"Awop-bop-a-loo-mop alop-bam-boom!" -Little Richard
The honey-colored glow of our ancient pumpkin pine floors is one of the features of our 180-year-old home that my partner, Richard, and I love the most. Occasionally we imagine the original owners walking through our hallways and rooms dressed in period clothing. A long ago generation of women in long skirts, bustles, and shawls, and men in high boots, suits with vests complete with fobs and pocket watches.
When built in the 1830s, the house lacked any modern conveniences (central heat, running water, indoor plumbing), so for the house's first 75 years, the residents had to lug coal bins up three flights of rounded stairways to heat its many small rooms, and carry filled "thunder mugs" (chamber pots) down those same winding stairs to empty them into the backyard privy.
Yet despite all those early years of freezing cold winters heated only with coal stoves and sweltering summers fought with open windows and cross breezes, over a century of coal dust, dirt and grime, and nearly two centuries of wear and tear, the original wooden floor boards in our sweet abode, though worn in spots from nearly 180 years of stair climbing, still hold up, shine brightly, and have yet to show any need of replacement.
Wood flooring in the 21st Century is a prized sustainable resource. If harvested to preserve the long-term health and integrity of forested ecosystems, wood is biodegradable, earth-friendly, energy-efficient to grow and cultivate, non-toxic, recyclable and renewable. Moreover, each year, new products such as bamboo and engineered wood flooring are brought to market.
No other flooring is as easy to live with or comes close to offering the visual warmth, unmistakable beauty, and resale value of real wood. It makes rooms pretty and goes with just about any decor imaginable - mid 20th century "oom-shwaka-waka," the frills of shabby-chic, cluttery Victoriana, or even a little of this-and-that from thrift shops and curbside finds (my favorites). Wood is the perfect backdrop for just about anything we choose to live with, and taking care of it is really a breeze with regular sweeping and/or vacuuming.
Since no two surfaces are alike, no two surfaces should be cleaned alike. Contrary to popular belief, wood floors hate water, wet mopping or any kind of excessive cleaning. My suggestion is to clean your wood floors with a solution of one-quarter cup of white vinegar (about 2 liquid ounces) mixed in a recycled spray bottle with about 30 ounces of warm water (most commercial spray bottles hold about 32 ounces). Spray a cotton rag or towel with the vinegar and water solution and use it to lightly damp mop your floors. Once soiled, replace each rag with a fresh one. This gentle method will clean your wood floors without destroying them, and ensure years of pleasure from them.
Please don't ever, ever, ever use anything oil-based on treated wood floors (or treated wood anything for that matter!). Commercially manufactured finished flooring and those treated with polyurethane hate oil. Ya' know why? I'll tell you: There's nothing more destructive to that shiny, protective surface than oil or oil-based cleaners because oil actually dissolves oil! Using an oil-based cleanser on your oil-treated floors will only remove that beautiful finish over time, making the wood look cloudy, dull and dirty. No matter what the label on the commercial wood floor cleaner says, if it contains oil, it will eventually ruin your beautiful floors.
The same way salad dressing separates, oil and vinegar don't mix, so cleaning with the simple vinegar solution is the best way to keep your wood floors in great shape. Whether they are cherry, maple, oak, pine, mahogany, walnut or bamboo -- brand new or ancient as the hills like ours -- keep your floorboards in the best condition possible by cleaning gently and treading lightly.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.