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How to Clean
Hardwood Floors

October 10, 2016

Nothing brings warmth and beauty to traditional and contemporary homes like natural and synthetic hardwood floors. Hardwood flooring’s most significant benefits are durability and longevity, but even the finest hardwood floors require cleaning and maintenance.

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. Take it from us—we’ve cleaned hardwood floors and almost everything else in thousands of homes. Here’s the best way to clean hardwood floors and keep them looking new longer.

Why Proper Cleaning is Essential for Hardwood Floors

Hardwood flooring isn’t inexpensive, so maintaining and cleaning hardwood floors will help them last longer. Cleaning your floors regularly will keep them looking beautiful and minimize the wear and tear they endure from dirt and dust. As long as you follow a few simple steps and use a safe cleaning solution, you can protect your hardwood floors from buildup and moisture.

Cleaning your hardwood floors also helps protect your family and guests. Think of the pollutants and contaminants that find their way into your home on the soles of shoes. Aside from the dirt and grime that dull our floors, there are plenty of germs that can cause illness. When you clean your hardwood floors regularly, you’re cleaning for health by minimizing the spread of germs.

The Best Hardwood Floor Cleaners

Maintenance and hardwood floor cleaning don’t require special ingredients and methods. Because hardwood floors are made from natural materials, knowing what cleaners to avoid is just as important as knowing what to use to clean hardwood floors.

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 your type of hardwood, its finish, and the manufacturer’s suggested cleaning and maintenance recommendations. Many synthetic floors look like natural 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 for most surfaces, 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? Your best bet is a DIY hardwood floor cleaner made with safe, simple ingredients. Commercial hardwood floor cleaners often contain harsh chemicals that can create respiratory issues, irritate skin and eyes, and other health problems.

Here’s what you need to make a safe and natural hardwood floor cleaning solution at home:

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    • Spray bottle
    • 4 cups of distilled water
    • 1 teaspoon pure castile soap
    • Lemon juice or your favorite essential oil

Mix the water, castile soap, and your choice of fragrance in the spray bottle. Shake the cleaning solution vigorously, grab your mop, and you’re ready to go. If your home has a lot of hardwood floors, you can adjust the recipe and use a bucket of water.

Cleaning Hardwood Floors the Right Way

In most cases, the best hardwood floor cleaners are ones you make with naturally mild ingredients found in most homes. The best mop for cleaning your hardwood floors is a microfiber flat-head mop you can easily wring out. It’s easy to control the moisture in the mop, and the microfiber weave captures dirt and grime better than traditional mops.

Going with the grain of the wood, spray a light mist of your homemade floor 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 dull, you can use a clean, dry microfiber mop to buff back the shine.

Routine Cleaning and Maintenance of Hardwood Floors

Sweep Daily

Sweeping daily is a critical step in regularly maintaining 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 the 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).

Other Tips and Tricks for Cleaning Hardwood Floors

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.

Remove Hardwood Floor Stains

Spills and accidents are inevitable, so be prepared to handle stains on your hardwood floors. Modern flooring is designed to be much more stain resistant than in the past, so most spills won’t require a lot of work if you act fast. Remember to get up spills right away, especially liquids like wine or fruit drinks.

Since you want to avoid the harsh chemicals in a commercial hardwood floor stain remover, turn to the old standby, hydrogen peroxide. The mild bleaching action of this natural product is ideal for removing stains from porous surfaces like hardwood floors. Dampen a clean white cloth with hydrogen peroxide and cover the stain for a few hours.

Keep Hardwood Floors Shiny Between Cleanings

In addition to sweeping regularly, dry mop your hardwood floors daily with a microfiber dust mop. The microfiber technology will attract dust, dirt, and other contaminants and trap them for easy removal. Hardwood floors that have been well maintained will naturally shine when dirt and dust don’t get in the way.

    • Add wood polishing to your cleaning routine to protect your hardwood floors and keep that like-new shine longer.
    • Give your floors a deep cleaning every quarter or so with this natural wood polish recipe for a brilliant finish.
    • Mix 1 gallon of hot water, 1 cup of olive oil, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a bucket.
    • Use a damp microfiber mop to apply your homemade polish and let it dry for a shiny surface.

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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