Are My Hardwood Floors Sealed?

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I just read your post about cleaning hardwood floors, and using either very diluted Murphy’s Oil or Vinegar (and how you alternate between the two).

My question is this: we are renters who have lived here for 4 years. Our hardwood is extremely old (from the 1950’s), and the entire time we’ve lived here, we have not put any kind of wax on the floors. They are also very dull. (In all reality, the floors really need to be re-finished; they have many scratches and even several boards that have “popped up,” which we assume is from some kind of water damage from underneath the house. The owners are aware of this, but it’s something we can live with. However, if there was an easy way to make the floor shiny and clean, I’d love to know about it.

I once read somewhere that hardwood floors do need to be “sealed” every few years or so. What does this mean? Should we put something on the floors to seal them? I searched online which looks very intimidating!

Thanks for your help!
Hating the Hardwood in California

how to tell if your hardwood floor is sealed

Heather says:

Since you are renters, refinishing your flooring is definitely the home owner’s responsibility. Do not do this yourself. It’s going to take far too much time and headache. Additionally, you don’t receive the longterm return on your labor. If the landlords want to reseal the floors, you’re in for some major inconvenience during the project. There is also a process called screening that just roughens the top layer of finish preparing it for a new coat, it’s a little less work intensive than a full on refinishing, but it doesn’t take care of deep scratches and will still require the room to be emptied of all furniture. I’m dreading this project right now.

In the meantime there’s a quick way to test and see if your hardwood is sealed or not. Place a drop of water on the floor. If it beads, sits there, looks at you and says, “Whatchya gonna do?” It’s sealed. ProTip, don’t do this in the middle of the floor where you could stare at it for a few days. However, if the bead of water sinks down into the floor and makes a spot the sealant on your floors is no longer sound and water damage can and will occur. Do not use water to clean your hardwood floors. 

If the floor has been waxed with paste wax, you can clean the flooring with mineral spirits and follow that with paste wax to restore some, but not all of the shine. How do you know if the floor has been waxed in the past? In a very inconspicuous area rub the floor with a small piece of fine steel wool. Paste wax will show up on the steel wool as a grey film.

If the floor has patchy, dry look to it, it’s possible (probable even) that products like Mop & Glo were used on the flooring. These acrylic based waxes are difficult to remove and you’ll need to strip the flooring with mop stripper. Once the floor has been stripped of acrylic wax and cleaned with mineral spirits, it’s up to you which kind of wax you’ll use to protect the flooring: paste or water based acrylic. Both have their short comings and both take some work.

What would I do? As a renter, *personally* I would thoroughly clean and then wax the floor with whatever had been used in the past. Then I’d watch for a sale and pick up a couple of colorful throw rugs

guide to clean floors
Click the picture for more tips!

The rest of it? Well, I’d call it a patina and work on embracing the mark of time. Not everything in life has to be shiny and perfect to be beautiful or enjoyable.  As a matter of personal taste, I can live with worn flooring if the walls look good. It’s when there’s that combination of dingy walls and worn flooring that makes a room look depressed. I know it seems like I switched gears, but there’s only so much you can do about the flooring. If the room is bright and clean, it’s not going to be that big of an issue.

Good luck.

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7 thoughts on “Are My Hardwood Floors Sealed?”

  1. I'd also check with your landlords to see if you can't nail down those loose boards so you don't trip and hurt yourself. Of course, I'm so graceful I can trip over the pattern in the linoleum. If your floor has occasional flecks of black stuff, that's also wax.

    Rag rugs seems to look especially nice with worn floors. And as a bonus they're cheap.

  2. As fir vaccuming hardwood floors, i would make sure the information that came with the vacume specifies it’s OK to use on hardwood floor. Make sure your specific vacume or its attatchments are not going to scratch the hardwood. Now can someone please help me with BrazilIan cherry hardwood floors?


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