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How to Protect and Maintain Hardwood Floors as a Renter

Written by Chris Deziel


Hardwood floor maintenance is a snap, and easier than up-keeping carpet. If fact, a minimalist approach is not only easier for you, it’s actually better for the floor.

Whether your floors are real hardwood or laminate, it’s important to keep them free from gritty dirt that can scratch the finish. Beyond that, your floor should need only an occasional wipe down to keep it as shiny as the day you moved in.

Floor maintenance is critical if you expect to get your full security deposit back at the end of your lease. If your floors that have been finished with some type of polyurethane — which is most of them — they do not need waxing.

Here are six ways to protect and maintain hardwood floors.

1. Clean the Finish — Not the Wood

It’s rare to come across floors that have been finished with shellac or alkyd varnish, but if the floor in your rental unit is one of them, get specific cleaning instructions from the landlord when you move in.

In most cases, you’re cleaning polyurethane, an inert layer of durable plastic that’s water- and stain-resistant. Polyurethane, however, is vulnerable to microscopic scratches from dirt ground in by foot traffic.

2. Vacuum Regularly; Mop Occasionally

Even if you observe a shoes-off protocol, it’s a good idea to vacuum at least once a week. Use a soft vacuuming attachment, and leave the beater bar off. (The beater bar, while great for carpets, scratches floor finishes.) Don’t cut corners: lift the floor mats — otherwise knows as gritty dirt magnets — and vacuum underneath them.

Water is a universal solvent that dissolves scuff marks and stains, but it’s an enemy to hardwood floors. If left standing, it can dull the finish and create spots. Even worse, it can seep between the boards and wreak havoc on the wood, causing the boards to warp.

A microfiber string or pad mop with most of the water wrung out is best. Dry the floor with a non-abrasive cloth after mopping.

3. Use a DIY Floor Cleaner

Commercial hardwood floor cleaners are safe and effective, especially if you use one recommended by the manufacturer of your flooring. You probably don’t need one, though, because you can make a pH-neutral cleaner that does the job.

To make floor cleaner, mix the following ingredients in a bucket:

  • 2 gallons warm water
  • 1 ounce dish detergent
  • 1/2 cup vinegar

Vinegar is slightly acidic, which is why it’s a good cleaner. But not every floor manufacturer recommends using it because it could dull the finish. Minimize that from happening by applying the cleaning solution with a damp mop, rinsing with clear water, and drying the floor immediately after mopping.

4. Get Rid of Stains on Hardwood Floors

If you have pets and kids, your floor will likely wind up with super stains, stains so powerful that an all-purpose cleaner can’t even remove them. The trick to handling tough stains is to find a solvent that can dissolve them without damaging the floor finish. Here are three:

  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol): removes juice and wine stains. Moisten a rag and dab or rub. Stop immediately if the finish turns soft. That means it’s shellac, and you need those cleaning instructions from your landlord.
  • Acetone (or nail polish remover): the go-to solvent for paint and lacquer stains. It will also handle some juice stains. Pour it on a rag — never directly on the floor — and dab.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: rids your floor of some pet urine stains and the resulting blackening of the wood (as long as the spots are fairly small). Moisten a rag and leave it on the stain for a couple of hours.

Water Stains

Got white spots caused by standing water? Cover them with petroleum jelly, olive oil or mayonnaise. Then put a paper towel over the stain and wait overnight. The oils will seep into the finish and replace the water. In the morning, the white discoloration should be gone.

5. Avoid Sun Damage

Direct sunlight fades floor finishes and darkens the wood. If you get lots of sunlight through the windows, change the positions of your rugs and the furniture periodically to avoid transition lines caused by sun exposure. If the sun shines on a particular area of the floor every day, use curtains or shades to block it.

6. Try DIY Restoration

Refinishing the floor or restoring the finish is usually a job for the landlord. If your floors need this treatment when you move out, you could lose your security deposit if you damaged the floors more than simple wear and tear.

It’s possible to do a quick restore yourself using a floor restoration product. The procedure is simple: clean the floor and spread the product according to the directions.

But if that doesn’t work, and you damaged the floor, the money to fix it will probably come from your security deposit.


Credit to Chris Deziel

Chris has owned and managed 4 rental properties in Santa Cruz, CA, and Salida, CO and is a DIY handyman expert for popular sites like RedBeacon.


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Front Entry Tips and Trends for Every Home


With pressure to justify every square foot of real estate and conserve energy, the larger-than-life front hall is undergoing a metamorphosis. It’s not disappearing, though—rather, it’s doing its job of welcoming in a more compact, efficient way.

Design experts may use different terms to describe the space beyond a front door—vestibule, hallway, entryway, foyer. The terms are quite interchangeable with slight variations. A vestibule is generally a small, separate air-lock that stops cold and hot air from entering the rest of the house. A hallway provides entry but also links spaces and rooms—at the front or anywhere in the home, says design guru Marianne Cusato, author of The Just Right Home (Workman Publishing). Of course there are dozens of other words you can use to describe this space. And whether you pronounce the foyer as foy-yay with a French spin or foy-er (rhymes with lawyer) really depends on how grand you or your home owners want the space to sound.

Whatever you call it, it’s important to understand the potential impact the entrance to a home can have on a visitor’s first impressions, says Stephanie Mallios, e-PRO, salesperson with Towne Realty in Short Hill, N.J. “If there are too many shoes and coats strewn about and no place to put keys or gloves, many buyers will have a tough time imagining how they’ll live there,” she says.

Study these eight design details to help your clients create a welcoming space that does its job well, both aesthetically and functionally—no matter what it’s called.

Size, scale, sequence. Due to energy-efficiency concerns,an entry with a soaring ceiling and sweeping staircase is far less popular than it once was. Still, a modest entryway as small as 4 feet to 5 feet wide can convey a proper sense of arrival, says Cusato. More important than size is the scale (the space should be in proportion with the rest of the house) and the sequence (the rest of the home should flow out in a logical way), says architect Duo Dickinson, author of Staying Put (Taunton Press). Upon entering, people should be able to see other spaces and rooms and know where to go next, says architect Julie Hacker of Cohen-Hacker Architects in Evanston, Ill. In the best layouts, there may even be a view straight through to a backyard.

Height. The number of levels or floors in the structure often determines this factor, though even two- and three-story homes are moving away from entries with soaring ceilings. The location of a stairway will hinge in part on square footage and what role an architect or builder wants the stairs to play. In smaller homes, it’s often part of the foyer but off to the side, and goes straight up—being purely functional. In larger homes, the staircase might occupy its own separate hall and curve gracefully to a landing, past a window or window bank, and up to the next level. To carpet or not is a personal preference, though bare treads can be noisy; a good compromise is a runner covering painted or hardwood treads.

Millwork. To fashion a gracious entry, most design pros recommend a door that is at least three feet wide and 72 inches tall. The trend of pricey double doors is disappearing, according to Chicago-area builder Orren Pickell. Whether a door includes a glazed transom or sidelights should depend on how home owners feel about privacy and bringing natural light into the interior. The size of the glazing should be proportional to the door’s width and height. For baseboard and crown molding, simplification is the overriding trend, which keeps fussiness and costs down, except for the most traditional houses, says Cusato. Wainscoting is another way to add visual detail. Columns are helpful to screen off adjoining rooms without completely walling them off. Hacker uses two columns with space for books cut out on the back side of each on the living room side to separate areas in her home.


Lighting. Good lighting is essential for safety, but it also sets a welcoming mood. A chandelier or large pendant is the obvious choice, while ceiling cans or sconces also work well. Whatever fixture home owners prefer, advise them to install dimmers. Not only will this allow them to save energy, but options for differing lighting intensity and color can also help set a dramatic mood for a party, a bright feel for an open house, and a low-light one for romance.

Flooring. A visually rich, substantial looking floor will reward visitors, says Dickinson. But due to the wear and tear common for front entryways, it should also be practical. Slate, stone, and porcelain meet that criteria, though they can be cold on bare feet in winter. Avoid soft woods that may dent and scratch; don’t use carpeting since it will become too dirty with traffic; and avoid vinyl unless it’s one of the more expensive, newer-looking versions. Home owners may wish to set off the area in a different material than adjacent rooms and hallways. But choosing one common material for several rooms produces a feeling of continuous flow and makes smaller rooms appear larger.

Furnishings. Depending on the entry’s size, home owners might consider adding a table to place mail, gloves, hats, and keys. Also, a mat or rug to wipe off feet and a chair or bench to put on and take off footwear can be helpful for maintaining tidiness. Finally, a mirror to check one’s appearance before heading out the door—or joining a group when entering—can be a welcome sight.


Wallpaper vs. paint. This choice is highly personal. If home owners love color, they should go for the paintbrush, with the knowledge that darker palettes can add drama and romance. Of course, not all future buyers will have the same taste, but repainting is an easy home repair in smaller areas. If your clients are into patterns, the same rule applies, though today many wallpapers are quite easy to hang and remove. The key is for surfaces to appear clean and not look dated, which may mean banishing that old-school floral style.

Bells and whistles. A coat closet is a nice extra, as is a powder room, though newer construction may feature such conveniences at the back of a domicile where they’ll be used most frequently. An umbrella stand can hold a variety of other items—canes, tennis racquets—neatly, and niches or shelves can display collectibles. A doorknocker outside, even if rarely used, is a classy touch akin to wearing one great piece of statement jewelry. It can really give the front door a Downton Abbey feel.

If your buyers and sellers take away just one lesson from you, it should be that a well-planned front entrance—no matter the name, size, or style—will add value to their home.


Credit to Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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