Vinegar and water or oil soap?

Q: Our home was built in 1991 and has hardwood floors. I don’t know for sure, but it looks like oak. How do I know for certain if the floor has a polyurethane finish? For now, I have used vinegar and water, or oil soap to clean the floors.

Are these OK to use?

A: If these floors are beveled edge and factory finished, they are not likely waxed. Given what you have been using to “clean” them, you would know by now if it was waxed. Neither product you currently use is recommended for cleaning polyurethane finishes.

Water/vinegar in a mild solution mix of about a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water used as a stop-gap measure is OK, but over time can attack and dull the finish. Oil soaps can leave a residue that not only makes the finish look dull over time but can create adhesion issues if you ever wanted to have the floors buffed and coated. There are recommended polyurethane cleaners created by floor and floor finish manufacturers that work well. You can buy one from Home Depot made by Min-Wax. Others can be purchased from your local hardwood flooring retailer.

Vinegar in water to clean wood floors

Q imported from our old site, Face Lift Floors:  I was reading your site and saw that one should not use oil-based cleaners. Why? Our installer told us to use vinegar in water, and a damp cloth to clean the floor. He said to do this about once a week. Will vinegar damage the floor?

What is a polyurethane cleaner? Where do you buy it?

A: If an oil-based cleaner is used on polyurethane finished floors, it leaves an oily residue on the surface which can not only make cleaning the floor more difficult, but after a period of time, when the floor is showing signs of wear and needs to be buffed and recoated, this residue can present adhesion problems.

When cleaning any hardwood floor, or furniture, minimal water should be used. In other words, wipe with a dampened, not wet cloth. Adding a cap full of vinegar can help and is suggested by the National Wood Flooring Association. However, I have heard one floor finish manufacturer dispute this, believing the vinegar is too acidic and can break down the finish eventually.

The absolutely simple and safe way to clean any sort of wood that is finished with urethane is to use polyurethane cleaners which are manufactured by both hardwood flooring manufacturers and manufacturers of polyurethane. I use Squeeky Cleaner from Basic Coatings. Any hardwood flooring supplier near you should carry this or similar product. Also, Home Depot is a likely place to look, since they do sell hardwood flooring. This cleaner is usually blue in color and is mixed 4 parts water to one part cleaner in a spray bottle. Mist some on a cloth and wipe. You can use this to clean any wood finished with urethane topcoats.

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Should I use oil soap?

Q: I installed rough sawn fir flooring in my kitchen and living room. My builder coated it with linseed oil. While I may put polyurethane on at some point, I am wondering how to clean the flooring for now. Vacuuming didn’t completely clean floor and I’m nervous about putting water on it. He recommended * Oil Soap but I’ve read that may not be the best thing.

A: This is difficult because if you may want to coat it with polyurethane later you don’t want to go near the floor with anything that would leave a residue. This includes soaps and wax. Even store bought wet mops contain wax!

I would probably dampen a cloth with minerals spirits to remove any stuck on dirt or other marks and apply a thin coat of oil finish as needed. There is another product that might be helpful. It looks harmless enough. they have a cleaner called Bare Floor.

Follow-up: Thank you! Will try water, then mineral spirits. The other cleaner sounded good but no nearby dealers.