Flooring that lasts for years, knock on wood

Timber is durable underfoot but its location and how you treat it will determine its longevity, says Kya deLongchamps.

THE Irish love affair with wood flooring is as strong as oak. Wood is natural, reactive, and will respond to humidity, temperature and care or abuse. Let’s get to know that hard-working material underfoot.

WHAT FINISH?

Real wood flooring is finished in one of two ways. It’s either oiled or waxed (sometimes a combination of both) in a traditional, soft coat applied by hand. Alternatively, it’s coated in a hard-drying treatment of polyurethane varnish, yacht varnish being popular for its maritime distain of dings and spills.

Wood set under this latter, tough armour can be treated with the same care as laminate, but be aware of those highly absorbent gaps between the boards that can smile over time as they season in the shifting temperature of the room.

VARNISHED FLOORS AND LAMINATE

Most laminate is water-resistant, but water-resistant is nowhere near waterproof. Laminate, engineered flooring, or real wood should be kept dry. If water ingresses between any boards or panels, they can swell and even lift out of position, and standing pooling water will ruin the finish.

A CLEAN SWEEP

Cleanly-swept, finished wood flooring needs a slightly damp wipe down with a well-wrung mop. Lily’s EcoClean offer a deliciously tangy, orange-oil floor cleaner; €3.33 for 750ml. Soapy wood cleaners, including the much-lauded Murphy Oil Soap products, will shine-up sealed, heavily varnished wood flooring. Dry-dust, vacuum and remove any spills as they happen, and never scour a laminate floor.

Spray stubborn marks with a dedicated laminate product, such as HG laminate spray; 500ml for €4.99. Ecopurists can add a cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water for a biodegradable, inexpensive floor cleaner. Don’t overload the vinegar as it can bleach the floor, and use a damp but not-wet mop. Lipstick, ink, or permanent marker can be taken off laminate flooring with acetone (nail polish remover will do).

WAXED FLOORS

Waxed wood has a subtle, matt finish and can be bought with the coating applied on many timber types, or it can be treated afterward to a bare-wood floor. Some planks carry a mixture of wax and oil, the oil more deeply penetrating the wood. A waxed floor dries gem-hard and will slough off moisture, but it is prone to driven-in dirt, and will need to be refreshed from time to time, and re-waxed at least once a year. For large areas in a complete redo, hire a buffing machine to save slavish hours on your hands and knees.

For intermittent touch-ups, remove grubby areas of wax with white spirit; wipe down with a clean, damp cloth and, once dry, re-wax the area. A liquid wax will manage about 14-16sq metres per litre. Apply sparingly and buff after around 15 minutes. Allow new coats to dry for at least 12 hours before walking on them. Don’t apply wax to an already lacquered floor, it will just sit up merrily on the lacquer, catch muck, and look truly awful. If you’re determined, strip the floor back to the raw wood, first.

OILED FLOORS

If your floor is purely oiled, a full re-treat will be needed every 12-18 months with an oil reviver and cotton cloth to moisturise the timber. Jaded, high-traffic areas should be maintained as needed. Clean the floor down with white spirit to remove any grease on the boards and allow to dry. Apply the oil, removing any excess as you go. The new oil should be touch-dry in about 30 minutes, at which point you can give it a deeply satisfying buff to a high shine, or another coat, if needs be. 2.5L of oil should deal with 40m-60m of floor for one-coat revivals.

Don’t let an oiled floor dry out, or use plain water and detergent to clean it, as this will draw the fats out of this highly porous floor, dehydrating and damaging it. If you’re planning on oiling an already finished floor, call your nearest hospital for directions ahead of time.

DAY TO DAY

Your greatest, single weapon to preserving any wood floor, whether oiled, waxed, veneer or engineered, is a bi-weekly vacuuming to prevent gritty deposits carried in on shoes being driven into the surface. Supplement this will regular clean-ups with a soft broom.

Don’t wallop the surface with vacuum appliances or drive the edge of the machine into matching skirting board.

If prying off your footwear every time you come in is just too hippy-dippy to impose on the family, in high-traffic areas, such as inside the front door, an area rug is worth consideration.

For real wood, a ventilated rug without a rubber back is certainly recommended. Lift any rugs regularly, vacuuming the accumulated dirt and beating out the rug, or the attrition of walking across a dusty mat will slowly, but surely, sandpaper the floor over time.

DIYTIPS

How to disguise scratches in a laminate floor

Dismiss the idea of authentic repair, we’re disguising damage to a printed image by filling in with a coloured material. Don’t ever sand a laminate floor, you will ruin its surface forever.

WHAT YOU NEED:

¦ A laminate colour repair kit such as Trojan Floor Repair Kit. €12.19 Woodies DIY. Alternatively you can use the closest match of wood filler you can find. Even a crayon is worth a try and very safe.

¦ Smoothing pad supplied with kit

¦ Soft cloth to dust off

¦ Wood soap

Instructions:

1. Clean the scratch area thoroughly with wood soap in warm water and allow to dry.

2. Mix the Trojan colour to match your floor colour.

3. Apply the filler with a small spatula or rub the crayon across the ding or scratch until it catches and fills.

4. Allow to dry.

5. Smooth any proud filler back being careful not to scuff the surrounding floor as laminate cannot be sanded.

¦ Note: For heavy damage to laminate, consider replacing the planks or section. You will have to work out from a corner, removing the planks, replace the bad one and then replace the perfect planks.

Q&A

Do you have a DIY question you would like answered? Send it to interiors@examiner.ie

Q: I would like to paint the floor in my sitting-room white. It’s currently heavily varnished in a dark colour. Is this a big job?

A: Here, preparation is the biggest challenge. I think you’ll be forced to sand the floor back. A belt sander (hire, don’t’ buy) will save a lot of time and effort. Finish with a wire brush if you want the grain to be revealed. Use white emulsion sealed under two coats of clear varnish or an eggshell paint designed for floors.

Q: Is there a traditional way to fill the slender gaps between my old wide planks?

A: You could try soft hemp rope, a method used to seal clinker hulled boats. It’s vital to get the right girth of rope to prod in. Cut to length and unwind the strands until they are 50% wider than the gap. Soak in wood stain, dry and fit.

Q: Is there any real wood flooring fit for a bathroom floor? I don’t like laminate.

A: Rules are made to be broken, but you can never forget that wood once penetrated with any sort of moisture will swell. If you install an engineered or solid wood floor ensure it has a strong lacquered finish and don’t let water stand on it for any length of time.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

Irish Examiner live news app for smartphones lets you quickly access breaking news, sport, business, entertainment and weather. appstoregoogle play
Irish Examiner ePaper app gives you the entire newspaper delivered to your phone or tablet for as little as 55c a day. epaper
Home

More From The Irish Examiner