Wood flooring can add warmth and value to a house, but it is susceptible to certain types of damage. For example, moisture and oil from your body can cause problems for a wood floor and its finish layer. Walking barefoot on a wood floor can lead to some issues, but there are worse ways to use your floor, and with the proper care any effect will be minimal.
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Feet and Oil
Your feet produce a small amount of oil, just like all the skin on your body. This oil can attach itself to the floor over time if you walk across it barefoot. It is this oil, which is necessary to keep skin flexible, that causes marks on the floor finish. Your body does not produce other oils that your feet will track on wood flooring. However, this skin oil can leave slight marks on the floor finish that need to be cleaned up, but does not cause any long-lasting damage and has at most a minimal impact.
Feet vs. Shoes
When it comes to a choice between walking barefoot and using shoes, shoes are much more dangerous for wood flooring. Shoes have weight and edges that can damage finishes, and are much better at tracking dirt and grime onto the wood flooring, or grinding in dirt that is already present. Socks might be a better choice than either option, but bare feet will cause less damage than shoes.
Wood floors can benefit from eventual refinishing, which is the process of sanding away the old layer of finish and replacing it with a new layer for protection. Most layers of finish can be used lightly the day after they are painted on. However, you should not put any furniture on the floor for about two weeks. During this same time, walking on the floor with anything but socks is unadvisable, because the sensitive and still-drying finish could be damaged.
To control the damage caused by bare feet, put mats and rugs in key areas so people will be able to wipe their feet before using the floor. This will remove moisture, oil and dirt that can collect on bare feet before the floor is used. It also can help if you create a socks-on policy to avoid the small oil marks that result from bare feet.