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Floor Care and Cleaning Guide

Floor Care

Regular care and maintenance of your new flooring is a simple way to extend the life and performance of your investment and keep it looking like new for years. Here are some general guidelines to follow for the different flooring types. 

Carpet

Suck it Up: dirt, dust, and other small particles are sharp and abrasive, and when they collect in your carpet, they can rip and tear the fibers over time. Regular vacuuming keeps these particles from wearing away at the carpet, and it also improves its appearance. 

Bag it: if you choose a vacuum that uses bags, make sure you change the bag frequently to allow maximum cleaning efficiency – and to avoid all that dust blowing back onto your carpets! Newer bagless models may save time and make the effort even easier.

Watch Your Weight: heavy furniture, potted plants and other home décor can crush carpet pile and leave compressions that you may not notice until you redecorate or move. Use felt pads or protective caps and re-arrange the furniture periodically. 

Stay Out of the Sun: in the same way the sun damages our skin, its ultraviolet rays can also damage the color of your carpet over time. To avoid sun lightening to your carpets, shut the curtain or blinds when the sun is most intense or use UV glass or film in your windows. 

Snip the Snags: looped carpets tend to snag over time – especially at the seams. It’s best not to vacuum over loose yarn or pull at the snags. Instead, treat every loose thread like you would on an expensive suit. Grab scissors and carefully snip the snag flush with the plush. 

Watch the Spills: when these events occur to begin the clean-up process by using a dry cloth to blot up as much debris or liquid as possible. The longer you wait, the more the fibers will absorb the stain. Warm water should then be used to rinse the stained area. Press the cloth into the carpet to soak up the moisture until the stain is gone. Don’t scrub and don’t use hot water. You’ll damage the fibers. Finally, rinse the area with warm water and absorb the wetness with a dry cloth. After your carpet is dry, vacuum it to restore its texture and appearance. There are some carpet cleaners that do actually work. Ask your retailer about cleaning products that have earned the Carpet & Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval. 

Read Up!: like a fine piece of clothing, carpet is a textile. Though it doesn’t come with a little white tag on the back of the neckline, it does come with maintenance literature provided by the manufacturer. Different fibers, styles, and finishes require specific care. In the same way, you wouldn’t throw a silk blouse in the washing machine, you don’t want to make a similar mistake with your carpet. Read up and follow the suggested guidelines. You’ll be glad you did.

Call the Pros: time and traffic take their toll. It’s just a fact of life. Carpet manufacturer warranties have very specific instructions on the type of professional cleaning necessary to keep that warranty in force. Refer to that material. Then, when necessary, call on a reputable carpet cleaning service to restore your rugs to their original luster. The knowledge, commercial equipment and experience of a professional can go a long way towards removing stubborn stains and keeping your home beautiful. 

Hardwood Flooring

Meet Mat: tiny particles, like dirt, can act like sandpaper and scratch your wood. By placing a floor mat at each entryway and encouraging family members and guests to wipe their feet, the majority of dirt and grime will remain on the mat. Also put a floor mat or rug in any area where water could be splashed – like near the kitchen sink. This will hinder any possible water damage. Note that rubber-backed or non-ventilated floor mats or rugs can damage your floor. Instead use floor mats or rugs made especially for hardwood floors and be sure to shake them out regularly. 

Whistle While You Work: along with a hardwood floor comes the responsibility of keeping it clean. The better care you take, the longer your floor will maintain its original beauty. 

  • Step #1 – purchase a high quality broom so that you can sweep your floor regularly of dirt, dust and other particles.
  • Step #2 – use a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar to get in between the boards and other hard to reach areas. Deeper cleaning techniques vary depending on the installation and finish of your hardwood floor.

For “Finish in Place” hardwood floors, using an 8″x14″ terrycloth mop with a rotating head that makes cleaning corners, under cabinets and along base boards easier is recommended. Professional cleaning products recommended by your flooring manufacturer can be used to remove tough stains and spills without dulling the finish of your wood floor. Makers of “Pre-finished” floors recommend their own specific products for routine maintenance.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO use cleaners that won’t leave a film or residue
  • DO use a professional hardwood floor cleaner to remove occasional scuffs and heel marks (just spray some cleaner on a cloth and rub the stained area lightly)
  • DO clean sticky spots with a damp towel or sponge
  • DO minimize water exposure and clean spills immediately
  • DON’T wax a wood floor with a urethane finish
  • DON’T use ammonia cleaners or oil soaps on a wood floor – they’ll dull the finish and affect your ability to recoat later.
  • DON’T wet mop or use excessive water to clean your floor (wood naturally expands when it’s wet and can cause your floor to crack or splinter)

Protect Your Investment – all hardwood floors fade or change shades over time. Like our own skin, wood’s exposure to sunlight may greatly increase this process and cause permanent damage.

Window treatments are recommended to shade your floors from the sun’s harsh rays. We also recommend rotating area rugs and furniture regularly, allowing wood floors to age evenly from UV exposure. To avoid permanent marks and scratches, it’s a good idea to cover furniture and table legs with flannel protectors. Be careful when moving heavy objects across your floor to avoid scuffing. Ladies – your stiletto heels may be fashionable, but what’s not in fashion (or covered by your warranty) are the dents and scratches they cause to wood floors. Likewise, trim your pet’s nails regularly and keep any and all other sharp objects away from your floors. Love your floors and your floors will you back for a long, long time. 

Laminate Flooring

Sweeping & Mopping: dust and dirt act as an abrasive on a laminate’s surface and seriously dull its appearance. This fact of life can be avoided by regular sweeping, dust mopping or vacuuming to remove loose dirt and grime. Either a broom or a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar will do the trick. Vacuum cleaner attachments are useful to capture dust and dirt between planks or along edges. An occasional damp mopping is also recommended. But be careful – laminate flooring can expand when it comes in contact with excessive water. After a damp mopping, a clean cloth should be used to wipe the floor dry. Placing doormats at each entryway is also a good idea to collect excessive moisture and dirt before they enter your home. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO use glides or floor protectors on the bottom of furniture to prevent scratching or abrasion
  • DO lift heavy furniture instead of dragging or pulling it to avoid scratching and abrasion
  • DO use carpet fragments face down under heavy objects when moving them across a laminate floor
  • DO your spot cleaning and occasional complete cleaning using the manufacturer’s recommended products
  • DON’T use soap-based detergents or “mop-and-shine” products
  • DON’T use abrasive cleaners, steel wool or scouring powder
  • DON’T flood your floor with water or cleaner
  • DON’T try to refinish or sand your laminate floor

Repair – replacement laminates may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than your original installation. With time and usage, however, the replacement product will blend in with the rest of your floor. With proper care and regular maintenance, laminate flooring will provide you and your home with many years of beauty, warmth and durability.

Vinyl Flooring

Your Mother Was Right: keeping the floor clean is not hard, but there are some guidelines to increase the life of your flooring. Dust, sand and grit particles are the enemy. Sweep or vacuum frequently. Don’t use a vacuum with a beater bar as it may scratch your floor and don’t use scrub brushes. When sweeping or vacuuming does not remove the dirt, mop the floor with clean warm water. Rinse the floor thoroughly with fresh water. If water alone does not clean the surface, use cleaning products recommended by the manufacturer. Most “no rinse” cleaners will work just fine. An ounce or so of liquid detergent or ammonia in a gallon of water will work, but you will need to rinse the floor well. Do NOT use detergents, abrasive cleaners or “mop and shine” products. And always toss in an ounce of prevention. Mats or rugs in front of outside doors will help keep the dust and grit from getting to the floor in the first place. Be sure the mats and rugs you buy are for vinyl floors. Some rubberbacked mats may leave stains or marks. 

It’s Just a Spill: for spots or spills, wipe them up immediately and use the same technique on the spot as you would for the whole floor. 

Sometimes It’s Serious: if you have a seam open up, you need to cover it to keep out the dirt. The same applies if you get a cut or gouge in your new floor. Dirt makes it harder to repair. Call your retailer or installer for information on who should repair the seam.

Ceramic Tile Flooring

Sweeping: dirt adheres easily to the surface of ceramic tile, especially styles with textured surfaces. Regular sweeping loosens and removes most dirt. A vacuum cleaner can also be used to sweep, but make sure you use one without a beater bar to avoid dulling and scratching the tiles. Vacuum cleaner attachments are great to suck up dirt along edges or in between tiles.

Mats: use doormats to keep dirt from coming into your home and shake them out often. This will reduce the amount of dirt being tracked across your ceramic tile floor, and reduces the wear to the finished surface. 

Mopping: ceramic tile floors should be damp-mopped using manufacturer-recommended grout and tile cleaners. For heavier soil, spot clean the floor with a sponge or clean cloth using the same recommended cleaners. 

Heavy Cleaning: mild scrubbing with a soft brush or electric polisher/scrubber may be required for textured tiles. After cleaning with a mild detergent, rinse thoroughly with clean, warm water to remove leftover residue. If necessary, wipe the tile dry with a clean towel to remove any film. For soft water situations, an all-purpose cleaner may be necessary. Apply it to your floor and let it stand for 3-5 minutes. Then lightly scrub with a sponge, rinse well and you’re good to go. Cleaning products available from your local grocery or hardware store can be used to remove soap scum, hard water deposits and mildew stains from ceramic tile. Be sure to consult the cleaning product’s instructions to ensure the product is recommended for your type of tile. After cleaning, rinse well and wipe dry for a sparkling shine. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO clean up spills as quickly as possible so your grout won’t become stained
  • DO remember that while ceramic tile is very durable, it’s not indestructible and may crack or chip under extreme force
  • DO take the proper precautions when moving heavy objects across a ceramic tile floor
  • DO cover furniture and table legs with protectors to guard your floor against scratching
  • DO remember that if a repair is necessary, the replacement product may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than the original tile, however, with time and usage, the replacement tile will blend in with its neighbors.
  • DON’T use steel wool, scouring powders, or other abrasives that can scratch the finish of your ceramic tile
  • DON’T use bleach or ammonia-based cleaners – these products can discolor your grout if used too often

Caulking and Sealing – once your tile has been laid and grouted, it’s your responsibility to caulk areas that may be exposed to water. Caulking will prevent expensive subsurface damage and keep the tiled areas looking as good as new. Depending on your lifestyle, sealing your tile and grout may also be an option. After installation, sealing the grout and tile can provide protection from dirt and spills by slowing down the staining process. Grout colorants can transform the original color of your grout and, in some cases, can act as a form of sealant. Be aware that non-epoxy grout joints should be treated with a silicone sealer. Regular care and maintenance will keep your ceramic tile floors looking their very best for years to come. 

Area Rugs

You should vacuum or sweep your area rug as you would wall-to-wall carpeting. Watch the fringes. You don’t want to have to pull them out of the vacuum cleaner. Handmade area rugs can benefit from being turned over and vacuumed. Lift the rug up carefully and you will see all the dirt that had filtered down.

Turn, Turn, Turn: rotating your rug occasionally (annually) will help even wear patterns and prevent uneven fading. When rugs are exposed to the sun evenly, the colors harmonize and the rug ages nicely. If parts of the rug receive too much or too little of sun, one side might fade faster than the other.

See Spot? Go!: clean your area rug immediately after a spill. A water spill should be dried with a hair dryer set on a warm temperature. Try to dry both sides of the rug if possible. Anything else should first be blotted with paper towels to absorb as much as possible, and then apply salt or baking soda to the spot for a few minutes to absorb the rest. Once it dries, vacuum off the salt or baking soda. Professional grade rug cleaners are available. Be sure to test for color fastness before using. Take the rug to a professional handmade rug cleaner to deal with old or persistent stains. Do not try to clean it yourself. You might make it worse!

Read the Labels and Listen to the Pros: if you purchased a handmade rug, it’s best to have it cleaned by professionals. If you have a machine made rug, look to the manufacturer for the best way to clean it. Some can be machine washed. Others can be scrubbed by hand and dried outside.

Does Your Pad Need Padding?: consult with your retailer about the proper padding to be placed under the rug you choose. A pad can help stabilize and protect your rug. Some rugs come with a non-skid backing or a nice foam padding already attached.

Storing: if your area rug needs to be stored for a long time in a place without exposure to light or air, first vacuum it or get it professionally cleaned. For handmade rugs and those made of natural fibers, you might consider packing it with mothballs to protect against insect damage. Never fold your rug – roll it and store it in a dry location.

Rug Repair – repairing a handmade rug is an art form in and of itself. It is time consuming and labor intensive and therefore, often costly. Get the opinion of a professional before you have work done on a handmade rug – and be sure to use a reputable repairman. 

Stone Flooring

It’s Its Own Worst Enemy: sand, grit, and dirt can damage natural stone surfaces because they are abrasive. Use a vacuum on your floor if it’s textured, but avoid the beater bar. Those bristles are tough and might scratch your flooring. An old-fashioned dust mop works well, as does a broom. Wet mop as needed. 

Be Proactive: walk-off mats or area rugs on either side of entrances from the outside will help collect dirt before it reaches your beautiful new floor. Choose a rug or mat with a non-slip surface.

There’s Clean and There’s Cleaner: Damp mopping your natural stone floor will keep it looking beautiful. But your retailer or manufacturer can suggest special cleaners meant specifically for stone floors. Wipe up spills immediately. Use soap, not detergent, for good-old fashioned mopping. Liquid Ivory or a Castile soap product work well. Too much cleaner or soap may leave a film and cause streaks, so rinse well. Change your rinse water frequently. Don’t use products that contain lemon juice, vinegar or other acids on marble, limestone, or travertine. Avoid abrasive cleaners or any ammonia based cleaners. These products will dull the floor’s luster. Retail grout cleaners, scouring powders or bathroom tub and tile cleaners can mar the finish on your stone. Never mix bleach and ammonia. The combination creates a toxic gas. To remove algae or moss from your stone in outdoor pool, patio or hot tub areas, flush with clear water and use a mild bleach solution. 

Green Flooring 

Green Tips for Adhesives:

  • Choose products with low to no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • Avoid formaldehyde
  • Look for Carpet and Rug Institure’s (CRI) Green Label® or Green Label Plus® certification

Green Tips for Cleaners:

  • Choose products with natural and biodegradable ingredients
  • Consider homemade cleaners using things from the pantry: vinegar, baking, soda, salt, lemon juice, rubbing alcohol, ammonia, or olive oil

Green Tips for the Whole House:

  • Keep caulked areas caulked (caulking prevents the loss of heat or cold air)
  • If you are installing a new floor, make sure that space between the flooring and the door is just right (too much space means you’re heating or cooling the entire outdoors while too little space means you can’t close the door)
  • Consider that space heaters are energy hogs and can generate more than two pounds of greenhouse gas per hour (use them too much and they might make your hardwood floors contract)
  • Choose low or no VOC products whenever you can
  • Insulation is not just for the attic anymore, it can be added between floors for additional saving
  • Choose a retailer that shares your commitment to the environment and knows about all the latest advances in green products.

ConsumerReports.org Buying Guide: Flooring

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Clay Bernard

Getting Started

Begin by considering where the flooring will go and how much traffic, sunlight, and other wear and tear it will get. Vinyl proved tops in our moisture tests and most linoleum. Plastic laminates, and solid wood fared nearly as well. But many engineered woods, as well as some solid woods, and a linoleum product we tested flubbed that test – a serious drawback in a busy kitchen. And while the best vinyls and plastic-laminates fended off wear better than solid wood, they can’t be refinished when worn. 

How to Shop

Before settling on a product, spend a few dollars on two or three samples. That can be a lot less expensive than winding up with flooring that looks great in a catalog or on a website and then awful in your home. Manufacturers generally match most wood or engineered-wood flooring for color or grain. But variations can occur from one batch to the next, so buy the flooring you’ll need all at once. All the plastic-laminate floorboards in a package often have a similar pattern, so you may want to pull from multiple packages to avoid repetition.

To determine how much flooring you’ll need, measure the room’s square footage by multiplying its length times its width. (Divide an irregularly shaped room into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, and then add them together.) Then buy 7 to 10 percent extra to allow for mistakes, bad samples, and waste. You might also want to invest in an extra box of flooring for future repairs or additions. 

Where to Save

One way to save is on overstocks. Also, take advantage of mistakes. You can often save on opened or damaged boxes or on flooring with minor flaws that no one will notice.

Hiring a pro to do the installation? You can trim hundreds of dollars off the job by doing the time-consuming prep work like prying up the old flooring, leveling or filling the subfloor, and removing any baseboard that’s in the way. 

Green Floors That Didn’t Cut It

Bamboo is considered renewable because it’s a fast-growing grass. The best bamboo floorings we tested area stranded products such as the EcoTimber solid and Teragren engineered flooring, which are made of fibers that are shredded and compressed for strength. Cork floors are made of tree bark in a process that doesn’t kill trees.

Know How Rough You’ll Be

The best products in every category were also the best overall in our simulated foot-traffic tests. For less busy kitchens, you may want to consider the top engineered wood or bamboo, with its blend of natural veneer and easy installation.

Pick a Factory Finish

Prefinished wood and bamboo floors cost about 40 percent more than unfinished products. But you’re likely to save overall because a factory finish tends to last longer-and paying a pro to apply the finish adds costs, mess, and hassle. Factory finishes are also warranted by the manufacturer. 

Check for Certification

Vinyl floors with the industry’s FloorScore certification emit relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds, substances linked to health problems and pollution. All vinyl we recommend has that certification. For wood flooring, certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative offers some assurance that it comes from responsibly managed forests, a plus for the planet. The product and manufacturer must be certified; check the packaging. 

When You Get it Home

Before installing wood or laminate flooring, unpack it and let it sit for one to three days in the space where it will be installed so that its temperature and moisture match the levels in the room.

Keeping New Floors Looking Good

If you need to heat the room soon after installation, raise the temperature gradually over the course of a week – especially if you have radiant heat – to allow the flooring to adjust. Sweep or vacuum floors with a soft broom or brush, and clean with a damp but not overly wet mop. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for recommended cleaning products. And put felt pads under furniture to prevent scratching. 

Types of Flooring

Though you’ll find a growing array of styles, most flooring falls into one of these six types. The type of flooring you choose will depend on your taste, needs, and budget.

Solid Wood

Photo: Mohawk Solid Wood in Oak ButterscotchAdvantages include its natural warmth and the ability to be sanded and refinished several times, along with impressive wear resistance for some. But except for the best solid bamboo, all the solid-wood products we tested dented easily, and some wore quickly and became discolored from sunlight. Pre-finished floors should hold up better than those finished on site, and their warranty comes from the factory, not the installer. But you may not like the beveled edges on many pre-finished products. While unfinished flooring costs about 40 percent less, higher installation costs can offset those savings, since the floor must be sanded and finished over several days to seal it from moisture. Wood flooring shouldn’t go in basements and other damp spaces. 

Engineered Wood

Photo: Mohawk Engineered Wood in Oak Natural

This flooring uses a thin veneer of real wood or bamboo over structural plywood. Most engineered wood doesn’t wear as well as solid wood or plastic laminate. It also dents easily, and small spills can damage it. Most can be carefully refinished once, but the veneer on some may be too thin. 

Plastic Laminate

Photo: Mannington Laminate in Black Forest Oak

Generally made of dense fiberboard with a photo beneath a clear plastic protective layer, laminate can mimic nearly anything from oak to marble. Some brands use real cork beneath the clear layer. But the repetitive pattern on some products compromises realism. The best laminates resist scratching, denting, and discoloration from sunlight better than most wood products, but as with engineered wood, a big spill can cause damage. You may be able to touch up minor flaws, but you’ll have to replace the flooring when its outer layer wears through. 

Vinyl

Photo: Shaw Resilient Vinyl Tile in Grey Skies

This option can be especially good at fending off wear, dents, scratches, discoloration from sunlight, and stains. Easy installation is another plus, especially for tiles or planks, as are more color and design choices than before. Premium vinyl does a better job of imitating stone, tile, and even oak, but even the best products still look like vinyl. And the best can cost at least as much as the best solid wood and laminate floors. 

Linoleum

Photo: Armstrong Linoleum in Firebird Red

Made of linseed oil and wood products, linoleum is a natural, resilient material. Today’s products offer far more styles and colors. Linoleum tends to fend off discoloration from sunlight, but resistance to wear, scratches, dents and moisture has varied widely in our tests from product to product. Linoleum can also be relatively expensive. 

Ceramic Tile

Photo: Shaw Ceramic Tile In Cappuccino

This classic material tends to resist wear, moisture, scratches, dents, and stains. But tiles can crack and grout can stain, and dropped cups and dishes break more easily on its hard surface. It’s also relatively expensive and hard to install. While some can now be floated without the usual cement and grout, that makes replacing cracked tiles a challenge. 

Flooring Features

Different flooring materials require different installation techniques. Homeowners install about half of all flooring. Floated floors that go down without glue or fasteners are easiest. In the case of vinyl, planks or tiles; they are easier to install than sheets. 

  • Nail- or Staple-Down Installation: These are the methods of choice with solid wood and engineered wood over a wood subfloor. Standard, ¾-inch-thick solid-wood strip and plank flooring is traditionally nailed to the subfloor; thinner solid or engineered material is almost always stapled. The fasteners are usually driven diagonally through the tongue side of the material and into the subfloor (blind-nailed) so they are invisible once the floor is finished. Solid flooring can also be nailed straight through the surface (face-nailed) with decorative cut nails or fastened with screws, which are typically countersunk and concealed with wood plugs. Installers often sandwich a layer of 15-pound felt or rosin paper between the subfloor and floor to prevent moisture between the two and to deaden sound.

  • Floating Installation: This works with engineered wood, plastic laminate, linoleum and some ceramic tile over a wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring. Tongue-and-groove planks or tiles lock together mechanically. Some products must also be glued together at the joints. The material generally goes over a thin foam or cork pad, which fills minor flaws in the subfloor and absorbs sound. Installations over concrete require a thin plastic vapor barrier.

  • Glue-Down Installation: Engineered wood, vinyl, linoleum, and tiles are typically glued. You trowel adhesive onto a clean, flat, wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring and lay down the sheets, planks, or tiles. No vapor barrier is required. Some glue-down flooring is simply peel-and-stick, the easiest to install. You’ll also find vinyl flooring in sheets and easier-to-install tiles.

Flooring Brands

The national flooring brands listed below are sold by home centers and specialty flooring retailers. Use these profiles to compare flooring by brand. 

Armstrong manufactures flooring under the well-recognized brand names Armstrong and Bruce, and the speciality brand Robbins. Armstrong is also the brand leader in vinyl sheet and vinyl-tile flooring, dominating the category with more than 40 percent of sales. The Armstrong brand also includes wood and laminate, a line of linoleum flooring, and has recently added ceramic tile. 

Mannington is a one-stop floor manufacture with products in every flooring category. They are among the top three leading vinyl flooring brands and have a foothold in wood, laminate, and porcelain tile. A recent innovation is the Adura Luxury line of premium vinyl tile and planks that mimic the look of hardwood and ceramic tile. Mannington is available only through speciality flooring stores. 

This leading carpet manufacturer crossed over to hard-surface flooring through acquisitions and partnerships and now offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring.

Mohawk sells stone flooring under the American Olean brand and laminate under the Quick-Step brand. Their Dal-Tile brand accounts for half of the ceramic tile category sales.

In vinyl, Mohawk distributes the Congoleum brand through its vast dealer network. Mohawk flooring is sold through mass home centers and specialty floor stores and is one of the few flooring manufacturers that takes part directly at retail by licensing its trade names – Mohawk Floorz and Mohawk FloorScapes – to locally owned flooring specialty dealers. 

This leading carpet manufacturer now offers wood, laminate, and ceramic-tile flooring; it recently expanded its presence in wood through the acquisition of Anderson Flooring. Shaw is available through home-center chains and specialty flooring stores and has its own retail programs – Shaw Design Center and Shaw Flooring Alliance that offer local dealers expanded product lines, display assistance, and training.

Tarkett

Originally a European manufacturer of linoleum, Tarkett is now among the largest flooring manufacturers worldwide. Tarkett offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring under its own brand, and luxury vinyl tile from Nafco. Tarket also makes FiberFloor, a water-resistant flooring that combines the qualities of carpet and vinyl. Tarkett is available through mass home centers and specialty flooring retailers. 

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Showroom

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