The tree is dismantled; the ornaments put away till next year; the kids back in school. Cookie crumbs, candy cane splinters and pine needles decorate your once-sparkling no-wax kitchen floor. Start the new year off right with a good cleaning.

"No-wax floors do not mean no-care," says Diane Thomas, consumer information specialist for Johnson Wax. "No-wax floors have been around for nearly 10 years, and people still don't know how to care for them. A simple wiping with a damp cloth or a mild detergent is not enough," she stresses.

Flooring labeled "no-wax" has a flexible, thin, clear polyurethane finish that is applied at the time of manufacture. The shiny finish isn't smooth but has a textured or embossed surface. The polyurethane layer provides a natural high gloss that does last longer than traditional flooring.However, its surface is subject to the same wear and tear as other floors. (Other resilient, man-made floor coverings -- linoleum, vinyl, etc. -- have a smooth and low-gloss surface.) The life of a no-wax floor is anywhere between 10 and 20 years -- depending on the care it receives.

"Homes built since 1973 usually have no-wax floors," says Thomas. "But if you move into a house and are not sure, try reaching the previous owner, the landlord or the developer."

Because of the textured surface, the floors require a slightly abrasive cleaner -- something that will get at dirt caught in the impressions. Waxing these floors just builds up a film and does not restore the high luster of the floors. Among the products recommended for no-wax floors: Johnson Wax's Brite, Armstrong's Once and Done and Congoleum's Bright'n'Easy.

Thomas says that all floors should be stripped after about 8 to 10 applications of these cleaners. The build-up won't harm the floor's makeup but will make it look dull. Dirt gets ground in, so coating the floors with these cleaners seals in the dirt, particularly if the floor receives a lot of traffic.

Thomas recommends using a floor finish once the floor has become dull and scratched. But the finish must be removed periodically to avoid build-up. She advises stripping no-wax floors with a commercial stripper or with the following concoction: 1/4 cup Spic and Span (or any floor and wall cleaner), 1 cup of ammonia, plus 1/2 cup cool water. "Cool water is important," emphasizes Thomas. "Warm water tends to cause the ammonia to release fumes. And warm water and ammonia softens your finish."

To strip: Test a small area of your floor first -- about 3-by-3 feet. Allow the mixture to soak in for three to 5 minutes. Then take a stiff bristle brush and gently scrub. Next wipe with a clean rag. To see if the surface is completely stripped, test with a coin. Roll the edge of a coin along the floor, if the coin picks up any white residue, repeat the process. When no residue is left, rinse with water to remove all traces of the powder and ammonia, otherwise the floor will have a streaky look to it.

To clean: Dampen floor with mop dunked in one of the no-wax cleaning solutions. Be sure to wring mop often. The mop picks up more dirt this way, insteal of just redistributing it. No need to rinse. Just dry.

Furniture legs should have floor protectors to lessen scratches. Floors near doorways should have throw rugs or mats to prevent abrasions from grit dragged in on shoes. Loose dirt should be vacuumed or swept up before it scratches the floor. And spills should be wiped up immediately with a clean cloth to prevent stains.