June 14, 2024

KJ Home

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How to clean wood flooring without causing damage

5 min read

We’re not pirates flailing a mop along salty decks. Here’s how to damp-dust an impostor laminate or aristocratic timber floor to a low, lovely lustre without exhausting and potentially damaging swabbing.

Laminate wood flooring is not wood. It’s a synthetic composite of materials (basically high-density fibre-board covered with melamine) with a digital print of wood plank grain and pattern on the top side. An economical, practical floor, the technology used to print the surfacing and the improved definition of the image without tight obvious repeats, delivers a characterful, even lightly-textured pretender. 

A tough, clear scratch guard will protect laminate against most slings and arrows to your wishful walnut planks. It’s sold as maintenance-free, as once damaged fake wood flooring cannot be repaired from dents and dings. If you like mopping weekly and want a wood-look floor — go with laminate.

One thing laminate planks and parquet does have in common with real wood flooring is that it should not be swamped with pooling water, especially near edges, joins between planks and plank sections. 

Faux-laminate or real wood, don’t hit your floor with a hot steam mop as it can introduce moisture to seams that will lift your floor. Expect to pay €25-€50 per square metre for quality laminate like Konig or Karndean (ex installation). Picture: Amtico
Faux-laminate or real wood, don’t hit your floor with a hot steam mop as it can introduce moisture to seams that will lift your floor. Expect to pay €25-€50 per square metre for quality laminate like Konig or Karndean (ex installation). Picture: Amtico

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That masterwork you effortlessly tailored over a weekend, can ingest moisture, twist out of position and lift into low hills as it pulls against wider sections of an outwardly seamless floating floor. Begin with a soft broom or vacuum without the beater bar — the best routine clean, and a great start for more intense work on all hard floor types.

Any traditional mop head should be very tightly wrung out — damp. not wet. with no signs of dripping when you guide it to the floor. Generally, all you need is a slosh of white vinegar in a 5l bucket of warm water to clean laminate as it’s less susceptible to chemical damage than real timber. 

Vinegar will also return the dimmed shine of laminate which can pick up a waxy fog through ordinary use. Most chemical cleaners leave a residue, and over time residue dulls the floor, adding a stubborn tack that attracts and holds even more dirt.

Micro-fibre floor pads with integrated spray bottles can be used with pure water or green products just as easily as the chemical elixir they probably came with. The advantage of this system is that as you spray, there’s a moment where the beaded moisture sits on the area and dissolves the dirt before you pick it up with the pad. 

Never, ever used oil-based products intended for raw wood on laminate. It’s sealed and the oils and waxes will sit up on the plank and could slip you straight into A&E. Single-use, clip-in disposable floor cloths? Most contain micro-plastics, making them fit only for landfill.

Engineered wood plank flooring is a fantastic product with at least 2mm of real wood set over multiple layers of glued ply. Famed for its structural stability, it’s less likely to warp than solid wood as the layering on the underside is arranged to pull in different directions, avoiding a leery smile in varying temperature and humidity conditions.

Top of the tree in terms of price at least, solid wood planks and blocks, shrink very slightly in the winter due to lower humidity when the central heating kicks on for long periods. 

This will winkle planks of even 21mm depth apart visibly at the joints, something you are less likely to notice with engineered flooring with a skim of the real stuff up top. With all-natural wood, there should be an expansion gap of 10mm left at every wall to allow for this expected, seasonal shift.

Cleaning engineered flooring and solid wood, begin with a gentle brush or vacuum to eliminate any scratchy grit and to get up the first tranche of dirt and debris. Regularity? The Good Housekeeping Institute (and I rarely argue with the GHI’s advice) suggests vacuuming once a week and mopping the floor only every one to two months depending on foot traffic.

Again, avoid pooling or standing water. Even a floor with a hard (polyurethane) finish can have breaks in the surface. These sneaky highways to the wood grain are hydrophilic (water-loving) and can lead to swelling and staining. V-shaped joints in plank flooring can become rivulets of excess water, collecting a line of sticky gunge. 

Twice a year, slap on some garden kneeling pads, and take the trouble to push a damp micro-fibre cloth or rolled kitchen towel along these small depressions (trust me, you’ll be horrified).

For any cleaning bucket, we’re using hot (not boiling!) water on real wood flooring to damp dust it off. The water will evaporate more quickly. 

For a little soapy cleaner (with low suds) try Malone’s Wood Floor Cleaner, sustainable and made here in Ireland (no rinse required); €2.60 for 500ml at many supermarkets. Ecover also does a deliciously scented Floor Soap for porous flooring that includes
citrus, geranium and limonene in a rich linseed base. €6.55 a litre bottle.

If someone drop-kicks the dog bowl and your real wood plank (engineered or solid wood) does get truly wet, work swiftly with a dry mop or microfiber floor pad. Alternatively, throw down a big, fat bath towel and gather the water with some lively squats as quickly as possible. Dry scuff marks you can’t move? Take an old sports sock and a little bicarbonate of soda. 

Give the mark a light rub, and wipe clean with a barely damp kitchen cloth or clean cotton rag. Done! Chewing gum trodden into the ash wide-plank. Take an ice cube to it, and when stiff, flick up and off with the blunt edge of a credit card. Winning!

Keep in mind that soft finishes like lime and water-based paints, even with a coating of water-based varnish to protect them from footfall, will scuff over time into an attractive, broken, distressed landscape. 

The ferocity of your broom and the number of times you mop or break out the cleaning pads will accelerate this process. Along traffic areas like corridors, the fading back to the unfinished timber can become unintentionally interesting. Just take care not to over-scrub any of these traditional lovelies.

For raw wood floors in their original colour with say an oiled finish drawn deep into the grain, keep the mop in storage as far as possible. Clean up spills and stains immediately and following light damp dust, use something like
Bona’s mild, specially-formulated Cleaner for Oiled Floors (€17.50 for a litre bottle) in a damp-mop technique but just occasionally, as needed
. Stubborn stains can be sanded out of solid wood flooring in a self-colour, just don’t dig too deep.

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