Interior Flooring

All You Need to Know About Waxing Hardwood Floors

Bring long-lasting luster to hardwood floors with this time-tested finish.
Tips for Waxing Hardwood Floors
Photo: istockphoto.com

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Hardwood floors add classic elegance to your home, but not when they’re dull, dinted, or dingy. The good news is that waxing hardwood floors is a proven, economical way to restore their gleam and prolong their life. Read on to learn how to wax floors and achieve a finish that looks so grand, you’ll be walking on air.

Why is it important to wax hardwood floors?

Waxing is a floor-finishing technique in which clear or colored wax, made of a blend of solvents and synthetic and/or natural waxes like beeswax or carnauba, is applied to a hardwood floor in a thin layer and then buffed to a shine. As the solvents in the wax evaporate, the wax hardens into a protective seal that benefits the flooring in many ways. Waxing a hardwood floor:

  • Increases stain resistance: The wax seal limits the absorption of spills, and thus keep floors from staining.
  • Minimizes minor imperfections: Wax fades or eliminates the appearance of superficial scratches, dings, and scuffs marks.
  • Preserves underlying finishes: Wax acts as the first line of defense against spills, dust, and dirt. It prevents them them from permeating underlying finishes, such as oil, and helps the underlying finish last longer.
  • Prolongs floor life: Waxed floors are more hardy than unwaxed floors, and if they are regularly maintained they can potentially last years longer than unwaxed floors.
  • Boosts beauty: Clear wax gives floors a shiny finish and a glossier feel that vacuuming or mopping alone can’t achieve. Colored waxes, which are available in a variety of natural brown hues, offer these same benefits plus an attractive tint that gives floors an even richer, deeper patina.

Despite its benefits, wax offers only limited resistance to deeper dents or gouges, and does little to ward off warping or bulging from widespread moisture exposure due to leaks or minor floods. Wax should be considered the final layer of protection, not the only protective finish, on a hardwood floor.

RELATED: 9 Tips for Removing Scratches From Hardwood Floors

Tips for Waxing Hardwood Floors
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Is floor wax good for all floors?

The best candidate for waxing is a hardwood floor that was previously treated with a penetrating wood sealer, lacquer, varnish, shellac, or oil. Wax can bolster the protective properties of these finishes. That said, you can also wax unfinished floors.

Never wax urethane-finished floors, which could prevent them from being effectively recoated with urethane. (Instead, use polish on urethane-finished floors.) Though it should go without saying, don’t put floor wax on surfaces that are labeled “no-wax,” either. Flooring such as no-wax linoleum or vinyl is designed to look like wood, but have factory coatings that doesn’t require waxing.

Waxing is only suitable for hardwood floors in good structural condition, without significant chipping, gouging, discoloration, warping, or bulging. If your hardwood is plagued by these problems, replace or repair the affected floorboards (e.g., sand away discoloration or fill gouges with wood filler) before waxing hardwood floors.

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Which kind of hardwood floor wax should I use?

There are two main types of hardwood floor wax, solid paste wax and liquid wax.

  • Solid paste wax for wood, such as Minwax Paste Wax, is sold in cans and usually contains more wax and less solvent. Its consistency is fairly thick so it must be applied by hand with a cloth, on your hands and knees. It does not require as many coats as liquid wax.
  • Liquid wax for floors, such as Rust-Oleum Natural Satin Finishing Wax, comes in both cans and bottles. Because liquid wax contains more solvent, it has a thinner consistency than paste wax. It is applied with a mop (which is a plus for those who don’t want don’t want to work on their hands and knees), but you’ll need multiple coats to achieve the desired results.

As you shop for hardwood floor wax, look out for the following terms in online descriptions or on product packaging:

  • For use on floors: Steer clear of waxes that are labeled exclusively for use on furniture, because they harden into an ultra-slick coat that makes floors more slippery.
  • Solvent-based: “Solvent-based” is a good thing. Avoid water-based or acrylic waxes on hardwood floors because they can cause finished floors to take on a white tinge, or damage unfinished hardwood floors.
  • Buffable: Look for traditional waxes that must be buffed after application. Try to avoid one-step or “no-buff” waxes because dirt clings to them.

RELATED: Which Finish is Right for My Hardwood Floors?

How to Prep When Waxing Hardwood Floors
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How to Wax Floors

There are three phases of waxing hardwood floors: surface preparation, application, and buffing. Here’s how to complete each phase quickly and effectively.

How to Prepare a Floor for Wax

  1. Remove rugs and furniture from the room.
  2. Strip old wax, if there is any, by working a soft cloth dampened with mineral spirits or a commercial wax stripper such as Trewax Heavy Duty Floor Stripper over 2-foot sections of the floor at a time. Continue until no more wax residue comes off on the cloth. Slough off stubborn wax build-up with fine-grade steel wool.
  3. Dry-mop (with a microfiber cloth pad) or vacuum the floor with a dust brush attachment to eliminate dust and any loose wax build-up.
  4. If the floor is still dingy after dusting, use a sponge mop to remove grime. Work in three-foot sections at a time, using a store-bought cleaner, like Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner, or a homemade equivalent consisting of one quarter-cup of dish soap and 1 gallon of warm water. Damp mop the floor with water to remove leftover cleaner, then dry it with a clean towel.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Hardwood Floor Cleaners

How to Apply Hardwood Floor Wax

  1. Wear gloves and a dust mask to protection yourself from fumes in wax solvents.
  2. Get into a comfortable kneeling position before applying solid paste wax, as it should be applied by hand (knee pads ought to help). If you are applying liquid wax, remain standing.
  3. Grab a putty knife and a soft, lint-free cloth if applying solid wax. For liquid wax, enlist a sponge mop for the quickest application.
  4. Scoop 1 tablespoon of solid wax with the putty knife onto a soft, lint-free cloth. If using liquid wax, pour or squeeze 1 tablespoon from the can or bottle directly onto the hardwood floor, then dip the mop head into the wax.
  5. Working in 1- to 2-foot sections, spread a thin layer of solid wax with the cloth, or liquid wax with a sponge mop. Start at one corner of the room and move towards an exit, waxing hardwood floors in the direction of the floorboards. When you’ve used up your first batch of wax, apply more to the cloth or to the floor until you’ve covered the entire room.
  6. Let the first coat dry. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on the product.
  7. Apply additional coats per the manufacturer’s recommendation, allowing each to dry in between. Solid paste wax generally hardens into a thicker layer of protection, so one coat is often sufficient over finished wood, or two coats over unfinished wood, whereas liquid wax usually needs two to three coats at a minimum, as each coat is much thinner.
  8. Let the final coat of wax dry just until hazy; at this point, it’s ready to buff.
Tips for Waxing Hardwood Floors
Photo: istockphoto.com

How to Buff Waxed Wood Floors

  • Using a towel for solid wax or a sponge mop with a terry cloth head for liquid wax, rub the cloth, or glide the mop, over 2-foot sections of the floor at a time. Start in the same corner of the room where you began and move in the direction of the wood grain, buffing to the desired luster.
  • Employ an electric floor buffer/polisher (these can be rented from Home Depot by the half day) to speed up the process of buffing. These machines can be used on either solid or liquid wax.
  • Leave the freshly waxed floor undisturbed for at least 8 hours before stepping on it or replacing furniture.

RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Mops for Wood Floors We Tested This Year

How to Maintain Waxed Hardwood Floors

Follow these tips to prolong the life and luster of your waxed hardwood floors:

Tips for Waxing Hardwood Floors
Photo: istockphoto.com
  • Re-wax floors at the interval recommended by the manufacturer. Generally, solid wax coats can last 2 to 5 years, and liquid wax coats 1 to 2 years. If no re-waxing interval is given, wipe a cloth dampened with mineral spirits over a small section of your floor and inspect it. If the cloth is clean with no whitish or colored residue, no wax remains. It’s time to re-wax.
  • Avoid applying fresh wax before the old wax coat has worn off, as over-waxing hardwood floors can result in unsightly wax build-up.
  • In between waxings, fade superficial imperfections by buffing floors using the tips above.
  • Weekly dry-mop waxed with a microfiber cloth pad, or vacuum with a dust brush attachment, to keep dust at bay.
  • Avoid wet-mopping large areas of the waxed hardwood floor with water; it can cloud the wax coat or damage the wood.
  • Wipe up spills as soon as they occur with a water-dampened cloth, then wipe dry.
  • Remove stains or discoloration by working hardwood floor cleaner into the offending spot with a cloth. Use a water-dampened cloth to remove the leftover cleaner, then dry with a clean towel.
  • Lay rugs or mats at the foot of doorways near waxed hardwood floors to keep dirt from being tracked in.
  • Lift, rather than drag, furniture across the waxed hardwood floors to avoid dents.