This winter, with its record-breaking wind chills and Polar Vortexes, has been brutal for everyone. But, while most Americans begrudgingly shoveled — then shoveled some more — this winter didn’t throw anything at them that they hadn’t encountered before. That is, unless they lived in Atlanta. Not just once, but twice this year snowfall has threatened to paralyze the city. Literally thousands of tons of salt have been spread on driveways, streets and highways in the Greater Atlanta area.
Residents are, perhaps, not used to the damage that rock salt can do to hardwood flooring. Road salt is composed of Calcium Chloride crystals. These crystals not only have the potential to cause chemical damage to your floor but, because they are rough in texture, will cause scratching and abrasions to your wood finish if dragged across or ground into your floor. There is an old-wives tale that advises cleaning salt stains with vinegar and water. Be aware that this “remedy” can cause as much damage as the rock salt. Excess water can ruin a wood floor, and vinegar can be harsh on the finish and leave residue that is as unsightly as the original salt stain.
So, what can you do about salt stains? The first course of action is to try to prevent the damage in the first place. You should have a sturdy mat or rug outside your door, preferably one with a rough surface that you and your guests can rub your shoes on to dislodge the salt particles before entering the home. Having a rug right inside the doorway to wipe shoes on to remove excess snow or rain is good for your floors as well. Finally, have a waterproof tray or mat to the side of the door for wet and salty footwear. Ask your guests to remove their shoes to the mat before entering your home. You should sweep or vacuum your floor often during the salting season to make sure stray particles don’t get dragged across the wood.
If you already have some staining, there are some useful products on the market to help you safely remove the salt while maintaining the finish on your floor. Squeaky Cleaner from Basic Coatings is specially formulated to thoroughly clean your wood floor while protecting the finish. It can be used to clean other types of flooring such as linoleum and tile as well, so it is an economical choice to add to your home cleaning supplies. If you have salt damage in a more commercial or industrial space, Basic Coatings offers a more powerful floor cleaner called IFT (Intensive Floor Treatment) that can safely remove more stubborn stains. Finally, if your job requires more strength than a household mop can provide, Basic Coatings has a cleaning machine called the Dirt Dragon that is designed to completely clean and suction excess water away from the floor surface, preventing water damage while protecting the flooring material. If your salt damage is beyond the scope of the products described here, you should consider sanding and refinishing your hardwood floor. Get in touch with you local flooring professional to learn more about the economical alternative to replacing your floor.