Finishing and maintenance of wood floors
Finishing and Maintenance of Wood Floors
You have chosen a parquet floor. This has since been neatly installed in your home or office, neatly sanded and finished. But what next? If all goes well, your parquet installer has already given you all the necessary information. Basically, what type of wood or selection does appear on the purchase order or invoice. But which products were used to color or finish your parquet is often not so easy to find out, especially with the composite parquet floors, because these are already finished in the factory, and sometimes even your parquet installer does not know what exactly is on them. A solid traditional parquet, on the other hand, is sanded and finished by the craftsman himself on your premises, and he therefore knows exactly what process he has used. And this is very important, because it determines the proper maintenance you need to give to the parquet yourself.
One can classify the finishing systems into 4 choices : lacquer, wax, oil and soap. No doubt one of these systems has been applied to your floor. A color may have been applied to the wood first, or a color pigment may have been added to the finish product. Especially with oil and floor polish, this is often the case, allowing you to color and finish your parquet in one motion.
Here is a brief overview of the different finishing methods and their specific maintenance :
Polishing parquet floors has been practiced since the 17th century. Various natural waxes (including beeswax) are dissolved in turpentine (not to be confused with turpentine!) to produce a soft emulsion : beeswax. The (polishing) wax is smeared onto the parquet surface with a soft cloth or brush (if possible) in the direction of the wood grain. After it dries, the wax becomes dull, and you can rub it up with a cloth or brush (or polisher) and thus you get a beautiful shine. So this has been the way to finish and maintain parquet for hundreds of years.
However, there is one drawback to this method : it is stain-sensitive. Even a drop of water forms a white stain … However, it can be removed by rubbing it with fine steel wool, and after re-polishing, everything is ok again. But that does make it labor-intensive. Hence, people searched for a solution to this problem and so they came to impregnate the parektop surface first.
With this method, the wood is first treated with an impregnation agent (a kind of pore filler or primer), so that the parquet is properly protected against wear and tear and stains from, for example, coffee, wine, fruit juice, shoe polish, etc… The liquids no longer penetrate the wood but remain on top as drops. This impregnation used to exist on a Polyurethane basis, but due to stricter environmental regulations, this is prohibited today. However, one can first apply a layer of oil in its place for the same purpose, and this is a much more environmentally friendly alternative. The floor polish provides a beautiful naturally glossy finish, which (unlike in earlier years) is easy to maintain thanks to the impregnation. A waxing once a year (with a quality wax, of course) is usually sufficient. Moreover, an impregnated and waxed parquet rarely needs to be renovated or sanded, and becomes more beautiful with age!!! Nowadays, there are also polishes that are “anti-stain” and “anti-slip,” but beware of silicone-based polishes, as these are out of the question….
Floor lacquering is also often named differently : plastering, vitrifying, resin glazing etc …. Every time one begins to know a name generally, manufacturers come up with a new name to make the customer believe there is a totally new product on the market. In the end, however, it always comes down to the same principle. This method of treatment involves finishing the parquet with a lacquer or varnish and maintaining it by mopping with a damp cloth (never too wet!!), with or without a mild detergent added to the mopping water. The major disadvantage of this system is that one very quickly gets scratches in the varnish layer, so the moisture from the mop can penetrate the wood unhindered. One then obtains in these places a gray to
Therefore, plasticized parquet soon tarnishes, so that renovation or sanding sometimes becomes necessary after only a few years. Local touch-up of stains or scratches is impossible, so one must re-sand, stain and finish the entire parquet surface in case of possible damage. An additional disadvantage is that the wood surface is covered with a shiny layer of varnish which gives a “plastic” appearance to the wood. Therefore, this method is the least appropriate finish for a parquet. Nowadays, however, there are varnishes that are virtually invisible, but the disadvantages of scratching obviously remain.
To protect lacquered parquet from wear and tear for as long as possible, it is advisable to protect the parquet with a parquet polish once or twice a year. It can usually be applied by simply rubbing out and does not need to be polished. For different types of lacquer, different types of polish may be recommended, so here your parquet supplier is the person who can advise you towards the right product to use.
Because of the major disadvantages associated with varnishing or lacquering, treating parquet floors with (natural) oil is back in, but also because of the natural effect obtained with this oil. Parquets that have been oiled are highly resistant to heavy loads and to water, greases, alcohol and light acids. One maintains it by e.g. weekly mopping with a natural wood soap. Further maintenance is done by mopping it with a maintenance oil. Using these care products increases scratch and stain resistance even more! Moreover, this oil exists in different shades, so your parquet can be easily adapted to your personal preference in terms of color.
Oiling gives your parquet a slightly natural-shiny finish that is only obtained when the parquet is frequently maintained.
Be careful, because there can be a lot of confusion due to the designation “oil.” As many paint manufacturers see their sales decline in favor of oil products, they try to pull the wool over the customer’s eyes by using designations such as “urethane oil” or “alkyd oil” etc… These, however, belong more to varnishes than oils in terms of their properties; because they form a hard coating on the parquet surface, where a “natural” oil leaves the pores of the wood open, allowing the wood to “breathe” more.
Choosing a quality oil is very important, as the durability and associated maintenance can vary greatly among different brands. The proper maintenance products and frequency of maintenance varies from brand to brand, so ask info from your supplier here as well.
For the true lover of natural parquet floors, they can be soaped, a way to finish parquet floors so people have been doing it in Scandinavia for several hundred years. Usually (but certainly not necessarily) wood floors are first brushed and leached, creating a slightly rougher surface in a very specific color (gives a somewhat older “look”). Leaching also prevents yellowing of your parquet and can be performed in various shades and gradations. Then the parquet is soaped with a natural wood soap. After repeated soaping, your parquet slowly becomes saturated with soap that settles into the pores of the wood. This makes the floors more or less resistant to dirt and stains, but more “sensitive” than previous systems. On the other hand, the parquet takes on a lived-in appearance in a completely natural way, and this is precisely what creates a very characterful look. These floors are also sometimes mopped with bleach (eau de javel), which allows for thorough cleaning and will also cause aging.
So the color and appearance of your parquet are not fixed at the time of installation and finishing, but they will still evolve very naturally over time, and they get a beautiful patina just because of this.
Finally, I want to highlight one more point : one of the biggest causes of problems with parquet floors is moisture. So here are a few more tips :
- Never use copious amounts of water during maintenance. A wrung-out cloth is sufficient.
- Also, do not put plants in pots directly on the parquet (including a Christmas tree!) Make sure air can circulate under the pot or bowl. Sometimes moisture from condensation forms below, and then you get black stains in your parquet, which is very unfortunate.
- Check your humidity! All too often this is overlooked, but a healthy indoor environment for the parquet is also a healthy environment for the occupants. Wood is a natural product and thus responds to moisture and dryness by expansion and contraction. And as a result, damage can occur. Purchase a hygrometer (you can get one for about 25 to 30 €) and make sure the relative humidity is always between 40 and 70%. Guaranteed to keep your parquet looking great for many years…. and when in doubt, ask advice from your parquet craftsman, before sanding yourself or working with dangerous products…Filip Redant
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