The technique of using tea to clean hardwood floors came from Pinterest. Someone linked to a photo from DIYNetwork, I clicked and found instructions for a very eco-friendly floor cleaner. Similar instructions can be found in eHow, About, Tipnut and HGTV: Soak teabags in boiling water, cool a bit, pour into a bucket, dip in the mop or rag, wring until just damp and clean the floor. Simple, cheap and chemical free. One caveat: use only on hardwood floor (solid non-softwood), not on laminated flooring (compressed particleboards).
We have parquet flooring in the the dining room, stairs and the entire second story of the house. Strictly speaking, parquet consists of pieces of solid wood and when we bought this house, we were told that narra (Pterocarpus indicus) parquet was installed. Narra is a hardwood. Real narra is termite resistant. The flooring in the bedrooms at my parents’ house is made with solid narra planks, the house is almost 50 years old and the floors are still good and beautiful.
But while it is easy to tell hardwood from softwood when the flooring is made with planks, it’s not so easy to judge with smaller pieces like parquet. These days, well, let’s put it this way. Furniture makers use the term “Philippine mahogany” so loosely that you don’t know exactly what you’re getting — you may not be getting real mahogany at all. In the same way, when parquet flooring is labeled as “narra parquet”, it doesn’t follow that it is real narra. Call it modern business practice, call it sleaze, call it whatever you like — that’s the reality. And unless you’re an expert, you can’t tell by just looking or handling the pieces. Not knowing what our parquet flooring is made of exactly, I’d rather not even suggest using tea to clean it.
But all that is an aside. What really got me about using tea to clean hardwood floors is just what is it about tea that makes it a good floor cleaner. The articles linked to above all mention tannic acid which, according to the articles, is naturally present in tea. Huh? There must be a mistake, surely? Tannic acid is used for staining wood and leather. Food grade tannic acid is used to color and clarify softdrinks and beer. But tannic acid naturally present in tea? I don’t think so.
I read one article after another for about half an hour and it appears that the claims that tannic acid is naturally present in tea stems from the loose and interchangeable use of “tannic acid” with “tannin”. They are not the same. Tea has tannin, not tannic acid.
Tannin is a biomolecular component of many plants including tea and hardwood trees. Tannic acid, made from plant tannins, is the lab-manufactured synthetic form of tannin.
So, what is it about the tannin in tea that makes tea a good hardwood floor cleaner? I still don’t know. Tannin is an astringent. No, don’t think in terms of mouthwash. Astringent is a chemical compound that binds proteins and amino acids. How that applies to hardwood floor to make it shiny, I really don’t know.
But does the tea solution really make hardwood shiny? Okay, we have hardwood furniture and, tomorrow, I will clean them using the tea solution. Then, I’ll update this post with the result.