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If properly cared for, solid hardwood floors require little attention, and only increase in value over time. The rich, warm feel and natural beauty of a well cared for hardwood floor is irreplaceable.

While hardwood floors are almost carefree, damage can be caused when floors aren't treated properly, when they suffer intense wear and tear or through common cleaning practises. Learn how to protect your floor to prevent damage.

WATER can warp a poorly finished hardwood floor and damage the finish of wood. Wipe all spills as they happen. Lighter color woods tend to have water spots when standing water has been left on them for long periods of time. Keep plants, pet dishes and beverages out of reach from light colored woods whenever possible.

DENTS found on hardwood floors are most often attributed to vacuum use. If vacuuming a hardwood finish, do so only with a brush attachment. Wheels, rollers and vacuum corners can also dent and mar wood and its finish.

DIRECT SUNLIGHT can discolor hardwood floors. During periods of bright sunshine, close curtains and blinds or add sheer drapes to your decor to protect your wood from intense UV rays. Dark colored woods tend to feel the punishment more so than lighter woods.

SWEEPING with brooms made of fine, exploded ends can trap dust and grit effectively on all types of hardwood floors. Do not use course brush bristles or outside brushes on indoor wood floors.

VACUUMING with canister-type vacuums that have special bare floor attachments is another way to remove dirt and dust. This method works well on all floor types.

DUST MOPS are another alternative for cleaning. Cotton headed mops not only work well to gather dust and debris, but can be used to apply floor treatments to finished woods, too.

If simple cleaning doesn't restore your solid hardwood floor's shine and luster, waxing and buffing is an easy way to give your wood back its natural beauty. The treatment is controversial for surface finishes, and has both pros and cons. Experts recommend you weigh the advantages and disadvantages before waxing.

Waxing can be easily cleaned, buffed and re waxed.
Waxing can make your wood look like its original condition.
Wear and tear on a wax job does not damage wood's finish.
Wax can be stripped and reapplied, as needed.

Waxing can limit some re coating options for future care.
Wax that is not properly stripped can cause adhesion problems.

The most important thing to keep in mind when cleaning or repairing hardwood floors is what type of finish your wood is covered with. The majority of hardwood floors are commonly made of oak, maple or ash. Most woods are covered with a sealant made of polyurethane to prevent damage.

BARE WOODS (those without any coating at all) should only be swept and never cleaned with water based products. Special "shaded cleaners" are available commercially that will help to blend damage and stains in your untreated floors. Bare wood floors should be oiled monthly to prevent overdrying and cracking.

WATER BASED URETHANE covered flooring has a high level of durability and can be cleaned with water and oil based cleaners. Sweep weekly and clean with water or oil based cleaners once a month. Cleaners can be sprayed on to a cotton tipped mop or used with a soft, cotton sponge.

OIL MODIFIED URETHANES have a semi-hearty level of durability, but care should be taken not to clean with oil or soap based products. Buffing, shining and waxing are the preferred methods of treatment. Floors should be swept twice weekly and cleaned with a chemical cleaner once every two months.

MOISTURE CURED URETHANE coverings (clear to dark amber in color) are easily cleaned with almost anything. Sweep weekly and apply cleaners as needed.

SEAL or WAX or OIL finished floorings (amber) have natural, low luster shines. Never clean with water. Some oil based cleaners can be used, but read labels carefully. You'll want to sweep this floor often to prevent scratching from dirt, sand and debris and oil or wax often to keep this tender seal moisturized.

Because wood is a natural product, it will react to changes in its environment. Normal CRACKING is not uncommon if there are separations between individual floor pieces. The most common irregular cause of cracking is dryness and Mother Nature. The majority of all cracking occurs during colder, winter months. A loss of moisture will cause shrinkage and cracking. Adding moisture to the air will help to prevent further cracking and may even cover some of the damage that already exists to minor areas. Providing a constant relative humidity of 50% will prevent cracking from occurring. Major damage should be repaired by removing cracked boards and replacing.

SCRATCHES can easily be covered or repaired with touch up kits sold commercially. Look for kits that will blend with your particular urethane finish and also the wood coloring.

WATER SPOTS can be removed with a cleaner specifically made for urethane finishes. Stubborn spots may require scrubbing with a specially treated scrub pad made to penetrate urethane.

CIGARETTE BURNS can be treated with touch up kits made for urethane. For burns that reach deep within the wood, individual plants may need to be replaced.

CRAYON, GUM, WAX. Apply a plastic bag filled with ice to the top of the stain until it is brittle enough to crumble. Clean area afterward with urethane cleaner.