While most wood floors seen in houses today are finished with some sort of polyurethane, sealing, etc., there’s a dilemma faced by those who have floors that are not finished at all.
Communities of wood workers, floor finishers, and general around-the-house handymen take a collective gasp at the thought of unfinished floors, but that doesn’t mean people don’t have them.
Whether you’re planning to finish them in the future, recently removed an old carpet and found them, or just like the way your unfinished wood planks look, knowing how to clean them properly can save you from repairing the damage later on.
Is My Floor Unfinished?
A first thing you should do before you even start trying to look into methods of cleaning is to make sure your floors are actually unfinished and not simply finished with a matte or dull coating. This can be done easily by dropping a few droplets of water on the boards and seeing what happens.
If they bead up on the boards, then the chances are good that you have a finish on there.
If they soak into the boards, you have yourself an unfinished floor that needs special treatment when cleaning.
While that is not by any means an exhaustive test, it has proven to be effective for a lot of people.
So My Floors Are Unfinished… What Next?
Now that you’ve discovered the true identity of your unfinished floorboards, let’s talk about how to clean them.
There are certain things that are okay, or even recommended, to do to finished or treated floorboards, which will be a bad decision for your untreated floors. On the other hand, you might have to take some steps that seem unnecessary on finished floorboards in order to get yours properly cleaned without damaging them.
The problem with cleaning untreated floorboards is the risk of everyday products and methods that can cause damage to the raw wood, so here are three categories (Do Not Do’s, Do with Caution’s, and Do Regularly’s) to help you get the most out of your floor.
Do NOT Do’s
- DO NOT clean your untreated floors with the traditional bucket of water and mop method! If you do this like you would on any other hard surface, you’ll soak a lot of water into the boards that can create warping and other damage.
- DO NOT use products intended for use only on finished floors unless the manufacturer has also stated they are safe for unfinished floors. If you use the wrong products, you might actually create stains, meaning the whole cleaning process could have been in vain.
- DO NOT scrub with wet, tough bristled objects to remove stains and such. This is asking for trouble and can create ugly damaged areas on your floor that look worse than the actual stain, whether you succeeded in removing it or not.
Do With Caution’s
- CAUTIOUSLY mop with a Swiffer or similar that does not leave much liquid to be soaked into the floorboards. Make sure you change the pad as needed during cleaning to ensure that it is soaking up excess water and cleaning product well enough.
- CAUTIOUSLY mop the floor with certain cleaning products diluted into water. Products such as Orange Glo, Trisodium Phosphate, white vinegar, or Murphy’s Oil Soap have all been used for this purpose successfully. Make sure when you do this that you are wringing the mop out to make it damp rather than wet. If you wring it and there are actually water drops coming out, it’s too wet to use on your floor! You might want to consider doing smaller areas at a time and following behind yourself with a non-dyed towel, or rag, to soak up water before the boards do.
- CAUTIOUSLY use something like mineral spirits to clean and sanitize the floor. Apply it with a rag or sponge. Make sure the area is well ventilated, or you could be in for some unpleasant side effects from this treatment!
- CAUTIOUSLY use sand paper to remove deep stains or other damages that cleaning won’t fix. Don’t do this very often, or you’ll end up with some of the wonkiest floorboards around. Excessive sanding will make floors uneven and might make it difficult to finish them in the future, if that is in your plans.
- REGULARLY sweep or vacuum your unfinished floors. No need to mop them every time. Usually they just need a nice dust-removal session. This will take care of all sorts of messy situations without putting your floorboards in harm’s way. If you choose to use a vacuum, do not use anything other than a qualified hardwood floor vacuum,
- REGULARLY spot clean your floors instead of mopping entire sections. If you spill something wet, quickly soak it up with a rag, sponge, paper towel, etc. and clean the small area with a damp (not wet!) rag to avoid having to mop the entire floor.
Cleaning unfinished floors takes a bit more patience and care than a finished floor, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! Keep in mind that you have to put a little more TLC into the job so that you won’t create unnecessary damage, but if you treat your unfinished floorboards well, they can last you a very long time.