If you’re looking for beauty, it’s difficult to beat a hardwood floor. They add a tremendous amount of character to any room, and the timeless look of a good wood floor means it’ll never go out of style.

But as is so often the case, all that beauty and character comes with a trade off. In the case of wood floors, that trade off is that they require a lot more upkeep than a tile floor or even a carpeted one. A wood floor is a little bit like the paint on your car — if you keep it clean and protected, its shine will last longer than you do, but left neglected it will quickly deteriorate.

This is totally one of those “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” scenarios. So start taking care of your wood floor. Here’s how:

Keep It Clean

Dust regularly, and avoid using a vacuum cleaner with a beater bar, as those can scratch and ding the wood. Swiffer dusters work great for day-to-day use, though you should use a regular mop with a dusting agent on it from time to time. Though it probably goes without saying, don’t let spills that contain salt, sugar or alcohol fester any longer than you have to.

This regular dusting will help, but grime will build up over time, so occasionally you’ll need to undertake a deep cleaning. For this, you’ll buy a product designed specifically for cleaning wood floors. There are a lot of them on the market, and they mostly all work about the same, but do read the label to make sure it’s suited for your type of wood and finish. You’ll then need to dilute the product, so go ahead and do that, then soak a sponge or a mop with the solution and wring it most of the way out — you don’t want it pooling. The phrase here is “damp mopping” as opposed to “wet mopping.” Damp mop the floor, then go back over it with a clean mop dampened only with clean water. Soak up any standing water, and maybe turn on a ceiling fan to hurry along the drying process.

Let’s Say You’ve Got Marks

You know, from a spilled beverage or a crayon or whatever. Removing such a mark depends on how your wood was treated. And we’re not talking about the way it was socialized growing up — we’re referring to its chemical finish. Most modern wood floors have a urethane seal, which creates a hard finish. If you get a mark on that, you can probably just wipe it off with some soap and water. But on older floors (or floors chasing a vintage look) the more common treatment is a soft-oiled finish. It isn’t hard, and it is porous. It looks and feels wonderful, but removing a mark or a stain from it can be a bit of a chore.

Like so:

You’re going to need some steel wool and some floor wax, and maybe some vinegar, sandpaper and mineral spirits too. It all depends on the nature of the stain. You can get a heel mark out with some steel wool and some floor wax. A dark spot or a pet stain will require you to do the same, then soak the spot in vinegar for about an hour before wiping it off. If it’s an oil-based stain, you’ll need to hit it with the steel wool and something to break down the grease (blue dishwashing detergent works best). Then you rinse it with water. Repeat until the stain is gone.

And finally if you’ve got a water stain, you might have to get out the sander. Try the steel-wool-and-floor-wax thing first, but if that doesn’t work, sand the area, and clean it with steel wool and mineral spirits, then re-finish it.

You can see why urethane finishes are so popular. Maintaining an old-style wood floor can be a lot of work, but some people think it’s worth it.

What do you think?