, please… know that you still might have problems. What kind of problems?

Here. These kinds of problems. I should know. This is right outside my bathroom. Fortunately it is only really in this one spot.

2015-07-11 14.12.01

See those bubble-y things. Nice, huh? Those are called “fish eyes” And the brown spot is where the finish is up altogether. This is what happens when a floor is finished and there is something waxy or oily underneath.  I cannot stress enough to be very careful when refinishing floors that are not virgin wood if you are not absolutely certain what has been used on them! One day, I’ll take care of it. The floors are nearly 100 years old and they certainly do have a lot of character!

This reminds me. If your issues don’t affect the stain, you can frequently have your floors screened which is like taking the top layer of poly off. Then have only a coat or two of poly reapplied.


Hardwood Flooring Stains

No matter what your topcoat finish is… all hardwood floors can be stained. You certainly don’t have to, but staining the natural wood a deeper color will bring out the richness of the color. There is another method for changing the color of the floors and that is bleaching and staining them a lighter color. That will be addressed in the next post because the process is so different.

The most important point about stains is that they be allowed to completely dry before any top coating is applied. If it’s summer and humid, that will be at least 72 hours. It might be less and if your flooring guy is fine with less time then so be it.

What color stain is good?

A lot of this is a matter of preference, style of decorating you are going for and the home itself. With an older home that is traditional in style, I generally prefer a darker floor. It is richer and more authentic. Around here, we usually use Minwax stains. I’ve never had a problem with them. I’m not a fan of their polyurethane however.

I’ve looked at just about every wood-toned color they make and here are my favorites:

English Chestnut. Hands down, my fave. It is the perfect color IMO. Rich and deep, with a hint of red but not RED, if you know what I mean.

american-foursquare-revival-donald-lococo-hardwood-flooringDonald Lococo Architects

Red Mahagony. Also very nice but better over white oak than red oak as it can go too red with red oak

| Laurel Bern Interiors Portfolio |

Bronxville Dining Room


 This is the red mahogany stain in the dining room we did a couple years ago now!

Golden Oak. This is what we used in our townhouse. I chose this color because I was going for a more country look and our place was flooded with light. It the perfect color for that home. (see below). It looked a little darker and redder than it does on my monitor.


50/50 Special Walnut and Jacobean. My old boss had this color in her home and it was a deep, rich non-red brown, but also not yellow.

Nothing worse than yellow undertones in a brown wood floor. Except for ashy or pink undertones. I’m not a fan of anything gray or ashen for hardwood floors unless you’re going for a very specific look like Bobby McAlpine, for instance and not just buckling into a trend.

Any others? Nope. not really.

What if I have two or more kinds of wood in the house?

I see that all the time. Most of the time it’s really best to just use the same color throughout the house, but of course, I would always test.

To test floor stains, the best way is right on the unfinished floor, itself. The color is going to change completely when it’s dry. And that’s going to begin in a few minutes. Generally, I recommend waiting a day or two and then the guy can come over and lay some poly over it to bring out the true color.

Will your floor look exactly like the sample?

Probably not. Expect it to be lighter or darker than the sample. It’s not an exact science and the wood may or may not absorb the stain in the same way on every floorboard.

Please feel free to pin the graphic below onto your pinterest boards for reference.


Phew! That was long and there’s more. The rest will be the fun stuff. But we needed to get all that out-of-the-way. And I’m sure I’ve left out some important points too. Or, maybe you disagree with me on some of this. That’s okay. You can get three wood flooring contractors in a room and all three will have a different idea about how things should be done. It’s not an exact science; except for Murphy’s Oil Soap.

Hope you’re having a great weekend!




  • Judy Gilbert - April 9, 2017 - 4:01 PM

    I have had heart pine floors with poly for 50 years and use an orange oil to clean them ..beautifulReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - April 9, 2017 - 4:13 PM

      Hi Judy,

      I’m wondering what that product is. I have no doubt that your floors are beautiful, but what I’ve been told by numerous floor guys and also had an issue with a client’s floor is this:

      When the floor needs to be refinished, the oil in the cleaner has seeped into the cracks and tiny holes in the wood. And what happens is that the new poly won’t stick properly and then it begins to peel and/or you get “fish eyes” and it’s a big bloody mess.

      but… if you never have to refinish, then no problem. ReplyCancel

  • Leo - March 2, 2017 - 12:11 AM

    We have just shifted to a new place and I was thinking of getting hardwood flooring done at my house. This blog is the perfect eye opener for me and now I am aware of the kinds of hardwood flooring.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 2, 2017 - 12:40 AM

      I see that you’re in the flooring business Leo. Therefore, your comment makes no sense. Since it appears that you’re here only to get a free ride, your identifying information has been deleted. Thank you for your understanding.ReplyCancel

  • barbara wiebe - January 21, 2017 - 4:42 PM

    Oh, Come on now!! Murphy’s Oil Soap is TERRIFIC—but only as a cat/dog/squirrel repellant for outdoor plants… just mix a bit with water, and cayenne, put it in a squirt bottle and spray your new planting of annuals, and it keeps the squirrels away from digging, and the rabbits from chomping on tender leaves… I only use MOS for outdoor landscaping uses! 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - January 21, 2017 - 4:59 PM

      Hahahaha! Well, good to know that it’s good for something!ReplyCancel

  • Darrel Neuenschwander - December 1, 2016 - 2:35 PM

    Is it ok to use Bona Floor Polish over Minwax Floor Finish Stain and Sealer? Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - December 1, 2016 - 2:40 PM

      Hi Darrel,

      I recommend contacting the respective manufacturers and/or a floor care / floor finishing professional. ReplyCancel

  • brenda leners - October 23, 2016 - 2:31 AM

    Just my two cents about the waterlox…I agree with what the other gal said the floor has a beautiful sheen and holds up to everything, dogs, cats, kids. We have had minor scratches from moving furniture (like the fridge through our living room..long story) and after we were all moved in and settled (a few months) I could no longer find the scratches! Waterlox’s website said this would happen with minor scratches. So with the living hard that is done on these floors I couldn’t be happier and it makes up for the stinky curing process… although it was nice we did this before we moved inReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - October 23, 2016 - 9:39 AM

      Hi Brenda,

      Thank you so much for that endorsement. I need to look into Waterlox further. I am so disgusted with the ubiquitous water-based poly. It looks like a film of plastic over the floor; not acceptable.ReplyCancel

  • katherine - October 18, 2016 - 9:12 AM

    Hello Laurel, We just installed character grade quarter sawn white oak. What stain color would you choose for this? Also, I’m going for a matte-like finish (not quite matte, but very low key gloss). What finish would you choose in this case? Our house is an old VT farmhouse and our decor will be a mix of traditional and more modern elements. Thank you!

    thank you!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - October 18, 2016 - 9:38 AM

      Hi Katherine,

      I can’t advise on paint and stain colors because I’m not there! And if I was there, there would be a hefty consultation fee. :]

      Perhaps check out the Garden Web forum. There are tons of articles on every aspect of home decor and building.

      For stains and finishes, I would also consult with your flooring contractor and have him put down samples which he can sand out before the final finishes go on.ReplyCancel

  • Tracy - July 31, 2016 - 9:25 AM

    Hi Laurel,

    I live near you, I think in CT. Who would you recommend as a floor finisher/refinisher in my area? I am in Southport. Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 31, 2016 - 12:08 PM

      Hi Tracy,

      Actually, you’re about 40 miles from me. I’m in southwestern Westchester. But even so, I don’t have anyone at this time to recommend. Good floor guys are not easy to come by.ReplyCancel

  • Bonnie - July 22, 2016 - 10:37 AM

    Very informative article, can’t wait to try your floor cleaning recipe. Hope I will never need to buy hardwood floor cleaners again. Thanks for sharing inside knowledge and years of experience with us.ReplyCancel

  • Susan - July 21, 2016 - 7:52 PM

    Thank you for sharing your gift of design and writing skills! I would love to,hear your opinion of porcelain wood look flooring. We’re moving to California soon and will probably be buying an older home and renovating. Many of the new home models there are showing porcelain in griege or grey tones although I would prefer an English Chestnut finish. From the little I’ve read it does sound like a good low maintenance alternative to the real hardwood. Appreciate any feedback you may give.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2016 - 9:35 PM

      Hi Susan,

      Well… I’ve never used it but have read about it and most people seem to like it.

      I definitely would do the chestnut finish or something that’s not gray. Or a light wood finish. I do love the herringbone pattern if that suits your new home.

      Since it’s tile, it’s going to be cold to the touch and hard, but it is exceedingly durable and easy to maintain.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Mc - June 24, 2016 - 11:50 PM

    Since you asked if anyone had experience with Waterlox…my parent’s 100 yr old farmhouse had wide pine floors finished with WL and touched up every few years. It took an incredible beating. The new owners invited me to see their renovations and the one thing unchanged was the floor! It looked great, clear, shiny. It’s darned nearly impervious to everything, including water,vinegar, kerosene, dogs, children, heavy boots, an occasional foal or calf, et al. It must have a good base of 4-6 coats and be well cured. So do the floors and take a vacation. It was a simple DIY project for us but worth every penny it takes to get someone else to do the work!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - June 25, 2016 - 12:35 AM

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks so much for sharing that info. Good to know that it holds up well.ReplyCancel

  • Hilary - April 30, 2016 - 8:49 PM
  • Neal Husak - March 5, 2016 - 12:53 PM

    I have high gloss smooth laminate in my great room which is about 60 percent glass, lots of windows, lots of sun from all directions except west. I live in Las Vegas, lots of sun always. I am going to replace with real wood floors and am wondering what type of product to use considering all the sun exposure. When the sun shines in, my present floors always show every little mark, spot, dog prints, etc. I know a mat finish would help and maybe texture. Am I on the right track?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 5, 2016 - 3:48 PM

      Hi Neal,

      I’m not a fan of matte unless the floor is that scrubbed Gustavian look. Dark floors show more than medium wood floors. I have lots of clients who have their floors finished and they don’t consult me.

      I don’t know why. But my experience is that satin acrylic polys are the worst!

      My fave for as long as I can remember is Fabulon oil-based semi-gloss. Or at least something like that.

      I recommend that you first research this and research the issue that you’re having. I guarantee you that you will find other with the same problem and perhaps they will have a solution that worked well for them, or one that didn’t work.

      Then, I would also consult with your flooring contractor. If you have one who’s not open to anything BUT what he says is going to hold up and it’s not what you want, I would move on. A lot of them can be very rigid about this for whatever their reasons.

      Oil-based is illegal in some states, but you can still get it. It does take far longer to dry. We had it in our old home and I loved it more than I can say. It only got better over time and stood up to a lot of abuse by my two wild little boys.

      Hope that helps!ReplyCancel

  • Jana Rinehart - February 21, 2016 - 8:11 PM

    Hi Lauren. I am so excited to have found this. We are building a farmhouse in Round Top Texas. The floors are from a house that was built in Galveston Texas in 1888. They are red pine that was large beams supporting the house. They were milled the day before they were delivered and did sit in our house for weeks. They are absolutely gorgeous…I do not want anything too dark to cover up the beautiful grain. So my question is what color can I use that is not dark, looks like a old farmhouse floor and is beautiful? And also have you ever used a matte finish? I am not sure what to do. Do you think the English Chestnut would look good on red pine? Thanks so much! ps looks like first pictures!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 24, 2016 - 2:45 AM

      Hi Jana,

      Sorry I missed your comment. Like everything else, you’ll need to do some samples before going with the final one. However, with flooring, it is a bit of a crapshoot, because often the floor never looks quite like the samples. English Chestnut is really gorgeous, however!ReplyCancel

  • Heidi - February 14, 2016 - 10:00 AM

    Laurel, thanks for the wealth of info. I just bought a 1922 in nearly original condition but in my zeal to clean a two owner home, I mistakenly used Murphy’s on the gorgeous dark staircase and trim work. I now have blotches of stain. Am I going to have to sand everything?? Will a light wash of alcohol help even out the finish? Does this mean the wood was probably originally a wax finish? Oh, dear, the wood is amazing here and I feel terrible!! Thanks for your advice…ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 14, 2016 - 10:29 AM

      Hi Heidi,

      Sorry for your troubles! I’m sure there’s a remedy but since I don’t know what’s on the floor, what type of finish it is or what else is going on, I wouldn’t be able to give you the solution. I recommend getting in a professional who really knows his stuff to advise you on the best options.ReplyCancel

  • Cathy - January 3, 2016 - 4:42 PM

    Laurel, do you have any experience with Rubio Monocoat?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - January 4, 2016 - 12:11 AM

      Hi Cathy, I don’t, but it’s an oil finish. I’m sure that it’s gorgeous. But once one starts with any kind of oil, there’s no going back to regular poly because it’ll bubble up and make a big bloody mess.ReplyCancel

      • Hilary - April 30, 2016 - 8:38 PM

        Hi – we moved last year into an antique with different floors in every room – some old, some new, some chestnut, some pine, and two rooms with gorgeous wide plank white oak that we just installed. I didn’t know what I was doing, and we had the whole house stained and poly’d with special walnut and water-based poly, except for the two rooms with white oak. The stain/poly looks good in some parts of the house and just AWFUL on the pine floors especially – they look like bad laminate. That’s a whole other problem I have to deal with at some point. The immediate problem is that I did one of the white oak rooms in rubio monocoat and it looks really good but I’m really trying to think of a plan that will make all the flooring more cohesive, and I may want to switch to stain/poly. Are you saying that even if we sand this down to the bare wood, we cannot use stain/poly on the floor that has Rubio on it? Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Betsy OShea - July 14, 2015 - 12:51 PM

    Laurel, have you ever used or heard of Holloway House Quick Shine? I’ve used it once so far on white oak poly finished hardwood. It leaves a thin coat which looks like my floor was brand new! I’m sure it’s not good to use too often as a waxy coat could build up. But just like u said I allowed my floor guy to talk me into the ‘newer better” water based poly. It did not hold up the way the LR/DR has w oil based. Just like priming or painting exteriors; oil is WAY BETTER!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 15, 2015 - 9:51 PM

      Hi Betsy,

      Yes, it’s better— for them! It’s far easier to apply. And I don’t like the way any of them look either. I haven’t heard of Holloway House. Yes, all of the floor guys I speak to tell me that wax or oil on a hardwood floor is no good.ReplyCancel

  • Loi Thai Tone on Tone - July 14, 2015 - 10:41 AM

    WOW! Great research, Laurel. I never knew about MOS. Have tons of it here at our home in Maine. Now what to do with all that MOS. We have old, wide plank pine….probably 100+ years old. Need to refinish them one day. CheersReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 15, 2015 - 9:48 PM

      Hi Loi,

      I was thinking since your floors are all light and at least some of them are bleached that MOS might be alright. I mean, if the finish gets milky, who would know? It might even be a good thing. For a really old floor. It might not have polyurethane on it anyway. I’m not sure how MOS reacts with a waxed floor.ReplyCancel

  • Jen Pollard - July 13, 2015 - 10:22 PM

    Such valuable information! Thank you for sharing with us. This will definitely be a resource for me!ReplyCancel

  • Dolores - July 13, 2015 - 11:29 AM

    Great post; thank you, Laurel.
    Oh man, Laurel! I am guilty of having abused the oak hardwood wood floors in my house on multiple counts.I think I’ve used everything you warned against.Except gray stain..
    Not sure if you know the answer to this question:I have a kitchen floor done in engineered hardwood that is going on 22 yrs., but needs refinishing.I was told at the time of purchase that it could be refinished the one time, and I think the time is near. In your experience,( not holding you to anything :-)) can engineered hardwood floors be refinished in oil based Fabulon?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 13, 2015 - 2:19 PM

      Hi Dolores,

      Not to worry. I’m sure I used the oily monster in my previous home. Everyone has!

      You’ll have to speak to your flooring guy. The engineered stuff is not big around here. However, wood is wood. I’m going to bring this up in the part II post but if it’s merely scuffed or the scratches don’t go too deeply, (and you’re happy with the color) sometimes you can have the floor buffed or screened and then have a couple coats of poly added. So, you don’t have to go through the entire floor redo. ReplyCancel

      • Dolores - July 13, 2015 - 8:21 PM

        Thank you, Laurel :-)Luckily, the tile store where I bought the wood floor is still in existence, so I’ll ask them for recommendations on refinishing the floor.
        It’s been a really great, easy to take care of floor, and held up remarkably well with a passel of kids running through, and a procession of standard poodles that were always right behind them -but now some of the wood is really getting gouged. Shoe polish covers the crevices- but I don’t think I saw that recommendations anywhere either..:-)ReplyCancel

  • Leslie Sinclair - July 13, 2015 - 9:52 AM

    This thorough tutorial is invaluable! Thank you for putting this together! xo LeslieReplyCancel

  • Carol Legere - July 13, 2015 - 6:50 AM

    Hi Laurel,

    First, I am new to your blog; have only had time to peek here and there (and get invaluable tips on WHITE paint!) and I love it already!

    Second, I am jumping the gun a bit as I haven’t read the entire article or responses re: Hardwood Floors, but am taking a minute to give a quick heads-up for what it’s worth…

    I contacted (and I may have the title wrong?) the National Hardwood Flooring Association around May of this year with the cleaning question and they said if I am looking to purchase a ready-made product (which I was), they recommend the BONA hardwood floor cleaning product (which goes on the cleaning gadget BONA also sells). Apparently there are various products from this company; the product they are mentioning is the product that is intended for regular cleaning on a regular basis.

    And, of course, you are right on the money with the vinegar in very very small quantities, and your comments about Murphy’s Oil Soap just confirm everything I have recently heard about it since I had begun my search for the right product this past May.

    I hope this helps; since I am squeezing this response in between getting ready and out the door for the day, please excuse me if I missed a reply which may have already mentioned what I had to say.

    Thanks again for all the info and inspiration!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 13, 2015 - 10:22 AM

      Thank you so much Carol and welcome! I’m very glad you brought this up. I have heard of this product, however it has very mixed reviews from excellent to disaster and a lot of the latter. Here’s one such source. I’m extremely dubious of pretty much all commercial products. I read in one of the comments that it’s repackaged Liquid Gold. OMG, I hope not! And who knows? Maybe the NHWF Assoc is in cahoots with them! “wood” not surprise me. My other argument is why spend all that money when all one needs is a H20 and a little vinegar to keep the floors sparkling and shiny new. Again, I want to stress that what is being cleaned in a polyurethaned floor is the poly, not the wood. You would be better off using windex to clean the floor. (although, I would dillute that too.) Vinegar is a natural antiseptic. I think that as a nation (most readers are American), we’re bloody obsessed with cleanliness to the point of causing more harm than good. I wrote a post about that once before anyone was reading my blog, but I think it makes a good point.

  • T. Holmes - July 12, 2015 - 10:15 PM

    First off I love your blog, and really appreciate your insight. The timing of this post couldn’t come at a more perfect time since I’m currently researching all of this before purchasing our upstairs hardwood flooring. On several websites I’ve seen flooring installers recommend no VOC or low VOC hardwax oils, such as Woca or Rubio Monocoat. Have you or anyone else tried these products? I really like the review on Rubio Monocoat, here:

    Kind Regards,TReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 10:39 PM

      Hi T,

      Thank you for that! No, I had not heard of it, but I just read about and it sounds like a cool option for some applications. I’m not sure about their claim that it has a “hand-rubbed” appearance, however. I see there’s a way to get a bit more sheen. I certainly am not into that clear nail polish look, but unless a floor is very pale, l prefer a rich luster to the finish. ReplyCancel

  • Maggie S - July 12, 2015 - 11:56 AM

    After I read your great blog post I looked at my Houzz email and the first article is “how to clean your hardwood floors”

    AND they recommend using MOS (I agree with you that it shouldn’t be used)

    I’m off to leave a link to your post in the comments!!ReplyCancel

  • Melody Eckert - July 12, 2015 - 10:47 AM

    I love your blog; your style of writing has me LOL with each new entry. You are a wealth of information.
    You didn’t address engineered hardwood but I just have to ask.
    I have dark walnut engineered floors. Living in a mid-century high-rise, I was not able to use hardwood because the depth of those floors impacted things in virtually every room. So engineered it was. Wish someone had told me how soft walnut is 🙁
    My big problem is I have floor to ceiling north, northeast and west facing windows in LR, DR and kitchen. When I had the floors installed 12 years ago immediately had UVA/B 97% shades installed and always kept them closed during the day, but the building had single pane windows at the time. (All windows replaced with double-pane about 6 years ago.) I had rugs down in the DR, and the LR. The floors have faded badly in both rooms. I now have a darker “wood” rug underneath the table. LR rug is still in place.
    There is approx. 6mm of wood depth to the floor. I know they can be refinished, but I have no idea where I would move all my furniture while that was being done. (Huge mohair sofas won’t fit through the bedroom doors.)
    Do you know if there is another way to repair/refinish faded stain than a complete re sanding? I’m thinking no, but you have so much knowledge…
    Thanks so very much for all your invaluable information.

    • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 1:33 PM

      Oh Mel, I feel your pain. I would love to do my floors and should have before I moved and now next to impossible with a huge cabinet in the LR. Yes, if the finish is faded, you have no other choice but to sand it away and start afresh. This would be a pain, but you could you dismantle your DR table and then shove everything into the dining room? Then, of course, you would have to repeat the same exercise with the DR.ReplyCancel

      • Melody - July 12, 2015 - 6:37 PM

        Laurel thank you so much. I was afraid of that.
        After I wrote my question I measured the height of the sofas, without the legs, which do come off. I measured the door openings to the bedrooms, without the doors. Both 31″.
        I MAY be able to have this done after all. Or maybe when I sell my condo to move to a warmer climate I’ll just give the buyers a credit to redo them! 🙂 Cheers!ReplyCancel

  • John Stacey - July 12, 2015 - 10:37 AM

    Many thanks for this article Laurel. Have gone from new $$ 60 ounce carpet (sigh) to $$ 3/4 inch thick ‘medium dark’ solid oak hardwood. It show beautiful grain and little dust. But is “fragile” compared to carpet. Have to put felt pads under all furniture. Had no reliable knowledge how to maintain. But thanks to you, now I do. Also did previous home in same material but ‘Ebony’ colour. Also beautiful and elegant (but can no longer see much grain). Never again, have to tie a Swiffer to your tail, as every step shows up outlined in dust (even though just dusted). Ebony is great to look at, just never ever walk on it:)ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 1:35 PM

      Yeah… I’ve had a client or two with the very dark floors. One has a big dog. Oye! Thanks for stopping by!ReplyCancel

  • Susan - July 12, 2015 - 9:08 AM

    Thanks for spreading the word on MOS! It’s evil, no matter the surface with a residue that attracts dirt, yuk. In my experience, men seem to buy the [MOS] “Kool-aid”. My husband extolled the virtues of MOS when I first met him, because it was all his grandmother ever use… Um.
    My favorite “tool” for hardwoods is a robot vacuum 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 1:38 PM

      haha! Susan. Too funny. Grannies are getting younger! My grandmother. Well never mind. The one I knew never lifted a finger to clean. (maid service) She was a fantastic cook, however. Do those robot vacuums work? I think if one had a cat, it could be a twofer. Clean up the hair and entertain him too!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Rideout - July 12, 2015 - 8:44 AM

    Great post, thank you Laurel! I have red oak, when I replaced the carpet in the family room I stuck with the same finish, the golden one which I am not too crazy about but it would have been too much expense and time consuming to redo everything. I have to admit I have used those products in the past, yuck, at least this is not my “forever” home and I will be sure to follow this advice when I finally do acquire it.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 1:42 PM

      Hi Sarah,

      Oh make no mistake. I had a few bottles of the lethal stuff under my cabinet in years gone past. I knew better than to put it on the floors because the installer told me in a voice that meant business to NEVER use it on the floor and all that was needed was water with a touch of vinegar. period. Then, about 12 years ago, I had a client who did the proverbial summer reno. Mouldings, floors whole house paint and all in one month. Insanity. Flooring guy is superb. He told me that the floors were “oily,” even though they had been finished with poly. Said he would do his best. Yeah… the finish didn’t stick at all in many places. Peeled right off. That’s when I fully realized what a horror show that product is!ReplyCancel

  • Chris - July 12, 2015 - 8:12 AM

    This article was a wealth of information. We are restoring an 1890’s home and found old pine boards under the subflooring. They are in fairly good shape, so of course we are going to have them sanded and refinished. What would you suggest for stain and the top coat for 100 year old pine?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 2:04 PM

      Hi Chris,

      Lucky you! I’m soooooo jealous! I researched this one and I advise you to do the same. Here is one thread I found.

      first of all… please be sure to get a refinisher who is as experienced as possible refinishing old floors. I would also test if you can, may in a closet or something.

      There was definitely something waxy or oily on the floors originally. There was no poly of course. It might have been varnish as well. Or even shellac. Shellac and Lacquer will come up with alcohol. The Waterlock site is very good for lots of information as well Therfore, it is imperative to investigate to see what was originally used.

      The protective coat, whether it is wax, tung oil (waterlock) might be a great choice as I believe that it’s very compatible with just about everything. But anyway, is going to darken the wood, so a stain might not be necessary.ReplyCancel

      • Chris - July 13, 2015 - 8:54 PM

        Thank you for your helpful suggestions. We found boards under the bathtub that we will use for repairs and testing the products you suggested. I will let you know how the floors turn out.ReplyCancel

        • Laurel Bern - July 15, 2015 - 9:45 PM

          oh wow! how wonderful Chris! Yes please let me know.

  • Chris - July 12, 2015 - 1:27 AM

    Very interesting and helpful! Such a huge (and expensive) topic.
    My story…which hopefully may help someone who finds themselves in the same boat.
    I just did about 2000 sqft of wood floor in my new house. I had all the carpet downstairs removed, except for the entrance way, dining room and kitchen which already had maple floor. So I felt I had to stick with maple and keep the existing wood and do the rest of the house in Maple to match and have continuity though-out the rest of the downstairs, living room, den, and library…and the stairway and upstairs hallway. Most of the photos of light wood floors seem to be maple floors.
    I then found out that maple can not be stained.
    A few pro’s do stain maple with a technique called water popping…but the results can be less than predictable or good as they can turn out very blotchy and uneven. Most pro’s will not attemp it. Maple can’t be stained because it is a hard and tight wood that does not soak up a stain. So I had to leave them all natural. Also an issue with maple is that if one uses an oil base poly, the poly does yellow and creates the infamous basketball court color. Since I didn’t want my house to look like a gymnasium, I choose the water based poly. And, I have read a lot about the horrible odor that hangs in the home for months or years with oil based. I did do my office, which is in a separate building with oil-base about 3 months ago, and it still smells very strong…giving me headaches if I don’t keep the windows opened. So I am glad I didn’t do the house with oil base because I am really sensitive to chemical odors.
    The floors look nice, however, there is this slight pink tone to some parts of the wood, that I would have chosen to eliminate, but bleaching was also out of the question for me due to the chemical load and toxic effects of bleach and the bleach fumes. So I am living with the pale maple, and that subtle pinkish, I call it flesh tone, color that does pop up in some of the darker marbled pieces of maple. All in all though, it is a nice light neutral floor. But with my two big footed dogs, I can already see after 3 months that it will need redoing in a few years. The good part is that I can hardly see the dog fur on the floor! This is a welcome relief after living with dark brown floors for the past few years that showed every piece of fuzz and fur 1 minute after vacuuming. I will never have another dark floor if I can help it!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 1:35 AM

      Hi Chris,

      oh dang! I’m so sorry and I forgot all about maple. I did know this about the staining issue and the need for waterbased poly on maple. It is unusual for people to use maple in this part of the world. Would’ve been nice if someone had informed you before you bought it! And yeah… dark floors–well really dark anything is just as bad as white!

      If you see this, are the new floors a different color than the old ones? Maybe the old floors have aged and darkened naturally?

      I actually LOVE super light floors. I’m going to put that under decorative painting because it’s a completely different technique. ReplyCancel

      • Chris - July 12, 2015 - 2:08 AM

        Hi Laurel! The old maple floors did have oil base poly and were quite orange-ish. They were/are are from 1993…So we had the old ones sanded completely until all poly was gone and they then matched the new unstained maple boards exactly. We had them weave the new boards into the old ones seamlessly. Once they were all sanded, the whole downstairs flowed from room to room with the exact same color. The unstained maple is very light and airy looking.ReplyCancel

      • Laurel Bern - July 12, 2015 - 1:40 AM

        Oh, I didn’t see all of what you had written. We went on vacay of course, while we had our floors done. I barely recall any odor at all and the last coat had gone on only 12 hours before. We really tiptoed for a couple days. And it definitely did not yellow! In fact, in the north facing part, it looked to be much more of a cognac color, rich and warm. It’s the Fabulon. It’s really the best poly! At least that was my experience!ReplyCancel

        • Chris - July 12, 2015 - 2:18 AM

          Just saw your second comment…there may be differences in brands of oil base poly. I’m not sure what the make was of the oil base poly they used in my office, but It is a smelly one. Fabulon sounds a lot better! Also the one they used, since the floor is so light, we can really see the yellow Amber color of the poly. It’s too soon to see if it’s getting more orange in time, but our floor guy said it starts right away if uv Rays hit the floor, so any place without carpet will get more Amber overtime and is already noticeable in 6 months increasing over time. On a darker floor this may not be noticeable at all. Thanks Laurel, for such a great blog, I have learned so much from you!