All About Hardwood Floors + How To Ruin Them!

 

Hardwood floors. This subject is so broad that one could have an entire blog devoted to hardwood floors, not just one blog post! I hope you’ll discover some things you didn’t already know that will help with your hardwood floors.

So let’s jump in.

 

There are three basic types of hardwood floors.

 

  • Solid (the most common kind)
  • Engineered
  • Laminate

Solid hardwood flooring is just what it says. It is most commonly made from oak, usually red oak, but sometimes white oak. There are many different types of wood and ways the wood is cut

  • plain sawn
  • quarter sawn
  • rift sawn, etc.

 

Are you asleep yet? ;]

 

Therefore in the interest of getting into other useful information, here’s a fabulous link that is a terrific reference for everything you ever wanted to know about the technical aspects of hardwood flooring.

Laurel’s number one recommendation for hardwood floors is:

 

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

 

HOT TIP:

 

The wood needs to sit in the room for a few days before installation, especially if you live in a northern climate (frigid winters, hot, humid summers). I think it’s better to install the wood during the humid summer. As you may know, wood swells in the humid summer months and shrinks in the bone dry winter months. There is nothing worse than a new wood floor that’s buckling because the installer didn’t allow for the swelling of the wood.

 

A good installer will leave a very tiny, almost invisible space between the floorboards in any case.

 

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 natural wood on top. That means it can be sanded and refinished but how many times depends on how thick that layer is.

Drawing by Other Metro vtpf.com

EHF is constructed in layers of plywood underneath the finished floor layer. The plywood base plus veneer makes this a more stable, consistent product. Therefore, it is beautiful for high moisture areas and the only hardwood flooring that can go directly over concrete.

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

 

Below is a white oak wide plank engineered hardwood floor.

 

wide-plank-flooring-oak-wood-flooring-152_1082_617_80_c1via

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

Okay. Okay! Stop whining, please. I understand. You have a basement that you spent $80,000 trying to keep dry, or you live in a heavy-duty hurricane zone.

It’s laminate or bust.

 

Alright. Fine. I will soften my stance a little. :]

 

Laminates have come a long way from the cheap, totally obvious fraud to something that resembles natural hardwood floor pretty darned well. Plus, it’s fade-resistant and scratch-resistant, great for moisture and high-traffic areas.

However, as previously stated, it can never be refinished, as 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.

 

Balsa Porcelain wood look wall and floor tile - Wayfair

Balsa porcelain wood look wall and floor tile – Wayfair

 

In addition, there are also porcelain tiles that do an excellent job of mimicking real hardwood.

 

If it were me, and I wanted the look of hardwood, I’d probably go this route. I think the above “Versailles” pattern is incredibly handsome. It comes in four other colorways, as well.

This is a fantastic product for humid climates and bathrooms if you love the warmth of hardwood floors in a bathroom but are nervous about putting down natural wood. The only drawback is that it is hard underfoot. However, you can use area rugs with a thick pad, which will undoubtedly help a lot.

 

Elm Street Inn - Northampton, MA - heart pine floors 18th c. airbnb - photo LBIHowever, remember the exquisite heart pine antique wood floors at the Elm Street Inn, Northampton, MA? photo LBI  You can see more of this charming Airbnb here. I recommend it highly. I’m mentioning it because they continued the antique pine into the bathrooms. I loved it, and it looked to be holding up quite well.

 

Let’s move on to Finishing Your Hardwood Floors.

 

I want to work backward and discuss the topcoat applied to your hardwood floors. All hardwood floors require a protective coating.

Although did you know that in the 19th century and earlier, they usually did nothing whatsoever to protect the wood? You can read more about it here.

 

However, in the 19th century, if the hardwood floors were finished, they used stain, filler, oil, paint, varnish, shellac, and wax, or a combination of two or more of these materials.

 

To preserve the natural color of oak and maple hardwood floors, they were often finished with a colorless wood filler, white shellac, light-colored wax, or pale varnish.

If a deeper color was desired, they used shellac or dark varnish. Before any finish was applied, the floor was made smooth by planing and sandpapering parallel with the wood grain and then swept and dusted with a soft cloth before the finish was applied.

 

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)

 

Wax

 

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.

 

pasillo_de_la_casa_con_suelo_de_roble_844x1280via

 

 

  • Once you’ve used wax, it’s challenging 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 is poly doesn’t stick well 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 as Waterlox is 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 should wear a mask and have excellent ventilation when using this product. 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.

 

Does 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.

 

Polyurethane.

 

“Poly” is the most common floor finish these days. And, there are so many in the marketplace, with new ones cropping up all of the time.

 

Bona Traffic HD floor finish for hardwood floors

One popular brand is Bona. It comes in both water and oil-based.

 

Water-based Polyurethane

 

Most of the time, I hate it, especially on dark floors. 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. (But, maybe Bona is different?) However, there are some very compelling reasons to use water-based polyurethane.

  • far less odor
  • speedy drying time

I have read that the trick in having a water-based poly hold-up well is using FOUR COATS. Yes, four coats of water-based poly. However, with only two to three hours of drying time, in between coats, unless it’s a huge floor, that might take only a couple of days to apply all four coats!

 

Oil-based Polyurethane

 

Well… I bet that you were going to say that I love it! It’s true; 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, I think so, but only in pint-sized quantities. They had to get 24 pints for the Bronxville kitchen to do the job!

Why oil? Oh my. I had it in my home in Goldens Bridge. It was gorgeous and dried to a rich, warm, tawny luster that only gets better with time!

This poly does deepen the color a little. However, it held up beautifully! Seventeen 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 tiptoes. ;]

 

Well, Laurel, are you going to tell us what you used?

 

Oh, yes… sorry. It was this stuff.

 

fabulon_professional_polyurethane_1_quart_wood_floor_finish_450-voc-1089

 

Fabulous Fabulon! But, I can’t find it, at this time, at all.

 

However, please look at this post about Varathane and some other exciting and highly regarded polyurethanes.

 

Are there any drawbacks to oil-based poly? Yes. It has an amber tinge, but that is good for brown stained floors. It’s not a good thing you’re doing 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 U.V. protected if they aren’t already.

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

 

That’s an excellent question. Here’s my answer. Suppose 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 said that he does this all the time, maybe waiting just a few days and no problems. You can read that here. It’s pretty interesting. However, I think 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?

 

Many years ago, 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 forever 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 and then stained. If you want to be sure of a great result, I would go back to wax. I am not saying you can’t use traditional poly, but I have had clients who’ve had problems with poly adhering. As stated earlier, polyurethane does not stick well to wax or oil.

And worse yet?

 

Stuff like Mop ‘n Glo. It should be called Mop & Glop.

 

It contains silicone. Silicone is your floor’s worst nightmare. STAY AWAY!

The same goes for Murphy’s oil soap.

What?! Murphy’s Oil Soap?

Yes, my dears, it will be the death of most floor finishes.

 

It is made from vegetable oil and detergent.

 

You will never get it all out as it’ll penetrate the tiny pores and hairline cracks. Plus, it’ll seep deeply into the wood underneath the poly coating. 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; however, it’s not.

 

poison

Please note. When you are cleaning your hardwood flooring with 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 polyurethaned mop floors. Not soaking, but damp is fine. More importantly, than mopping is keeping the hardwood floors vacuumed. Swiffers are good too. (Remember the Swiffer-sock post?) Keeping the floor dust-free will elongate the life of the finish 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 that Murphy Oil stuff? The house was 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.

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

 

What kind of problems?

 

Here. These kinds of problems. (see below) I should know.

 

Below is a pic I took several years ago outside my old bathroom in Bronxville, NY. Fortunately, it is only 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 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 unsure what has been used on them!

 

One day, I’ll take care of it. (Nope, haha! I never did.)

 

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 the flooring folks will apply another one to two coats of poly.

 

Hardwood Flooring Stains

 

No matter your topcoat finish, all hardwood floors can be stained. While you don’t have to stain, doing so will bring out the richness of the natural wood. There is another method for changing the floors’ color, and that is bleaching and staining them a lighter color.

You can read all about staining and painting floors white, whitewashing, and other techniques here.

The most crucial point about stains is that they can 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?

 

The choice is a matter of preference, the 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. I have always used Minwax stains and never had a problem with them. However, I’m not a fan of their polyurethane.

 

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. It is also very lovely but better over white oak than red oak as it can go too red with red oak.

 

| Laurel Bern Interiors Portfolio |Bronxville Dining Room – photo by me

 

This is the red mahogany stain in the dining room we did several years ago!

 

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

 

peaches-living-room-1111x761(pp_w840_h575)

Awww, cutie-pie Peaches grooming himself in our old living room circa 2002.

 

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 not yellow.

One of my most objectionable stains is a deep brown with a yellow tinge to it. Ashy, no-color or pink undertones, are not very attractive either. 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.

Testing floor stains is essential!

 

The best way is right on the unfinished floor. The color is going to change 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 actual 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.

 

reference guide for hardwood floors

 

Phew! That was long 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.

xo,

 

P.S. Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES. They’ve extended the S&L sale for another week- through the 3.22.2022!

PPS: If you’re interested, I was interviewed about kitchen trends for a podcast which went live on the 16th. You can see it here.

 

41 Responses

  1. Hi Nancy– can you share the brand, model and color you choose. I want hardwood floors but I can’t afford it. Thank you.

  2. Too funny! I’m a chemist too! Do chemists just love hard wax oil? Or do we just go deep diving into all the options and pull out little gems 😀. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there!

  3. I wanted to add one more “hard wax oil” product into the discussion. We used Pallmann Magic Oil 2K on our hardwood oak floors. My background is in Chemistry, so I was thrilled to find this. It is plant-based with a light, floral scent, but it works like an epoxy and hardens into an incredibly durable finish after the two parts are mixed. The finish is a velvety sheen that reminds me of waxed floors, but with minimal maintenance (I know because I am lazy and they still look great). Pallmann Magic Oil was easier to find in my area (I’m in Midwest America). We have three kids who have constantly spilled water/mud/nasty things all over it for six years, and it still looks incredible. Pallmann has tinted oils or a clear oil, and all come out with a velvety smooth look. I cannot recommend any other product after using this!

  4. I’m going to second the “hard wax oil” finish mentioned by a reader from Ireland. It is also growing in popularity in the US. It doesn’t behave like either the “waxed” finish or “oiled” finish mentioned above. It’s super low VOC/odor, and goes on in one coat that’s walkable in 36 hours. I’ve had it for five years now and love it. I have Rubio Monocoat, but Osmo is another well known brand. I will say I kinda regret doing the separate Rubio color stain because it complicates maintenance. I would stick with simple two part catalyzed finish.
    It should be easy to find someone who can do this if you’re in an urban area, and it’s probably more common rurally now too.

    Thanks Laurel!!

  5. I’m going to second the “hard wax oil” finish mentioned by a reader from Ireland. It is also growing in popularity in the US. It doesn’t behave like either the “waxed” finish or “oiled” finish mentioned above. It’s super low VOC/odor, and goes on in one coat that’s walkable in 36 hours. I’ve had it for five years now and love it. I have Rubio Monocoat, but Osmo is another well known brand. I will say I kinda regret doing the separate Rubio color stain because it complicates maintenance. I would stick with simple two part catalyzed finish.
    It should be easy to find someone who can do this if you’re in an urban area, and it’s probably more common rurally now too.

  6. Excellent and informative post, Laurel. As a 23-yr. owner of a floor coverings business, I might presume to add a couple of notes. First is sheen when choosing polyurethane. Most go for semi-gloss, which imparts a fairly high sheen to floors. In my current home I used a matte polyurethane as I wanted a less plastic-y/more natural finish. It is doing very well after 12 years. I have noticed that in highest traffic paths it is getting buffed by said traffic, thus is taking on a bit of sheen in those areas. Not terribly noticeable to the untrained eye, but I can see it. Just something of which to be aware if one chooses matte or dead flat urethane. Also will add that the very best system I’ve found for occasionally mopping urethaned hardwood is the spin mop. It is the only way I’ve found to get a true damp -rather than wet- mop. The floor dries lightning fast. And it makes the job almost effortless, really. Warm water + a drop or two of Dawn, and the floor glows.

  7. Laminate is awful, IMO (our house came with a blond Pergo). I ripped it out of my house post-haste because it was so NOISY. It looks fake, though maybe there are better types now, and it echoes no matter how softly you walk. In our guesthouse, I used wood-look tile for ease of maintenance, and it has held up beautifully. You would never mistake it for real wood, but it looks very nice.

  8. WOW about Murphy’s Oil Soap. I had no idea. When I first hired some housecleaners they used it three or four times before I asked them to stop…I couldn’t stand the fumes so asked them to use just water on my new hardwood floors. I hope the Murphy’s Oil Soap didn’t do too much damage.

  9. Another commenter above yours said to never use a Swiffer wet jet. She still can’t get the residue off her bathroom tiles.

  10. I wish I had hardwood floors! The only time we’ve had them is when my husband was stationed in Wichita and we lived in base housing. I use Murphy’s Oil Soap on my kitchen cabinets- and now I think I need to research the best way to clean them!

  11. Hi Laurel,

    It’s my first time commenting, I love your blog.
    I’m in Ireland and we have hard wax oil on our wooden floors (and on our kitchen worktop as well!). We went with Osmo, it is the most gorgeous natural finish and the floors are so low maintenance. As a previous person mentioned, you just have to apply a little bit with a cloth to the highly trafficked areas and it blends right in with the rest of the floor. And we actually haven’t had to do that yet, and the floor is in about three years now. Osmo have a fab range of products. You can go with untinted (which will slightly darken the bare wood, to about the colour it is when wet) or a range of different colours like walnut, ebony etc. You can get satin finish or matt. You can even get Osmo products which give a finish similar to the Scandinavian white soap finish, and ones which protect the wood but leave it looking completely raw and untouched. It is so gorgeous, I am obsessed. I would never use anything else.

    Hard wax oil is in the same kind of category as Danish oil or linseed but without the downsides. It cures quite quickly when applied in very thin coats.
    I recommend it to everyone as a low maintenance beautiful finish for floors, but for worktops it is a little more high maintenance as detergents are the one thing that will remove a hard wax oil finish. And obviously when you’re washing dishes at the sink you’re using dish soap. So you will need to re-coat your counter every four or five months. So it’s not for everyone on your work surface.

  12. I’m currently living in a place with ceramic tiles on the kitchen floor and I am hating life! I have a major back problem requiring either surgery with a high failure rate or physical therapy. I’m going for the latter.

    However, the hard floor in the kitchen will always aggravate my back no matter what I do. Human bodies just weren’t meant to stand on hard surfaces for long.

  13. Would using a marine grade polyurethane or wood sealer provide more protection for hardwood floors, or would that be too complicated? I once took a class from an interior designer who used a British Racing Green automotive paint on an interior wall, and it looked fabulous.

  14. Wonderful post, Laurel. With the exception of bathrooms and a kitchen, I am fortunate to have wood floors throughout my old house. They are beautiful, and I’m dying to give them a badly needed face lift. However the house is about 3,800 square feet, so it won’t be an easy or inexpensive task.

  15. I’m a huge fan of Waterlox tung oil. Waterlox has also formulated low VOC formulas, to reduce the odor found in the original. I wanted to see some of the grain in my brazilian Cherry floors and Waterlox was perfect. Also, I did not have to recoat/refinish annually. If there was a scratch, a rubout with steel wool and recoat the damaged area did the trick and blended right in. The tung oil stood up to 2 Newfoundland dogs. The polyurethaned teak did not and needed to refinish after 3 years.

  16. Loved this post! I just finished a large project at a church, and in one room, after removing the carpet, we found half the floor was oak and the other half pine. We tested several stains on both sides and found the wood took the color very differently. We ended up with English Chestnut and the color stayed true on both kinds of wood.

  17. Good info. Thanks! A dark stain will show every speck of dust. Instead, we used red oak floors with three coats of oil based poly. That gave a nice finish due to the natural amber in the poly. In a den, we used 3″ Brazilian teak with alternating 1″ maple strips to get a nautical look. It was finished with a clear water based poly so the lighter strips would have a color pop. Worked well.

  18. Laurel, I love your blog and look forward to each new post! I especially appreciate this advice on taking care of hardwood floors. We just moved into a house with hardwood floors, which I have never had, so this was timely info. I have an idea for a post that I REALLY wish you would address. We have carpet in the bedroom that needs replacing. Both my husband and I want to go with wall-to-wall carpeting again as we don’t like hardwood in the bedroom. Could you please give advice on selecting a carpet for the bedroom that is stylish, but NOT seagrass. I love the look, but not the feel for this part of the house.

  19. For Gabrielle—Before renovating our kitchen we had that old asbestos tile over plywood. After a couple of hours on my feet cooking, my feet and legs would hurt. Now I can stand for many hours on the hardwood floor with no discomfort. The wood look porcelain tile looks wonderful, but all I can think about is how hard and unforgiving it would be.

  20. Thank you for the informative post.

    Just an FYI- I have been happily using Murphy’s Oil Soap on my white pine floors (oil poly finish) for decades. However, there is a new formulation that I will use on my floors. I have been stockpiling bottles of the old formula.

  21. I live on slab in hot, humid Houston. We just put down engineered hardwood floors – wide plank European white oak in a dark stain. These floors are UV oil cured floors. Surprisingly,they really don’t show dirt and dust.On my stairs, we put down solid white oak and matched the stain of the wide plank – I believe dark walnut and jacobean mixed. Those have a water based poly over them.

  22. You may want to try tsp as it cleans everything. The formula has been changed but it’s still a good product. Also, washing soda. Either one would be put on left for ahwile and then clean it up with clear water. Maybe just a 1/4 cup of distilled vinegar in the clear water.

  23. Just like Kay commented earlier, I vote for hard wax oil. We have it on our floors throughout the house – so simple to apply and economical. I have used Osmo and Fiddes and both are excellent. I would never go the poly route – so heartbreaking when it starts looking shabby or breaks down.

  24. When I was a newly-wed, our first house had kitchen tile over cement slab, and after a day of being in my kitchen, my legs would be so sore! And my MIL had a laminate in her house, and it was so hard, the dog couldn’t lie on it without a cushion. Wood is so much softer. When we redo our wideplank luxury vinyl floors in our 100-y-o house, I’ll come back to this post…thanks, Laurel!

  25. My brother and SIL had a big house, kids, lots of company, pets, swimming pool and the whole house got wood look porcelain tile with a very thin grout line. It was a beautiful floor.

  26. When we redid our kitchen and expanded the back of the house, I had the existing red oak floors extended with the same kind of wood, so that the entire house, except for the bathroom, has hardwood floors. I did a lot of research on finishes and discovered Rubio Monocoat, a European hard oil finish. My contractor worked with a hardwood floor expert who had never heard of a hard oil finish but was willing to study and learn. So we went with Rubio.

    The work on our house was done in sections. There was no way to refinish the floors all at the same time, but the wonderful thing about hard oil is that once the oil forms a molecular bond with the wood, the wood will accept no more oil. So you can refinish the floors in sections and still have it look seamless.

    There is some odor while it cures, but it is not dangerous or unpleasant. Curing with the optional accelerator, which we used, takes about five days.

    Also, a hard oil finish is permanent. You can touch up worn places, but the whole floor never needs to be refinished. Ours has been in place for eight years and still looks perfect, even in the most heavily used parts. In Europe they use a hard oil finish on wood floors in public places, such as museums. It’s a lovely, natural look.

    The contractor, the floor guy, and our housekeeper were all complete converts to the hard oil finish. They all thought it the best finish ever. Our housekeeper said it was the easiest of any wood floor she had worked on to keep clean.

    I highly recommend it. And it comes in a large variety of colors.

  27. I have had everything! The Tung oil finish is just amazing, hard and nearly impervious. I really don’t want to wax but once a year, but that’s just not enough.
    Engineered wood floors can be quite nice, but hard wood is better. NO to laminate, especially a wet basement. I don’t care what they say, it does not hold up, it’s dreck.
    Right now we have luxury vinyl plank, and honestly, it’s my favorite. We bought a big house and the hardwood I wanted would break us, I was terribly disappointed. But this looks good, and feels good. Our contractor (who was almost as disappointed as me about no hardwood floors) was so impressed he installed it in his mother’s house.

  28. When I was a child in the 50s, we had waxed floors. They stayed beautiful because my mother used her free built-in child labor to crawl around with paste wax twice a year! Daddy loved to buff the floors every weekend. (It’s actually a great memory). Fast forward to having my floors stained red mahogany, beautiful but showed dust like crazy. Refinished to a natural color and love it with our pack of pets. May I add never ever ever use a Swiffer wetjet on anything! I still can’t get the residue off my ceramic bathroom tile after 3 years and every cleaning hack in the book!!

  29. I’m curious about Osmo. Looked at their website. It lists polyp-oil Osmo as the one you use on floors. How long does it last? When it wears out, do you sand and redcoat or just dissolve and redcoat? Thanks Janet

  30. Hi Laurel,
    I just had the floors in my home sanded & stained. I have red oak & used a white stain on them. They’re so light & bright now. I love them! Thanks for the tips on how to maintain them.

  31. Laurel, everyone who has or wants wood floors should read your post. I love them but when I was a new and young house owner, I had no idea how to clean them – and used a Pledge floor product a few times on our new poly’d floors. MISTAKE! A film started to appear. The floor “guy” told me exactly what you have written – simple vacuuming should be all that is needed in low traffic rooms. And for stains, footprints, etc in the kitchen – a well rung out damp mop with a drop of dish detergent in the water. And he strongly advised against splashing lots of water on the floor. It took a little elbow grease to eliminate the film that had formed – but eventually I was able to get it off and saved my floors. Have to say there was some crying involved. 30 years later the floors still look good – after cats and humans.

  32. I must have overlooked the advise of EHF cleaning. I looked twice but did not see it. Would you be kind enough to recommend?

    Kind Regards,
    Ellen

  33. Perfect timing as we just had the third coat of oil poly applied to Jacobean-stained red oak floors last night. (Phew! Glad we did oil! And glad we don’t live in the house yet. It stinks). Anyway – we normally use swifter wet jet to clean our floors. Is this ok?

  34. Appreciate the great post, and the recipe for cleaning floors with a poly finish! Question about the recipe…when you say add vinegar are you referring to distilled white vinegar that I would have in my kitchen, as opposed to the heavy duty stuff I have in the basement that is 30% vinegar? Or…doesn’t it matter?

  35. Hi Laurel — that’s a great post. Your readers might be interested to know we used ‘hard wax oil’on our first floor maples floors. It’s all natural, and you use the water-proofing prep coat first, followed by one or two top coats. We’re messy at the sink, have dropped glasses of water a couple of times and the floor has held up really well. We do now have to refinish as worn patches are developing, but I like natural products, so that’s the rub. (And I do mean a LOT of rub!) PS: Over here in the UK the go-to brand is Osmo.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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