How To Clean Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors are a great investment in your home, but unless you clean them the right way, they can start to look dull and dirty pretty quickly.

They’re easy to care for, but you need to know how to clean them correctly to avoid damaging them. This page is going to show you how to do it right and help you keep them in pristine condition for a very long time.

Sweeping Is Great But It’s Not Enough

You may already sweep your hardwood floors daily, but sweeping doesn’t actually get much dirt off the floor. Of course you end up with a pile of dust in your dustpan when you’re done, but your broom is leaving a lot of dirt behind.

For the most part sweeping simply moves dirt around on the surface of the hardwood. It also lets particles of dirt and dust settle into the tiny grooves in the surface of your wooden floors, and if your broom bristles are dirty you risk scratching the protectinve polyurethane of your floor. If you do sweep, choose a broom with soft bristles and give it a good shake outside on a regular basis.

If Sweeping Isn’t Enough What Should You Do?

A better option for daily cleaning is to use a lightweight stick vacuum designed for use on hardwood floors. They are light enough that they won’t gouge the wood like a heavy upright can and they also lack stiff bristles that can scuff the finish.

Consider investing in a decent cordless stick vac for daily use. They are versatile, lightweight, practical, and inexpensive.

Related: 5 First-Rate Stick Vacs For Hardwood Floors & Carpeting

You can find cordless stick vacuums by many of the same manufacturers that produce the sturdy, hardworking uprights. From Dyson to Bissell (with numerous names in between), you have plenty to choose from. Just make sure that you choose a model designed for use on hardwood floors and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the best results from the machine.

Why You Should Never Use Your Upright Vacuum To Clean Hardwood Even If You Can Turn Off The Beater Bar

Uprights are heavy and have small wheels. The wheels on most upright vacuum cleaners can easily scuff and damage the floor’s surface. If you don’t want to buy a stick vac, a canister vacuum can be good too, though they’re usually a little more inconvenient since they tend to be corded and you have to carry the canister in one hand and the vacuum head in the other.

Related: Worried your current vacuum may be doing more harm than good? Here’s everything you need to know.

What About Dry Mopping?

A green dry mop.

This is a dry mop and it works way better than a broom for hardwood.

You can also use a dry mop if you don’t have a vacuum of any sort, but you’ll want to make sure you use one with a cloth that attracts and traps dust particles. Microfiber is the most popular material, but cotton works well, too. If you don’t own a stick or canister vac always use a clean dry mop to get the most dust and dirt up before you use a damp mop.

When using your dry mop/dust mop, be sure to keep the cloth on the floor. This causes friction and static, which will help make the dust cling to the cloth. By keeping the cloth against the floor, you also keep the dust trapped and prevent it from returning back to the area you just swept.

How To Mop Hardwood Hardwood Floors

It may be tempting to grab an ordinary string mop and a bucket of soapy water, but for wood floors, a string wet mop is the enemy. That’s why you’ll want to use a flat mop instead. This will let you get the dirt and debris off your floors without over-wetting them and risking damage to the wood itself.

Best Mop For Wood Floors

A flat mop is the best type for cleaning hardwood. A swiffer is a flat mop but there are better options than a Swiffer with disposable pads.

A flat mop with machine washable pads.

You can buy a flat mop cleaning kit we pre-moistened pads, which is a fine choice because they are very convenient and cheap, or buy a flat mop and a spray bottle of hardwood cleaning solution.

My preference is a flat mop with machine washable microfiber pads. They may cost you a little more up front but will save you money in the long run. They also give fliexibility by letting you use any bottled cleaning solution you want.

How To Choose The Right Hardwood Floor Cleaner

When you choose a cleaner you need to know what type of finish your hardwood has. Your floor will either be surface sealed, lacquered/varnished/shellacked, untreated, or have a penetrating sealer.

Most common, and more than likely what you have, is a surface sealed floor that has been coated with polyurethane. It’s the easiest to maintain–just dust, clean, and carry on with life. If you know that your floor is coated with polyurethane click this link to skip the next couple paragraphs and get right to the appropriate cleaning products.

Penetrating sealers can show smudges much more easily. They need to be protected with an occasional coat of wax. Shellacked/varnished and untreated floors are both especially sensitive to moisture. You’ll probably need to use a liquid or paste wax on these after cleaning, too. You’ll also want to take care not to use any harsh abrasives or apply too much liquid when cleaning them or you could risk damaging them.

If you aren’t sure what finish you have, run your finger across the surface. If it leaves a smudge, you likely have a floor that’s been sealed with an oil finish, shellac, varnish, lacquer, or penetrating seal. If it doesn’t leave a mark, it’s probably sealed with polyurethane, polyacrylic, or urethane, which are easier to clean than other sealants because, as surface-sealed floors, they resist moisture better.

Best Hardwood Floor Cleaner

A spray bottle of Bona professional series hardwood floor cleaner.

Most cleaners already have agents in them designed to leave the floor shiny so it’s not really necessary to do any polishing or buffing. Bona has a hardwood floor cleaning kit that I prefer to use. It’s non-toxic and works on all hardwood floor types. Swiffer also makes a hardwood floor cleaner. Most people have a preference–just try a few and see which cleaner you prefer.

If you can get your hands on it Bona has a professional series of products that is better than the stuff sold at local home improvement stores. It’s usually available on Amazon but they aren’t always the cheapest. Last time I got it from Zoro.com, but I only threw it in my cart to get over $50 to qualify for free shipping.

If you have a small area to clean, you can just spray on cleaner and wipe it up with a clean microfiber cloth. Damp mop style cleaners are more common and often have a built-in sprayer for distributing the cleaner. Vacuum daily, then you’ll only have to use a damp mop once a week or so.

Pro Tip:If you don’t have a sprayer, apply the cleaning solution to your mop or cloth instead of pouring it directly on the floor.

DIY Wood Floor Cleaners

In a pinch, you might want to make your own hardwood floor cleaner. There are plenty of homemade ‘recipes’ on the internet that are supposed to save you money or be all natural options, and many of these claim that vinegar is safe to use. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Vinegar, ammonia, and other acidic substances can strip away the top protective layer of your flooring, causing it to etch over time. By the time you notice the damage, it’s too late.

All you need to make your own cleanser is a mild, pH balanced dish soap and warm water. Castile soap is a good choice, but any pH-balanced liquid soap will help cut through the grime without damaging the surface. Over time liquid soap does leave a residue so only use it in a pinch, and stick to the cleansers that are designed to be used on hardwood as often as you can.

Mopping Tips To Make Sure Your Floor Comes Out Perfect Every Time

When it comes to damp-mopping, less is more. Less moisture is better because it won’t seep into the natural crevices of your wood grain and cause it to swell or expand. If all you have is a wet mop, make sure you completely wring out the mop before applying it to the floor. Mop in the direction of the grain–this prevents excess moisture from being forced into the wood grain–and change the water as it gets dirty. Wipe or blot up any excess liquid as soon as you can to prevent damage.

If you notice small hairline cracks in your floor, don’t panic. Wood expands and contracts with changes in temperature. It contracts during colder temperatures, then relaxes when it warms up. Using a humidifier during the winter can help prevent these, but it’s not necessary. These small cracks will likely disappear when the weather warms up, but if they don’t, or if you think the damage is more severe, contact a professional to assess whether or not repairs are in order.

If you have really dirty spots, use a cloth and clean them by hand. Spot cleaning can also help make short work of your weekly floor cleaning sessions and help keep your wood looking great between cleanings.

After cleaning you can buff them for that extra bit of shine and help you see any spots you might have missed. Old-fashioned cloth diapers work well for this, but inexpensive microfiber cloths are my favorite. I use them all around the home.

If you vacuum or sweep daily and use a damp ‘dust’ mop, you can save the more intensive cleanings for every couple of months, maybe even less often, depending on your floor’s foot traffic.

Have you been skimming this page?

I understand, this page is long and packed with a lot of info but I want to be sure you didn’t miss the most important parts. This 3 minute video will quickly bring you up to speed. It’s from Armstrong so they recommend Armstrong cleaning products, which are perfectly fine, and their care and cleaning advice is universal.

How To Polish Hardwood Floors

If you’re caring for your floors properly you won’t feel the need to polish them very often. Doing this more than three or four times a year is probably overkill as long as you’re vacuuming regularly.

You can use a polish to restore some of the shine that slowly fades over time. Doing this when your floor doesn’t need it isn’t going to make it better, as a matter of fact doing it too often can start to leave a build-up. You want to keep the shine, not create a buildup of product, so don’t overdo it and be sure to buy use a polish that’s designed not to leave a residue. If you haven’t figured it out by now we are Bona fans so of course this is what we recommend.

If you want to learn more about polishing Bona has a detailed article devoted to the topic on their website.

Removing stains and scratches

Sometimes, you need a little more than just a clean. If you happen to find that you have a scuff, scratch, or stain, there are several things you can try. Many commercial floor cleaners can help with some stains, but you may have to resort to more drastic measures in some cases.

For oily stains, try using a dish soap like Dawn on a clean cloth. Rub the soap into the stain, then rinse with clean water on a clean cloth. Repeat as necessary to remove the oil.

Minor scuffs can sometimes be removed by using the eraser end of a pencil. Wipe the mark with a clean, damp sponge, then lightly ‘erase’ the scuff. If that doesn’t work try rubbing a clean tennis ball with the grain of the wood, but never ever use sandpaper. Sandpaper will quickly remove the protective poly coating and expose bare wood.

If your floor is horribly scraatched or the bare wood is showing through in some areas consult a professional about getting the floor restored. Trying to do it yourself can often make the problem worse and end up costing you more money in the long run.

7 Ways To Protect Your Floor From damage

Whatever type of wood floor you have, one thing remains true. They’ll take a lot of abuse from daily use, but this doesn’t mean they have to look like they’ve been through a war. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to prevent costly damage to your hardwood floors.

  • Use rugs or mats in doorways to cut down on the the dirt and grime that gets tracked in. Dirt tracked on the bottom of shoes can cause tiny scratches in your wood's surface, but a rug or mat can help minimize this.
  • Place furniture pads on the bottom of chairs and tables. This will make them glide smoothly across the floor's surface instead of dragging and causing scratches. You can buy these at most furniture stores and hardware stores.
  • Keep pets' nails trimmed to avoid scratches. Also, high heels and soccer cleats can do a lot of damage very quickly, so ban them on your hardwood. In fact, consider making your hardwood floors a 'no shoes' zone. This will considerably reduce the dirt tracked in and limit the time you need to spend cleaning them.
  • Vacuum regularly, daily, if you can. This will keep the dirt and grit down to a minimum and reduce the chance for scratches on the surface of the floor.
  • Use floor mats in high traffic areas, especially the kitchen. Near the sink is one place you might want a mat--a dropped pan can cause a lot of damage on bare hardwood, but a mat can help protect the surface.
  • Watch out for products that contain vinegar, ammonia, wax, or polish. These can dull the surface of your floors over time. If you aren't sure whether one of these are in your cleaner, try spraying a little bit on a window. If it dries with a residue or film, use something else.
  • Consider refinishing a dull hardwood floor. Age can strip the brightness out of the wood's surface and with enough foot traffic will remove the protective coating completely. A professional sanding and refinishing can breathe new life into old wood so you can start over with a clean slate.
Page Last Updated On Jan 1, 2019 by Scott Jenkins