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Hardwood Flooring: Six Things to Know

Advice on installing and maintaining wooden floors from expert Sprigg Lynn.

Sprigg Lynn with flooring from the Supreme Court. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

How can you keep hardwood flooring looking like new? What kind of wood is right for your home? Here’s advice on installing and maintaining wooden floors:

• Is just one area on a hardwood floor worn—in front of a desk, for example? You don’t have to refinish the whole floor; you can do a touchup. “Most people say it can’t be done because they can’t do it,” says Sprigg Lynn of Universal Floors, which does such touchups.

• Dirt is what wears down hardwood, Lynn says: “Normal foot traffic doesn’t do that much. It’s the grit and grime. Keep the floor clean by sweeping or vacuuming. A small rug outside or inside the door will help. And put felt pads under chairs.”•Don’t shop for a hardwood floor by color. “There are all kinds of woods out there, and some are very soft,” Lynn says. A soft wood such as American walnut will dent and scratch in a high-traffic area, while Brazilian walnut, or ipe, will hold up better.

• Want an ebony-colored floor? Be wary of putting on layer after layer of stain to get that dark color, Lynn says—too many coats may cause peeling. Dying the floor first can make for a more durable finish.

• Considering a prefinished floor? Check the thickness of the wood, he says—sometimes it’s too thin to be refinished.

• Do your old floors squeak? Putting a dry lubricant such as baby powder or graphite in the cracks can stop the squeaking.

This feature first appeared in the March 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.