Maintenance: Horror Stories From The Front Lines
Most people follow clothing cleaning recommendations. You wouldn’t throw a suit that’s dry clean only in the washing machine. That suit costs much less than a new hardwood floor, right? So why not follow the recommendations you receive for cleaning your new hardwood floors; you know, the ones we professionally installed and/or sanded and finished?
From the phone calls and emails we receive, to the social media posts we see, it seems like homeowners are waging war on their wood floors. Yes, they’re made to walk on and are quite durable (especially when installed and/or sanded and finished by an NWFA-Certified Professional Craftsman). However, just because we use the word durable doesn’t mean your wood floors will outlast natural disasters, house fires, or even the traffic patterns of a large, rambunctious dog!
As we head once again into the back-to-school routine, here are some useful maintenance tips from your wood flooring experts. I’ve included a few of our favorite customer dilemmas, from kids’ art and science projects gone awry to magical solutions that create more problems than they clean up. If you’re considering a wood floor installation or sanding existing wood floors or maybe both, these stories serve as cautionary tales.
Tip #1: Always hire a professional!
“SHARPIE VS. MAGIC ERASER: NEITHER WINS ON WOOD”
This battle between two powerful products was one that the homeowner ultimately lost. We’ve got four kids of our own and have heard it so often, it’s become a verb: Sharpied. So when a client called, crying, I knew exactly how she felt. There’s that drop in your stomach when you realize it’s very quiet…too quiet…what did the kids get into now? I know just how permanent permanent markers can be. Tiny Rocco hands have left their mark in our home’s history as well.
Let me assure you, wincing reader: it is possible to remove permanent marker!
Tip: Do not rely on the advice of housekeepers. While housekeepers may be good at cleaning, they are not chemists and they don’t understand the nature of finished wood floors. And whatever you do, don’t use cleaners that use the word “magic;” because those cleaners usually abrade the finish and the floor ends up looking not-so-magical.
Instead, call a pro to handle it.
“I WANT TO GET WOOD FLOORS. I’M JUST WAITING UNTIL MY DOG DIES.”
The first time I heard this phrase, I was horrified. But then I started hearing the same thing over and over again. Believe me, there are things people say inside the comfort of their own home that they’d never repeat in public. There are two reasons people choose to wait until after a pet passes (and then we usually find out they’ve gotten a new puppy within six months). First, pet claw marks can cause indentations in the finish and sometimes, depending on size and exuberance, scratch through the finish to raw wood. The before image shows indentations and scratches from large dogs that the homeowner then tried to cover up with polish. The after image, after she called us to refinish the floor looks much better. She has committed to NEVER buying and applying polish without the help of a professional.
While small indentations can sometimes be coated again with finish, scratches to raw wood must be sanded out.
Tip: If scratches are contained to a small area, try using a wood pen from a craft store in an inconspicuous spot to see if you can match the stain for a temporary solution.
There are ways to prevent some of the potential damage like claw covers or ultramatte sheens of finish or finishes that offer different maintenance approaches, and these alternatives are best explored with a professional.
Tip: Pets aren’t the only dangers to your floor’s finish. Even felt pads can catch small rocks and debris that can scratch finish. Try to regularly vacuum those felt pads on the bottoms of your chairs and other furnishings!
The second way pets leave their mark is much less desirable: ammonia stains from pet urine penetrate and discolor wood floors and most of those stains cannot be removed with sanding because they’ve occurred over a period of time. If you’re trying to restore a floor’s glory after your four-legged friend tarnished it, our expert recommendation is to hire Artistic Floors by Design to sand and then stain the floor a dark color. The darker the color, the less noticeable the stain. If you want to keep a lighter floor, replace boards.
Tip: Kilz helps remove all smells so when you do remove your carpet down to the subfloor, apply at least three coats of Kilz, allowing each to dry between coats, before any wood flooring is installed, especially if your pet is still alive and well.
Imagine how a simple desire to help your husband with the seemingly insignificant task of taking down the (real) Christmas tree can potentially turn into a watery, sticky, disastrous Saturday afternoon.
This isn’t a customer story. It happened to me!
I am the one who uttered those words, and my floors will get repaired this year (as long as I promise not to remove the tree myself, ever again). Water and wood don’t mix. As long as it’s not standing on your floors for a long period of time, wipe up the water, run a fan on the wood, and allow the wood to dry for several months. Yes, months. It takes a while for wood to truly dry out, even in our dry climate. But minor water damage doesn’t always need to be sanded out. Most of the time, the wood lays back down and you’ll forget that Christmas accident until the following year, when you can’t quite remember if you should go trunk first or top first out the back door.
Tip: Trunk first!
“YES, YOUR FINISH IS DURABLE BUT WE STILL DON’T RECOMMEND ROLLERBLADING INSIDE YOUR HOME.”
Again, these are words I actually have uttered. We have a lovely client in Heritage Hills with six kids. Her floor, by some miracle, still looks amazing even after having been rollerbladed on. It’s hickory, which is super hard and dense, but every time I’ve showed a prospective client how nice the floor still looks, she tells them her kids rollerblade across it. It’s my duty to protest this possibility for the potential havoc it could wreak, but I smile a little on the inside because her floors still look fabulous.
Tip: If you are considering species of wood, ask an expert about the wood’s hardness, find out about two-component, commercial grade finishes, and use a certified professional because a finish is only as good as the process used for application.
“I DID IT MYSELF.”
These are a contractor’s (and the parents of a toddler’s) least favorite four words. So many things these days can be done by you, so many objects and resources are readily available for purchase or rent online. The internet is a DIY mecca.
Tip: Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Polishing your floors is a no-no and a professional wood floor contractor’s worst nightmare (second only to Fido’s waste). Polish—and any urethane, for that matter—requires abrading the surface area to be applied and adhere after application. (I’m guessing if you pay for a maintenance coat, you’d like it to actually stick to the floor, not begin to peel off.) If abrasion doesn’t occur, the layers (because once you start polishing, the floor’s surface will like more dull and you’ll add layer after layer of polish, trying to keep it shiny), will ultimately peel like a bad sunburn.
Most DIY work we see must be sanded off, so we recommend saving the expert work for the actual experts. Weekend warriors need not apply. Save your blood, sweat, and tears for that painting project and leave the rest of to us. Contact us for a list of appropriate cleaners.
“HOW DID MY WOOD FLOORS TURN GRAY?”
Simple. Wood is porous and once you wear all of the existing finish off of the floor, dirt gets embedded in the grain.
It can be sanded out and prevented with regular maintenance coats, which extend the life of your floor and are highly recommended by Artistic Floors by Design if your floor can no longer be sanded, if your floor has texture (hand scraped, wire brushed, or reclaimed with saw/mill marks), and to maintain a consistent sheen of finish across the floor.
Tip: Maintenance coats are much more cost effective (less money and time) than sanding a floor.
You get the oil changed in your car and your fancy clothes dry cleaned. Consider the importance of regularly caring for and maintaining your floor to prolong its life. Feel free to reach out to our nationally certified sales professional for help.