Hardwood floors are not only beautiful but are also environmentally friendly and healthier for your home. Every few years the floor will need to be refinished either due to daily wear and tear or to change the color or sheen of the floor. The refinishing process can feel like a daunting task to ensure the colors meet your design aesthetic and the process meets your standards for a healthy home. In addition to ensuring that your floors end up looking better than ever, it’s important to be aware that there are potential health risks if you rush into the process without doing some research. Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered — follow these five tips for beautiful floors and a home that’s safe for everyone (including pets, of course).

Hire a contractor

When it comes to a hefty task like refinishing your floors, don’t go the “do it yourself” route. Erik Peterson, Bona territory manager for Oregon and Washington, says he’s been in many houses where the homeowner has said they handle their own flooring. “[In reality], they really just do grooving and rent a machine,” he says. “They basically end up really gouging and destroying a pretty nice wood floor and then covering it with a pretty finish.”

Peterson emphasizes the importance of using a professional who has gone through a process that entails schooling, testing and earning accreditation with a reputable organization like Bona or the National Wood Flooring Association.

“Using a contractor with a good reputation is even more vital when you’re leaving your house while the floors are being refinished,” adds Kevin Reyes, contractor and owner of Element Hardwood Floors in the Seattle area. Some contractors are geared more toward homeowners, while others focus on designers and architects — so even if a contractor has a great reputation, make sure that homes fall into their area of expertise.

Use a dust-containment system

The use of a dust-containment system throughout the refinishing process is crucial to the health of everyone living in your home — especially for people who have lung or cardiovascular issues.

“[Using] a dust-containment system ensures that the air quality is good and there isn’t a ton of dust covering all sorts of surfaces in the home,” says Peterson. When certain kinds of oak floors are sanded, dust in the air can be a carcinogen. “Not only is dust containment good for the health of the actual home, but it’s also important for the contractors and individuals who are working inside the home,” he adds.

Use eco-friendly finish materials

Both Peterson and Reyes say it’s extremely important to be discerning about the finish materials used on your floors. In Seattle it’s fairly common for people to use a particular finish called “Swedish finish” or Acid Cure, but Peterson and Reyes say this should be avoided. In fact, Peterson notes that Seattle and Chicago are the only cities where this finish is readily available — and it’s even been outlawed in certain parts of the country.

Reyes explains that one of the main reasons Swedish finish is so unhealthy is because it’s high in volatile organic compounds (VOC). “The higher the VOC, the worse the products are for you,” he says.

“In Washington there’s no law against how much VOC you can use, so we’re one of the few states that literally has no restrictions.” In his opinion, this is dangerous because if you hire someone who uses Swedish finish or any other high-VOC product, you could unwittingly be putting yourself and your family at risk.

“That kind of finish lingers inside the house for up to 60 days in some cases, so if someone has asthma or something like that, it can create a really big problem,” says Peterson. If your contractor uses Swedish finish, you definitely have to vacate your house during the process. Furthermore, you can’t leave your pets in the house (even a fish tank can’t stay) and you’ll need to remove everything from your food to your houseplants.

If you use a high durability, waterborne finish like Bona Traffic HD, you don’t even have to leave your home let alone remove food and houseplants. Reyes strongly recommends using a contractor who’s comfortable with low-VOC products. He says that by using low-VOC products, he’s able to get people back into their homes more quickly and homeowners can get back to using their kitchens and putting furniture back on the floor.

“Anything that’s high VOC takes longer to dry and a lot longer to cure,” says Reyes. “It has a lingering scent that’s not healthy for you.”

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Verify that the contractor has workers’ compensation

“If the contractor you hire has employees, verify that they have workers’ comp,” says Reyes. He explains that if you invite anyone into your home — even if it’s to perform a paid service like refinishing your floors — the homeowner is typically on the hook if any sort of injury occurs and the employee isn’t insured in the state of Washington.

Reyes recommends always asking this question before you hire someone for the job to ensure the workers in your home are insured through the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries with workers’ comp. He noted that Bona Certified Craftsmen are contractors who have already been vetted through the state so they will have a license, insurance, workers’ comp for their employees, and a dust containment system. But of course don’t be afraid to ask for any questions or clarifications in order to put your mind at ease.

Ask for upkeep instructions when the job is finished

Your floors are finished and looking better than ever — naturally you’ll want to keep them that way. Before your contractor departs, ask for upkeep instructions so you can ensure that you’re buying the proper cleaning products for your wood floors.

“People can go into the store and it’s easy to get confused by all the wax and polish options,” says Reyes. With a site-finished floor, he says you should only use hardwood floor cleaner because it evaporates faster and there’s a lower risk of water damaging the wood. He also cautions against using a water-vinegar solution to clean your hardwood floors. “It’s too caustic for filmed finishes, and the water tends to seep into the edges and will damage the wood floor over time.”

Ask your contractor for specific cleaning products to buy and for any advice about “best practices” so you can keep your floors looking terrific for as long as possible.

Bona has created a world of innovative sustainable solutions for every wooden floor challenge — from installation and renovation to maintenance and care, with the needs and safety of our customers, and the environment, in mind.