The phenomenon of sticky floors is an irritant for many homeowners with hardwood floors, particularly for those residing in humid environments. An all-too-familiar situation is when your feet stick to the floor after you mop the house. This is the perfect example of how humidity and temperature changes contribute to sticky floors. According to the definition of humidity in the Cambridge Dictionary, humidity is water vapor or moisture in the atmosphere.
Humidity can cause your floors to feel sticky because wood floors contain the plant fiber known as cellulose, which readily binds moisture from the air to form more hydrogen bonds. Constant moisture absorption causes the floor to “sweat,” which can damage the wood quality in the long term.
Homeowners can use this information to understand how humidity affects the quality of wood flooring and how to preserve the quality of their flooring in the long term. I will discuss these topics later in the article. I will also discuss some major causes of humidity in the house. Understanding what causes high levels of humidity in the first place is the key to preventing clammy floors, or at least minimizing the resulting annoyance.
Why Humidity Causes Sticky Floors
Humidity causes your floors to become sticky because of the interactions between the constituents of wood and water vapor in the air. It is important to understand the properties of the main constituent of wood, which is cellulose.
Cellulose Is Sensitive to Its Environment
Cellulose is a sensitive plant fiber that contains chemical bonds that absorb moisture from the air. Environmental conditions, including humidity and air temperature, affect both the structural and physical properties of cellulose-based materials. Increasing the air moisture has a similar effect to mopping and wetting the floors.
Doing so actually weakens the chemical bonds between the individual cellulose units in the wood structure and causes the wood to become more plastic and weaker in the long term. This explains why it is extremely important to maintain proper humidity levels in your house.
Chemical Bonds Absorb Air Moisture
The reason why your floors become sticky can be explained by a few scientific principles involving chemical bonds in wood floors and the process of condensation. Condensation is when water vapor is converted to the liquid form of water due to increasing temperatures. A familiar example of condensation is the moisture beads that form on your car windows or the morning dew you see on the grass.
The stickiness on your floors occurs due to the same process but at a slower rate. Cellulose materials, much like trees, tend to absorb moisture from the atmosphere and quicken the condensation process. Similarly, the flooring in your home will physically expand and feel sticky because specific types of chemical bonds in the cellulose absorb air moisture.
Hydrogen bonds are chemical bonds found between the cellulose cells in the wood. These bonds can bind to and hold the water vapor from the air in your home. When the hydrogen bonds found in the cellulose in wood flooring bind large amounts of vapor, your floor will feel sticky.
Especially on warm and humid days, the air contains more water vapor and hence, the cellulose in your wood floors forms more hydrogen bonds and causes the sticky feeling to become evident. Furthermore, moist cellulose dries slowly because it restricts airflow, so the humidity will have a lasting impact on the quality of wooden floors and wooden furniture.
Causes of High Humidity in Your Home
It is important to understand what may be causing the humidity levels in your house to be unfavorably high, as this reduces wood quality and causes other long-term problems with your flooring, including mildew growth. Some common and logical causes of high humidity in homes are poor ventilation, indoor laundry drying, and boiling water on the stove.
Some other powerful contributors to humidity in your home could be the presence of an oversized air conditioner and gas heaters. I will explain how both of these factors may be contributing to the humidity levels in your house.
Oversized Air Conditioner
Oversized air conditioners are a common issue in the Southern states and they increase humidity levels in a house because they cool your house at a fast rate. This causes ineffective cooling cycles because the dehumidifier inside the AC unit does not have sufficient time to remove air moisture. Paradoxically, your AC may actually be cooling your home but simultaneously contributing to high levels of humidity.
Combustion refers to the process by which gas heaters produce heat in your home. However, this process has some unwanted byproducts such as water vapor and other pollutants. If there is a chimney or flue attached to the gas heater, these byproducts are released outside of the house and humidity is minimized. But if there is no chimney or flue, these byproducts will be dispersed into your rooms and the water vapor will significantly increase humidity levels.
Now that you understand some possible causes of high humidity levels in your home, it is time to understand how to prevent unfavorably high humidity levels in your home and how to maintain optimal humidity levels in your home.
Maintaining Optimal Humidity Levels in Your Home and Protecting Wood
Attention to all owners with hardwood floors: the optimal range of humidity levels in your homes is 35-55%. Various sources cite slightly different ranges depending on the specific type of wood material and cellulose content in the wood. It is best that you consult with your homebuilders on this matter since they can describe the composition of the wood used in your home.
Wood with high hemicellulose and holocellulose content is particularly prone to losing strength from excess humidity, so it is best to avoid very high concentrations of these in your wood flooring.
The best way to measure and monitor humidity levels is by installing a hygrometer. I recommend this ThermoPro Digital Hygrometer Indoor Thermometer and Humidity Gauge from Amazon. This device allows you to quickly evaluate the air temperature and humidity levels in your home with its user-friendly humidity monitor and high sensitivity. It can be used in various locations, including your bedrooms, refrigerators, and even in soil!
Apart from monitoring the humidity levels in your home, it is important to take protective measures for your wooden floors to try to prolong their life. Wood is an incredibly popular building material, yet it is sensitive to environmental factors like humidity. Thankfully, there are many products on the market that can prolong its life.
A product from Amazon.com that I recommend for protecting your wooden floors and other wooden furniture is this Advanced Natural Wood Protector. This product will create a long-lasting coating on your floors and protect from water damage caused by excess humidity. It also protects from UV damage and mildew growth.
Wood flooring is sensitive to temperature changes and high humidity can cause it to expand and become sticky. This occurs due to the absorption of air moisture by cellulose molecules, which comprise the wood material. Though this is problematic for homeowners, there are ways to regulate the humidity levels in your house and ensure that they are within the optimal range of 35-55%.
Not only will this make walking on your bare wooden floors a more pleasant experience, but this will also preserve the quality of your wooden floors in the long run and reduce costs related to floor maintenance.