Most modern wood floors are finished with polyurethane, which is durable and shiny but definitely benefits from an occasional polishing. Modern polishing compounds include urethane, which reinforces the existing finish as well as filling in small scratches and gouges, and the floor sparkles when you buff these up with a floor buffer, which is optional for many products. Maintain your floor by polishing it every two to three months.
Before You Start
If you aren't sure if your floor has a polyurethane or wax finish, there's an easy way to tell -- scratch the floor and then look under your fingernail -- blackish or brown deposits are wax. If the floor feels slightly rough, that's confirmation of a wax-and-oil finish. If the floor feels smooth, then the wax may have been applied over a polyurethane finish. You can polish the floor, but you may not want to, because it means stripping off all the old wax first -- you may want to stick with wax.
Cleaning and Polishing Procedure
Your flooring manufacturer may recommend a specific polish, and if so, you'll probably get the best result by using that product. There's nothing to stop you from using others, though. Just test the one you're going to use on an inconspicuous part of the floor to be sure it doesn't peel or turn cloudy.
Move everything out of the room, just as you would if you were sanding and refinishing the floor.
Vacuum the floor, using a soft vacuum attachment that won't scratch the finish. Get all small particles of dirt out of gaps and small holes, or they'll get sealed in place by the polish. Tack the floor with a damp cloth or mop, and let the floor dry.
Work in sections, starting in the far corner and moving toward the exit. Apply the polish with a pad or foam applicator, feathering the edges of the section on which you're working to avoid leaving a heavy film when you apply polish to adjacent sections.
Keep the applicator wet and smooth out the polish along the grain of the wood.
Wait at least one hour before walking on the floor, and 24 hours before moving the furniture back in and subjecting the floor to heavy traffic. For best results, buff the polish with a floor buffer sometime between the one-hour waiting period and the time you move the furniture back into the room.
Using a Floor Buffer
You can rent a floor buffer at rental outlets and certain hardware stores. It looks more formidable than it actually is; it has a weighted housing and a long handle that allows you to control it. When it's stationary, it's heavy, but when you turn it on and the lambswool buffing pad starts turning, it glides effortlessly, as long as you know how to maneuver it. To get the best results, follow a few guidelines:
Fit the pad on the holders underneath the housing, rest the machine on the pad in the middle of the room and plug it in.
Hold the handle securely and turn on the switch. Be careful, because it's easy to lose control, and if you do, the machine may spin into a wall and damage a baseboard. Keep equal pressure on both handgrips and steer the machine by varying the pressure.
Start buffing in the corner farthest from the door. Move the machine from left to right or in a clockwise circular motion -- going in the opposite directions may result in buffer burns. Work in sections. If any section isn't shiny enough when you've finished floor, it's OK to go back over it.