How to clean hardwood floors

There’s nothing that brings warmth and beauty to traditional and contemporary homes like hardwood floors. Durability and longevity are hardwood flooring’s greatest benefits, but even the finest hardwood floors must be cleaned and maintained properly.

Learning how to clean hardwood floors isn’t difficult—as long as you use the right wood floor cleaner and follow these tips, you’ll be a pro in no time. Here’s the best way to clean hardwood floors and keep them looking new longer.

What’s the Best Wood Floor Cleaner?

Keeping even exotic hardwood floors clean and maintained doesn’t require special ingredients and methods. Because hardwood floors are made from natural materials, knowing what not to use on wood floors is just as important as knowing what to clean hardwood floors with.

Commercial wood floor cleaner ingredients can vary, but it’s essential to avoid cleaners that aren’t pH-neutral or aren’t specifically designed for your flooring. The Key is to know the type of hardwood and how it’s finished to choose the right commercial cleaner, and always, always, always read the label on the cleaner to be sure. Many synthetic floors look like real hardwood, and they are not! So make sure you do the research before cleaning.

Although natural cleaners like distilled white vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda are safe and effective all over the house, they aren’t safe for hardwood floors. The same goes for too much moisture. You should never steam clean your hardwood floors or use too much water with any wood floor cleaner. Skip oils, waxes, furniture sprays, or anything with ammonia.

So now that you know what not to use on your hardwood floors, what is the best wood floor cleaner?

How to Clean Wood Floors the Right Way

In most homes, the best wood floor cleaner is plain old soap and water, and the only tools you need are a broom, vacuum, and mop. The best mop for wood floors is a microfiber flat-head or string mop you can easily wring out. You can control the amount of moisture in the mop, and the microfibers pick up dirt and grime better than some traditional mops.

Mix one tablespoon dish soap and one quart of water in a spray bottle. Going with the grain of the wood, spray a light mist of your cleaning solution onto about a 3×3 area and start mopping. Remember, water and moisture can damage hardwood floors, so you only want just enough cleaner to get the job done. Move across the floor backward as you mop to prevent walking on the wet floor. There’s no need to rinse; just let your hardwood floors dry. If they look a little dull, you can use a clean, dry microfiber mop to buff back the shine.

Routine Cleaning and Maintenance for Hardwood Floors

Sweep Daily

Sweeping daily is a critical step in the regular maintenance of your hardwood floors. Small particles from your shoes will carry through your home and can easily scratch the wood’s surface. A good broom with soft, durable bristles is a wise investment to get the job done.

Vacuum the Floorboards

Unlike what most people think, the vacuum is not just for carpet. Use your vacuum extender attachments and round brush accessory to suck up the dust bunnies along the baseboards, as well as the particles between the floorboards that may have been missed while sweeping. Remember: Bits and bobs might not seem like a big deal, but those pieces could end up scratching the wood.

Wash or Wax Surfaces

Your floor’s surface seal will determine the best method of cleaning. Here’s the quick rule of thumb:

  • Use simple soap and water if your floors are surface sealed.
  • Wax if you have oil-treated or untreated floors.

Surface-Sealed Floors

Surface-sealed floors are sealed with urethane, polyurethane, or polyacrylic to make them stain and water-damage resistant. Your floor installer has likely recommended a floor-cleaning product to use for cleaning, but sometimes it’s not possible to use those products either due to cost or availability. If this is the case for your own floors, your best solution is soap and water.

Plain soap is mild enough that it won’t dull or scratch your finish like other abrasive cleaners will. Just add a quarter cup of dishwashing soap to a bucket of water and start mopping. Make sure you wring the mop out completely before using it on your floors, because even though your floor has been sealed, excessive water is still tough on wood.

If you look up how to clean hardwood floors, you might see advice about adding vinegar to the water. While some people swear by this, we wouldn’t recommend it. The acidity in the vinegar can dull the wood over time. Stick to good ole fashioned soap and water. And here’s a pro-tip for you: Use distilled water instead of tap if you want to prevent streaks on the floors.

Oil-Treated or Untreated Floors

Penetrating-seal, oil-treated, lacquered, shellacked, varnished, and untreated floors require a bit more labor-intensive upkeep since these surfaces are not as resistant to moisture and general wear and tear, and therefore are generally treated with wax.
Here’s how to shine a hardwood floor that’s untreated: About once a year, use a floor stripper to safely remove the old wax from the panels. Once the floor has dried, apply a thin coat of new wax and let the fresh layer dry. For the best results, use a liquid wax or paste wax that is specifically designed for wood floors (acrylic or water-based waxes can discolor your woodwork).

Preventative Care Tips

Preventative care makes all the difference in the world when it comes to an investment like hardwood floors. Here are some tips to remember:

  • Put floor protectors on your furniture legs. These are pieces of felt that stick on the bottom of your couch or chair legs so they don’t scratch the floor when you bump or move them.
  • Take off your shoes when you enter the house. While you might think this rule only applies to carpeted floors, the bits of rock and debris under your shoes can easily scratch your wood flooring.
  • It’s not just your feet that you should worry about. Trim your dog’s nails so those paws don’t leave scratches in the wood.
  • Be just as cautious with wine spills on wood floors as carpet. The wine can warp the wood if left too long.
  • Sop up excess water that might spill on your floor. Sure, it will dry on its own, but prolonged exposure can damage the soft wood.

Now that you know how to clean hardwood floors, check out our library of professional cleaning guides and start planning your next project. Whether it’s through our professional how-to’s or one of our popular residential cleaning services, The Maids wants your home to be a cleaner, healthier place to live. Find out more and get your free estimate today.


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