It's a project for an optimist if there ever was one: removing carpet to expose the wood floor underneath. While it pays to work slowly to remove the carpet – whether it was secured with adhesive, a tack strip and staples or both – it's understandable to feel a growing sense of anticipation before you lay eyes on the floor for the first time. But take it from the experienced pros who have taken on this project many times before: feeling a bit of a letdown is not only normal; it's appropriate.
The wood floor is most likely very dull, extremely dirty and checkered with clumps of adhesive. Now is precisely the time to withdraw reserves from your inner optimist bank. But go easy on your elbows; you'll need them as you apply some elbow grease to this cleanup project. In the end, you may decide to refinish the wood floor to fully restore it. But cleaning it -- carefully and by choosing the least aggressive methods possible -- will make a vast improvement that just might take your breath away.
Remove all the surface mess once the carpet and padding have been rolled up and hauled away. Pick up the tack strips and search carefully for staples. Sweep and then vacuum the entire area thoroughly.
Find an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way spot to test your cleanup methods before going to work full throttle on the full wood floor. This "test region" may be in a far corner of the room, near a doorway or a place where you intend to lay a throw rug. Experimenting first in a small, low-risk area should bolster your confidence that a fully clean wood floor is just steps away.
Train your eye on the carpet adhesive left behind. You might find it in tall lumps, flattened clusters or both. Rather than risk damaging your wood floor with harsh chemicals or scraping tools, use ice or peanut butter to remove the glue. For the former, cover the adhesive with a cotton towel or rag, mound some ice on top and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, even if you have to hold it in place. Afterward, use the towel or rag to lift the adhesive from the floor. Alternatively, rub natural peanut butter into the adhesive and watch the natural oils it contains break down the adhesive. In either case, if a trace of adhesive remains on the floor afterward, mix some warm water and mild dish soap and wash the residue with a soft, damp sponge. Use as little water as possible and wipe the floor with a clean rag afterward; too much water, as well as puddled water, can cause a wood floor to crack or splinter.
Launch the phase that will render the results you've been waiting for: the actual cleaning of the floor. Working in your test region, remember that water alone probably won't remove all the dirt from your wood floor. Water mixed with vinegar – a favorite, go-to household cleaning product – may end up looking dull once it dries. If your mild dish soap and water produced good results, load up your bucket and continue the momentum – being sure to wipe the floor completely dry when you're finished.
Many people prefer oil soap, a wood-specific cleaner which is diluted with water, to clean dirty wood floors. Otherwise, look for a water-based, non-toxic commercial wood floor cleaner. Some key ingredients to look for on the label include: co-solvents, ethoxylated alcohol, alanine trisodium salt, benzisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone. Don't judge these formidable-sounding ingredients by their names; they work together to safely break down dirt and grease, rid the floor of fungi and bacteria and prevent hard water residue.