Forgive Ed Korczak for reacting to a wet mop as if it were a lethal weapon. It's just that as the executive director of the National Wood Flooring Association, he knows that when it comes to wood floors, a wet mop really can be a killer.
"Most people want to clean their wood floors the same way they cleaned their vinyl floors," he said. "So they use a mop and a bucket. That's a big mistake."
Too much water is not good for hardwood floors, which he said can last a lifetime with a little care and maintenance. So skip the mop-and-bucket routine and listen to Korczak, whose Missouri-based trade association represents installers, distributors, manufacturers and dealers of wood flooring.
A wood floor's enemies are dirt and dust, so sweeping with a broom or vacuuming with the rotating brushes turned off will keep floors clean and shiny, he said. If you must use water -- such as for sticky soda spills or ground-in candy -- use a damp cloth. And clean a spill as soon as it happens.
The popularity of wood floors is undeniable. According to Korczak's association, wood will make up about 55 percent of the new-floor market this year, including remodeling projects and new-home construction.
The rich, warm look of wood flooring as well as its low maintenance and durability contribute to its appeal. "Take care of it properly and it lasts a lifetime," Korczak said. That means using area rugs or mats at entranceways so dirt doesn't get tracked in and placing pads on the bottoms of chair legs, especially in the kitchen, to help prevent surface scratches.
Korczak said household cleaners for wood floors are okay to use, as long as label directions are followed. But matching the right cleaner with the right floor takes some knowledge. There are three basic types of finishes: synthetic resins or urethanes, aluminum oxides or ceramics, and old-fashioned wax finishes. With that information, you can select commercial cleaners labeled for the various finishes and research how to repair damaged areas.
To determine the finish, test the surface in an inconspicuous area.
* Urethane floors. Lightly scratch the surface with a coin or sharp object. If white flakes appear, it's probably a urethane finish. Or spill several drops of water on the floor. If the water beads and no white spots appear within 10 minutes, it's probably a urethane floor.
* Oxides or ceramics. These finishes penetrate the surface so color can be found deep in the grain. Pull away a register vent on the floor and check the end grain. If the color is imbedded into the grain, the finish is probably an oxide or a ceramic.
* Wax finishes. Wipe the floor surface with a rag dipped in mineral spirits. If a yellow or brown spot appears on the rag, the finish likely is a wax base.
Prefinished flooring, one of the industry's innovations, often features oxide or ceramic finishes that last 10 to 15 years and can be refinished. Because newer prefinished floors can be installed without sanding and the strong smell that accompanies a drying finish, they are excellent choices when remodeling.
Humidity is another enemy, especially the wide swings in humidity levels common in northern climates. "If a homeowner can maintain a humidity level inside the home of within 20 percent of the installation level, the flooring will better resist cracking, warping and be much more stable," Korczak said.