Flooring - Common Types and How to Maintain Them

Example of a common hardwood floor

You have probably noticed that more and more people are choosing hard floors over carpeting as a healthier alternative It is crucial that you recognize the different types of hard flooring and know the best practices for cleaning and maintaining them.


Solid Hardwood Flooring

Solid hardwood derives from tree lumber. Oak, maple and hickory represent some of the most common forms. Exotic woods, such as Brazilian Cherrywood and tigerwood, have also become popular in the 21st century and are finding their way into newer homes.

Solid hardwood presents a natural beauty and ranks high for durability. Regular refinishing preserves its aesthetic quality and minimizes wear. Solid hardwood gives the home a rustic, antique feel often preferred to the shiny, laminated feel of cookie-cutter construction.

Because it is 100 percent natural and milled from lumber, solid hardwood can react to environmental changes by expanding and contracting, even after installation. It should not be installed in places with high humidity, such as basements or bathrooms.

Solid Hardwood Flooring Maintenance

Solid hard floor maintenance is quick and simple. Because dirt can scratch or dull a solid hardwood floor, recommend preventative maintenance by having owners remove shoes and place floor mats at entrances to avoid tracking it in from outside. Standing water is another enemy, so let homeowners know to mop up any spills immediately.

Sweeping with a broom and dustpan or using a vacuum cleaner set to "bare floor," removes dirt, dust and loose debris. For deep cleaning, a damp mop and pH-balanced wood cleaner works best. Odorless mineral spirits work well for treating isolated problem areas, such as white water spots. Avoid using mineral spirits on large areas of solid hardwood, as they're harsher than wood cleaners. Solid hardwood cleaning methods create very little moisture, so drying is unnecessary, though some professionals elect to buff the floor dry with a terry cloth.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Engineered hardwood consists of several layers of wood flooring, the top one featuring solid hardwood. Soft woods and plywood comprise the lower layers, usually between three and 12 in number.

Engineered hardwood preserves the natural look and feel of solid hardwood while offering greater versatility. It works well over concrete or in bathrooms or basements. Its cross-ply installation makes it more stable and prevents it from expanding and shrinking like solid hardwood, even in areas of high humidity.

Engineered hardwood varies in thickness from 3/8 inch to 3/4 inch. Thin floors are less expensive but have shorter useful lives. Thick engineered hardwood lasts up to 80 years and can be refinished; the thinnest engineered hardwood cannot be refinished and must be replaced after 20 years.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring Maintenance

Maintenance for engineered hardwood floors is like that for solid hardwood floors. The first step is to remove as much dirt and loose debris as possible with water-free cleaning methods, such as sweeping and vacuuming. As with solid hardwood floors, engineered hardwood requires a pH-balanced wood cleaner for maximum effectiveness without the chance of damage. Mineral spirits provide more robust cleaning power, but should be limited to use in isolated areas with heavy soil.

Preventative maintenance includes minimizing dirt tracked in and removing water spills quickly. The top layer of solid wood can be rather thin; you might consider recommending that owners avoid walking on it with high-heeled or spiked shoes.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring consists of four layers: a protective wear layer on top, a design layer underneath that gives the appearance of hardwood, an inner core designed to resist moisture and absorb sound, and a backing that affixes to the foundation and prevents warping.

It offers the look and feel of hardwood at a lower cost. Laminate is also one of the most durable hard floor types. When properly installed, its wear layer makes it nearly impervious to stains and scuffs. In homes where pets and young children are present, the durability of laminate removes the stress of upkeep.

Eventually the protective top layer wears off, at which point laminate flooring needs replacement. It cannot be refinished like hardwood.

Laminate Flooring Maintenance

Though laminate floors are durable, the cleaning process should be soft and gentle. Regular soap does not work well on laminate flooring. The safest bet is to stick with floor cleaners specifically labeled for laminate flooring; these tend to be gentle. A solution of 1/4 cup vinegar in 32 ounces of water creates an alternative solution that is gentle and effective on laminate flooring. Remove tough stains, such as blood, using window cleaner and a non-abrasive microfiber cloth. Keep a plastic knife and some nail polish remover handy in case you encounter dried chewing gum or nail polish.

Remove dirt and loose debris before deep cleaning a laminate floor. Sweeping with a broom is the preferred method. If you prefer to clean loose debris from laminate floors with a vacuum cleaner, that is OK, but ensure it is on the lowest setting and that the beater bar is deactivated. Avoid using too much water to clean laminate floors; excessive water exposure can cause the floor to buckle.

Vinyl Flooring

Popular for use in bathrooms, laundry rooms and other areas of high humidity, vinyl flooring features multiple layers. The top layers offer protection, the middle layer presents the design, and the bottom layer gives the flooring durability. Vinyl flooring comes in sheets and tiles, both of which offer easy installation.

Vinyl wins the battle of moisture resistance hands down. Its two protective layers make it immune to water damage. Even standing water won't compromise a vinyl floor.

For image-conscious customers, vinyl is not the best option to install outside of laundry rooms, bathrooms and basements. Even luxury vinyl, engineered to look like natural stone or wood, adds less resale value to a home than other hard floor types, including laminate. Uninstalling vinyl flooring is also fraught with difficulty.

Vinyl Flooring Maintenance

Professional cleaning of a vinyl floor involves a similar method to laminate. Sweep with a broom to remove dirt and loose debris. When it comes to deep cleaning, the milder the cleaning agent the better. Never use soaps, bleaches and harsh detergents on vinyl flooring.

Because of its acidity, apple cider vinegar offers a powerful vinyl floor cleaning solution without leaving a filmy buildup. A baking soda and water paste removes tough food stains, such as dried jelly or tomato sauce. If the floor has scuffs in places, a lubricant such as WD-40 can remove them.

The best cleaning tools in your arsenal for vinyl floors are soft mops and sponges; never use abrasive scrubbing tools, as these can scratch vinyl floors and cause permanent damage.