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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How can I revive the dull finish on my hardwood floor?
  2. What factors should I consider when shopping for a floor?
  3. Can I stain a new hardwood floor to match the old wood floors already in my home?
  4. How can I remove carpet laid over hardwood floors?
  5. Does sunlight lighten or darken a floor’s color? Does it depend on the species, the stain or the finish?
  6. Is a hardwood floor a good choice for someone with allergies or asthma?
  7. If I have a urethane finish on my hardwood floor, can I use oil-based paint for stencils?
  8. Are steam cleaners an effective way to keep wood floors clean?
  9. If I buy a home with hardwood floors, how can I tell if they have a wax or urethane finish?
  10. What are mineral spirits and boiled linseed oil? How about rottenstone and pumice?

How Can I Revive the Dull Finish On My Hardwood Floor?

You may be able to renew a dull finish without completely refinishing the floor. Still, some hardwood floor manufacturers recommend that only professional refinishers tackle the job.
If you decide to do it yourself, begin by sweeping with a good broom and then vacuuming the surface. Next, use a buffer with an abrasive pad and/or fine-grit sand paper until the finish feels smooth. Another option would be to use a rectangular oscillating sanding machine. Hand-sand any areas that remain rough or regular. Keep in mind that you want to lightly sand the topcoat of the finish, not sand through it. Remove dust by sweeping, vacuuming and wiping the floor with a lint-free towel slightly dampened with water. (Make sure the towel has not been treated with fabric softener or anything else.) Allow the floor to dry completely before applying a single coat of polyurethane finish. Check with the manufacturer of the new finish if you're not sure it's compatible with the finish already on the floor.
For a waxed floor, apply a mineral-spirit based renovating product and buff with a No.1 steel wool pad. Allow the floor to dry completely. Next, wax and buff. Keep in mind that these steps will brighten the appearance of the finish, not lighten the wood itself.

What Factors Should I Consider When Shopping For a Floor?

The look, feel - and even the sound - of a floor are important. So are these practical considerations:
  • Health Effects: Doctors often recommend hardwood floors when their patients have allergies to dust and pet dander.
  • Longevity: Can the floor be refinished and - if so - about how many times?
  • Durability: Will the floor stand up to the demands of everyday life? Hardwood floors certainly will. It's no coincidence Pro basketball courts have maple floors.
  • Installation And Maintenance: Will laying the floors pose any particular challenges? Is maintenance simple?
  • Cost: How much does an inexpensive floor really cost if it only lasts several years? Hardwood floors will last a lifetime.
  • Sustainability: American hardwoods are sustainable, renewable, and environmentally friendly. Every year, this country's hardwood forests grow twice as much wood as we harvest from them.

Can I Stain a New Hardwood Floor To Match the Old Wood Floors Already In My Home?

No one can match finishes exactly, but an experienced professional with a good eye can get very close. For best results, consider refinishing the old floor with the same finish and sheen as the new one.
Although wax finishes are easier to match, keep in mind that polyurethane finishes provide more protection than wax in kitchens.

How Can I Remove Carpet Laid Over Hardwood Floors?

First determine the type of adhesive that was used. A dark or tan color adhesive usually is tar-based, and mineral spirits can be used. A light or clear adhesive (usually carpet tape) can be removed with an all-purpose adhesive remover. A yellow-looking substance generally is carpet adhesive. This can be lightly scraped or chipped off easily, and an all-purpose adhesive remover will work. Once the adhesive is removed, the floor can be sanded with a coarse paper and then re-sanded with finer paper. In some cases, carpeting over a hardwood floor is installed with wooden tack strips. After the carpet has been removed and the tack strips are pulled up, wood putty then can be used to fill the holes. Extra sanding may be needed before finishing.

Does Sunlight Lighten or Darken a Floor’s Color? Does It Depend On the Species, the Stain or the Finish?

The ultraviolet rays that can burn and age our skin will affect any organic material, including wood. That's why the finest art collections are kept in rooms without windows. Prolonged exposure to sunlight will change the color of virtually any wood floor, regardless of the stain or finish. Some woods lighten when exposed to sunlight. Others, like cherry and oak, tend to darken. The newest water-based urethane finishes seem to slow color changes more effectively than oil-based urethane finishes, which tend to turn the brownish-yellow color of amber. Some finishes feature sunscreens to help block the penetration of ultraviolet rays, extending the time it will take the wood to change.
If you're especially concerned about your floor changing color, consider installing curtains or blinds that will limit exposure to sunlight. Windows also can be fitted with thin films of plastic that block ultraviolet rays. This type of screen - similar to those used on some car windows - will protect your floor, furniture, drapes, upholstery and artwork from sunlight.

Is a Hardwood Floor a Good Choice For Someone With Allergies or Asthma?

You bet. Allergists often recommend bare floors, which reduce the chance for animal dander, dust, pollen or molds to collect. Respiratory experts say as much as one-fifth of the U.S. population suffers breathing difficulties caused by allergies and asthma, often triggered by microscopic dust mites that colonize bedding, curtains and carpets. Bedding and curtains can be laundered, but because frequent vacuuming is ineffective against dust mites in floor coverings, many immunologists and allergists suggest bringing hardwood floors out into the open.

If I Have a Urethane Finish On My Hardwood Floor, Can I Use Oil-Based Paint For Stencils?

You can, but it may not be the best choice. Many professionals avoid working with oil-based paints because they are harder to clean up and take longer to dry. With water-based paints, smudges and spills can be wiped away easily with a damp cloth. Water-based paint can be applied over oil- or water-based urethane finishes. For best results with opaque paints, consider first applying a white primer. Let the paint dry thoroughly before applying at least two protective topcoats that are the same type of urethane as the base coats. Oil-based paints that are just the slightest bit wet will smear when you apply an oil-based urethane topcoat. If you aren't sure whether your paint and urethanes are compatible, contact the manufacturers of your materials. Also, always test for compatibility by applying a little paint and finish on an extra board or in an inconspicuous spot such as a closet corner.

Are Steam Cleaners an Effective Way to Keep Wood Floors Clean?

Some models are designed for use on hardwood floors. Others are not. Check with the manufacturer to find out if your cleaner is appropriate for use on your wood floor. Remember that water is wood's No.1 enemy. If the finish is worn or scratched, steam could seep into your wood floors, eventually causing damage. Keep in mind that experts say the best way to clean a wood floor is to wipe up any spills immediately with a soft, dry cloth. Sweep floors regularly with a broom, dust mop or canister vacuum with special hardwood floor attachments. Do not use a vacuum with beater bars. They can dent your floor's finish.
wooden floor

If I Buy a Home With Hardwood Floors, How Can I Tell If They Have a Wax or Urethane Finish?

Urethane is one of the most popular finishes in use today. An easy way to determine if your floor has this type of finish is to apply a small amount of paint remover to the floor surface. If the finish bubbles up, it is most likely a urethane. You can also try scraping up a bit of the finish with a sharp blade (also in an area hidden from view.) If you can scrape up a clear material, the finish is likely urethane.
The finish is probably wax if you can feel the wood grain when you run your hand over the floor surface. Another test is to select an inconspicuous area and try to smudge the floor surface with a fingertip, or scrape the surface with a fingernail or sharp instrument. If the floor smudges, but no clear material is scraped up, the finish is probably wax.
If you're not certain after trying these tests, contact a reputable floor refinisher. Professionals with years of experience easily can determine a floor's finish.

What Are Mineral Spirits and Boiled Linseed Oil? How About Rottenstone and Pumice?

Mineral spirits are used to thin or clean up oil-based paints, stains and finishes. They also can be used to remove wax buildup on furniture and floors. Boiled linseed oil is a yellowish drying oil that serves as a lubricant. (Do not boil linseed oil: it has already been boiled,) Both of these materials can be found in the paint section at Lowe's, Home Depot and other home centers.
Rottenstone is a fine, abrasive limestone powder. Pumice is an abrasive (harder than rottenstone) derived from volcanic glass. Either one of these abrasives can be mixed with linseed oil and rubbed on furniture to remove stains and marks caused by moisture or heat. Woodworking suppliers sell these products in stores and on the Internet. Some paint and hardware stores also carry them.