Caring for our Old Hardwood Floors

By Evelyn Crofts


When your floor starts to look dingy or dinged-up, you might start to think about refinishing it. This is pretty standard practice, but it might not be the best move for your historic home.


A hardwood floor refinisher once told me that most California Bungalow floors were made with 3/8” thick boards because, although it was standard to use 3/4” boards on the East Coast, using the thinner boards cut the shipping cost in half for the mail-order homes in the west. Unfortunately, this limits the lifetime of these floors as well.


The sanding step of a standard refinishing process can take off 1/16”- 1/8” of wood along with the finish. This means that our historic floors only get 2, maybe 3, refinishes before you start exposing the tongue-and-groove connections (resulting in pieces of wood breaking off) or thinning the boards until they crack. As such, it’s important for us to know how to take care of our floors and avoid refinishing for as long as possible.


The most important element for keeping your floors in good shape is to keep dirt and sand off of them as much as possible: these are what cause the wear in the high traffic areas. Of course, if you have decomposed granite or other sand in your yard, you’ll need to be even more careful when you enter the house. Regular vacuuming (suction only – the beater bar only adds unnecessary wear) and mopping with very little moisture are important to keeping hardwood floors clean. You don’t want to use too much water as it can cause the wood to warp; it’s best to use a product designed for hardwood floors, like Bona.


I also like to use “socks” on all my chairs, and grippy pads under my non-moving furniture, because this helps prevent them from scratching the floors as they slide.

If all else is lost, sandless refinishing is an option to improve the looks of an old floor that can’t take another full refinishing. This is a chemical process that only targets the varnish on top of the wood. This cannot smooth out dents and dings, but you can get more shine and protection for your wood floors.

 


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