A first glimpse of a beautifully kept hardwood floor can evoke feelings of richness, warmth, and natural beauty. Hardwood floors also offer the perfect combination of strength and beauty for any indoor environment, and many consumers may be surprised by the limitless choices that wood flooring can offer. However, maintaining a hardwood floor may require some work, as dirt, grit, and dust can be a wood floor's worst enemy. These elements can often act like sandpaper and cause scratches, dents, and even dulling. To keep your hardwood floors looking their best, follow the tips below to protect its warmth and character.

Before beginning your cleaning project, it is best to first determine the finish of the floor and to find out if the floor is sealed (and with what), as the finish and not the wood type will ultimately determine how you clean and maintain the floor. To easily tell what type of finish you have, rub your finger across the floor and if no smudge appears, the floor is surface-sealed. If a smudge is indeed created, the floor has been treated with a penetrating seal, varnish, lacquer, oil finish, or shellac, and then waxed.

Most new wood floors are usually sealed with either polyacrylic, urethane, or polyurethane, and are stain and water-resistant. These types of floors are often very glossy and may appear as if a layer of clear plastic has been placed on top of the wood. Surface-sealed floors are among the easiest to care for, as sweeping and mopping is all that is really needed in most cases.

However, for penetrating-seal treated or oil-treated floors, these types of matte-finished floors require a bit more work, as a penetrating seal or oil finish is soaked into the wood grain, is hardened, and acts to protect the wood from within. These floors should be treated with the utmost in care and protected with some sort of liquid wax or paste.

Lacquered, varnished, shellacked, or even unfinished floors are technically surface-finished, but they are not as resistant to moisture or spills as other sealants. Floors sealed with these types of finishes or those with no finish should be treated like self-penetrating seal-treated or oil-treated floors.

Obviously, the above guidelines are for more thorough cleaning jobs. For periodic waxing and buffing, be sure to get recommendations from your floor's manufacturer to get specific cleaning procedures. However, to protect and maintain your solid investment, here are some easy hardwood floor maintenance tips every homeowner should follow:

1. Invest in a canister vacuum specially designed for hardwood floors or one that has bare floor attachments, and vacuum once or twice a week to remove dust and particles. These types of vacuums usually include soft brush attachments which minimize unnecessary scratching and scuffing. When sweeping, only use a soft, fine bristle broom to gently pick up debris. Floor vacuums are also great for this purpose.

2. Spills and stains can damage the beautiful exterior of hardwood floors and can also warp the wood itself. Immediately remove wet spills with soft towels or a wet/dry vacuum and dry thoroughly. When mopping, use a dry mop, as excess water can seep into seams and ruin a wood floor. Better yet, a high-quality dust mop - one with a 12" to 19" cotton head - can be used instead.

3. To treat scratches and dents, steel wool or sand paper can be used to remove one or two complete layers of finish across the board where the damage has occurred. However, be sure to remove all dust, apply the same type of finish that was removed, and always follow manufacturer's instructions if you are unsure on how to repair surface finishes.

4. Consider purchasing carpet runners with non-skid pads over wood floors, especially in high-traffic areas. Carpet runners and area rugs should also be regularly vacuumed to prevent dirt from filtering down the weave and scratching the wood underneath.

5. Furniture pads (available cheaply at your local hardware store, home center, or furniture store) should be placed under the legs of tables and chairs and on the feet of armoires and dressers. Also install floor mats at every entrance to prevent dirt from tracking into your home. Furniture pads will prevent furniture and other objects from dragging and sliding across a wood floor.

6. Whenever possible, refrain from wearing heavy shoes or high heels on your hardwood floors, as these can cause denting.

7. Prevent direct sunlight from damaging, discoloring, or possibly even warping your hardwood floors. Add curtains if necessary, and pull the curtains closed during the day or when you will be away for extended periods of time.

Author's Bio: 

To see product recommendations for hard floors, Click Here.

Jeanie Wong is a marketing writer and product specialist for Vacuum Home and has extensive knowledge of vacuum cleaners and other floor care products.