Ralph's Blog

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hardwood Floor Care

Posted on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 @ 10:10 AM

Hardwood floors are popular for many reasons—with their unique beauty and character at the top of the list. But if you ask anyone who has hardwood floors, they’ll tell you that one of the things they appreciate the most about hardwood floors is that they’re so easy to keep clean and looking beautiful.


It’s not complicated at all to care for your custom hardwood floors. Just follow these basic do’s and don’ts.


  • Clean up any spills as soon as possible.
  • Dust often with a soft, dry microfiber mop, or sweep floors to clean up debris.
  • A soft-bristled bottom on a vacuum floor attachment is fine, just not one that rotates, as this can still cause friction burns.
  • Some manufacturers offer separate attachment heads designed to make it easier to reach in crevices and under furniture when vacuuming floors.
  • Before vacuuming, check the bottom of the vacuum for anything protruding that could damage the floor’s finish. For example, the wheels are usually a molded plastic that can have a sharp little “bur.”
  • Being sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, periodically clean the floors with an approved solution.
  • Use rugs in heavy-traffic areas, avoiding rubber-backed rugs, which don’t allow the floor to “breath” and can cause damage.
  • Consider taking up rugs in the summer if they’re in areas that receive a lot of light, in order to minimize differences in color resulting from different levels of light exposure. You can also simply move rugs around.
  • Put slip pads between rugs and the floor, but remember to lift and clean under these every couple of months to keep the slip pad from bonding to the finish. Put pads under furniture legs.
  • Keep the nails of any indoor pets trimmed.


  • Allow spills to sit on the hardwood floor.
  • Forget to wipe your feet on a rug when coming in from outside.
  • Use steam cleaners—even those supposedly for hardwood floors can cause peeling, whitening, and clouding.
  • Use oil soaps, all-purpose cleaners, or wood furniture polish.
  • Use hardwood floor cleaning solutions that aren’t approved for your type of finish. For example, cleaners that are fine for urethane finishes can damage wax finishes.
  • Allow extreme fluctuations in temperature or humidity within your home.
  • Slide pieces of furniture on the floor while moving them. Even if they have pads, the pads can come off while sliding.
  • Move extremely heavy furniture or appliances on the floor without taking proper precautions.

You’ll notice that none of these do’s and don’ts take that much work—if any at all. However, the payoff is big for paying attention to them. Your hardwood flooring will keep its fresh appearance for many years,  wearing much slower than carpeting, laminates, and most other flooring options.

Tags: caring for your hardwood floors

Taking the “haunted” out of haunted houses

Posted on Sat, Oct 25, 2014 @ 09:10 AM


One year for Halloween, I took my daughters to one of those “haunted houses” you walk through while stuff meant to scare the kids pops up in front of you. I got a kick out of seeing how scared my girls got as each new fright suddenly appeared.

I think the most afraid they got was when we came upon three little girls who looked just like those two girls who haunted the hotel in The Shining and helped drive Jack Nicholson’s character crazy.

These “ghosts” came up to me and ordered me to come with them. It was all part of the time-honored tradition of giving kids a little scare on Halloween, so I went along with it and started to act like I was walking away with The Shining girls.


You should have seen the look on my daughters’ faces! They thought I was really leaving them! For just a moment, they got really upset—until I reassured them that I wasn’t going anywhere. On the way home, I explained to them that houses can’t really be haunted.

That said, I know I’ve been in a few that have seemed haunted. That’s because they were falling apart. Mildew covered the outside, the paint was peeling off the walls, cobwebs covered cracked windows, the old hardwood floors sagged and creaked—just like a haunted house.

But the only thing haunting those houses was a lack of attention. They were potentially beautiful homes, but they had been allowed to slide into disrepair.

One of the many satisfactions I get from running Ralph’s Hardwoods is that we often get to help people who have taken it on themselves to rescue these old “haunted houses” and restore their grandeur.

Not surprisingly, considering the timeless character and charm of hardwood floors, most people who want to renovate an old home want to keep hardwood flooring in it. That’s where we come in, and it’s a pleasure to assist.

Sometimes we can sand down the floor that’s there and refinish it, perhaps having to fix some trouble spots but essentially keeping the original floor. Other times, we have to install new floors, but we can use our skill and experience to recreate the original look as closely as possible. There are also homeowners who aren’t concerned with the original look, and we help them choose a floor that suits their tastes. They usually select floors that fit the house very well.  

However we help them, it’s always fun to be involved in reclaiming an old, neglected house from the land of the “ghouls and goblins” and turning it into a 21st century home. I guess you could call us the hardwood floor ghostbusters!

Ralph's 2014 Idea Book

Photo courtesy of checkbrazil, Ashley Charlotte, Kwan Cheung

Tags: restoring hardwood floors, stories, remodeling

10 Tips for Having Indoor Pets and Beautiful Hardwood Floors

Posted on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 @ 16:10 PM

As a pet lover and proud owner of Kira and Charlie, I have a soft spot in my heart for homeowners who visit our showroom and are anxious about their indoor dogs or cats.

They love the beauty of hardwood floors, but not as much as their pets! They’re concerned that their dream of beautiful hardwood flooring is impractical because of their furry loved ones.

I tell them to relax, that I know how they feel. If hardwood floors and my dogs couldn’t coexist, then I wouldn’t have hardwood floors either—but I do!


While every situation is different—largely depending on personal taste and the type of pets—here are 10 general tips for homeowners who want hardwood floors but also want to share them with their “best friends.”


1.  Keep pet nails trimmed.

Scratches are a primary concern when allowing dogs on hardwood floors. That’s less so with cats, because they don’t usually walk with their claws out, but they can still damage floors when rough housing and chasing.

The obvious way to minimize this damage is to keep the nails of your pets trimmed, which is also healthy for them. (Yes, even cats can have their nails trimmed.)

2.  Use a hard species of wood.

The harder the wood, the more it will resist damage by pet nails. (If the wood is too soft, big dogs can even dent it while running through the house.)

3.  Consider a light to medium color.

Light to medium-colored hardwood floors generally show scratches, hair, and dander less than dark flooring.

4.  Avoid glossy floors.

The shinier a floor, the more it will shows imperfections. Satin and matte finishes are good for “hiding” scratches.

5.  Choose a hardwood with a pronounced grain.

Open-grain hardwood, such as oak, ash, hickory and some exotic woods help draw the eye away from scratches.

6.  Consider adding texture.

Although not for everyone, hand scraping, wire brushing, or distressing floors to add texture is one way to disguise scratches as they just blend in! Using reclaimed wood from old barns, factories, etc. is another way to achieve a rustic look that hides scratches (and dents).

7. All else being equal, pick solid wood or high quality engineered floors rather than an engineered with a thin wear layer.

Solid wood floors and high-quality engineered floors can be re-sanded (i.e., restored). Many inexpensive engineered floors have such a thin wear layer you would be lucky to sand them even once. Being able to restore your floors is a reassuring benefit to homeowners worried about pet damage.

8.  Put rugs in pet high-traffic areas.

This is self-explanatory, but I like to remind pet lovers that rugs aren’t just for protecting hardwood floors from pets; they’re a wonderful way to accentuate the look of the flooring you choose.

9. Keep an eye out for pet urine, and clean it up immediately.

Urine is another common fear of dog and cat owners who want hardwood floors. The acid in urine can damage some finishes and the wood if it remains for too long. Fortunately, if you wipe it up right away, it’s no problem.

10. Put mats under water bowls and litter boxes.

Even with modern finishes, plain old water can damage hardwood floors if left too long, so it’s a good idea to put a breathable mat of some sort under pet water bowls kept on hardwood flooring. If your dog dribbles a lot of water when drinking, consider moving the water bowl to a tiled surface as a saturated mat left on hardwood is also a bad idea.Kitty litter on hardwood floors can be damaging as well, so a rug is also wise around litter boxes.


There’s no need to dismiss hardwood floors as an option just because you have indoor dogs or cats. Your pets can enjoy your hardwood floors as much as you do!

To see samples of hardwood flooring that works great with pets, come visit us at the Ralph’s Hardwood Floors showroom

Tags: caring for your hardwood floors, picking the right floor for your lifestyle

Harry Houdini and the Magic of Hardwood Floors

Posted on Sat, Oct 11, 2014 @ 09:10 AM

Harry HoudiniAfter finishing a job, a customer once told us “You guys are real Houdinis.”

They had just moved to Wisconsin and were renovating the old house they had bought. I guess they compared us to the most famous magician of all time because they thought we worked magic—turning the house’s timeworn floors into gorgeous flooring that looked like new.

Because they were new to the area, they didn’t realize the local connection they were making. Harry Houdini moved to Appleton in 1874 when he was a toddler, and he always claimed Appleton as his hometown, even after he moved with his family to New York City in 1887.

However, Houdini’s Wisconsin connections weren’t the first thing I thought about when I heard that comment from our pleased customers.

What came to mind were the similarities between Houdini’s approach to his craft and the way we think about appearance when we install or restore hardwood floors.

Houdini didn’t actually alter reality; he altered perceptions. In fact, throughout his career, Houdini actively sought to expose fake “mediums” and “spiritualists” who fooled people into thinking that the tricks they saw were supernatural.

It’s the same with hardwood floors. You can alter perception, but there’s also the reality of the floor’s quality.

By making the right choices about color, sheen, texture, board size, etc., homeowners can consciously create a certain perception. When these characteristics are combined together in the right way, the desired “illusion” can be achieved.

With hardwood floors, I would use terms such as “tone,” “ambiance,” and “character” instead of “illusion,” but the idea is the same—controlling various aspects of appearance to create a certain perception.

Harry HoudiniHowever, unlike the charlatans Houdini disliked, Ralph’s Hardwood Floors never misleads homeowners into thinking they have something that they really don’t. We don’t try to hide reality behind perception.

For example, we advise against the use of cheap engineered hardwood that has a poor quality finish and a very thin layer of hardwood above the engineered material. Those floors might look great for a little while, but soon they look shabby, and because there’s not enough hardwood to re-sand, the only option is new flooring. Where’s the “magic” in that?

There are no tricks in what we do for customers—unless you count knowledge, experience, craftsmanship, and dedication.

Nonetheless, it felt great to be compared to Houdini. Perception isn’t reality, but it is a big part of customer satisfaction, and it was comforting to know we were able to work our “magic” to get it right.

To learn more about Harry Houdini, visit the Houdini exhibit in the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton.

Ralph's 2014 Idea Book
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, tmolini. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

Tags: stories, Wisconsin, remodeling

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