How to Clean Laminate Wood Floors

An empty room with a clean laminate floor
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Laminate floors are attractive, low maintenance, and easy to install. They enhance the value of your home and they help you add a floor covering to your home for less money than you would spend on solid hardwood or engineered wood flooring. Yet for all of laminate flooring's stellar qualities, cleaning presents a unique set of problems: laminate floors and liquids (such as water or cleaning fluids) do not mix.

Liquids vs. Laminate Flooring

Water is known as the universal solvent. Yet laminate flooring and water are a poor combination. This applies not just to water but to any liquid, including cleaning fluids.

Every maintenance guide that comes with laminate flooring warns the owner to clean up spills immediately. Water can safely pool on top of a laminate floorboard, as long as it remains above the plastic wear layer and within the confines of the board—a rare event.

Should the water move to a seam, there is a risk of the water working its way down the seam and to the fiberboard core. When the fiberboard core takes on enough water, it will swell. Unlike some other types of flooring, laminate flooring will not return to its original dimensions after the water has dried. Not only that, the wear layer and the image layers may begin to peel away.

Facing those types of risks means that you need to be vigilant about keeping your laminate flooring and its core well away from all penetrating liquids. With laminate flooring, you need a two-step method of dry-cleaning followed by damp cleaning, along with a few different cleaning tools.

Begin by Dry-Cleaning the Laminate Floor

It is difficult to stress the importance of using dry-cleaning methods on laminate flooring before using liquids. Other types of flooring greatly benefit from picking up debris with dry methods like a broom or vacuum before using the wet mop. But with laminate flooring, the initial dry-cleaning step is essential to effectively cleaning the floor while preserving it. Your goal is to pare back the quantity of liquid used on your laminate floor to the absolute minimum, and dry-cleaning helps you do that.

Cleaning tools that help with the dry-cleaning stage include:

  • Clean, soft-bristled broom to be used only indoors
  • Clean dustpan used only indoors
  • Dry mop, such as a Swiffer with Dry Cloth Refills
  • Vacuum with a bare floor setting and a hose with attachments

Run the vacuum on its lowest setting for bare floors to pick up large debris. Sweep the floor with the broom and collect the remaining debris with the dustpan. Sweep from the edges inward.

Laminate flooring often has a static electricity problem. Blame the static on laminate's top transparent wear layer that rests on the visual (photographic) layer and its moisture-hungry core of flaked particleboard wood. It helps to use an electrostatic-free cleaner like Swiffer Dry Cloth refills, especially if you are mopping in weather conditions that encourage static electricity.

With the vacuum, switch to the hose and attachments to vacuum the corners, edges, and other tight places that the broom and vacuum were not able to reach.

Follow by Damp-Mopping the Laminate Floor

After dry-cleaning, no visible debris should be littering the laminate floor. But if you kneel down and run your hand or a white cloth across the floor, you will likely pick up a thin layer of dust or dirt. Damp-mopping will get your flooring squeaky clean.

Unlike damp-mopping liquid-tolerant floorings such as vinyl flooring or tile flooring, damp-mopping laminate flooring requires an ultra-dry damp mop.

Homemade Cleaning Fluid

To save money, you can damp mop with ammonia. Add between 2 ounces and 4 ounces of ammonia to warm water, soak the mop, and then thoroughly wring out the mop. The mop must feel almost dry if you press your hand to it.

Laminate Floor Cleaner

Another damp-mop method is to use a dedicated laminate floor cleaner such as Black Diamond. Operating since 1997, Black Diamond receives consistently high ratings from users. Spray onto a microfiber mop head or directly onto the laminate floor itself, but very lightly. Laminate floor cleaners often can be used for solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring.

Wet Mopping Pads

Another popular method is to use a Swiffer WetJet with disposable mopping pad refills. One value to Swiffer is that the cleaning fluid and mop assembly are one, making this a single-step process. By pressing a button on the mop handle, you dispense Swiffer-brand cleaning fluid to the floor. 

While Swiffer does not have a laminate-only cleaning fluid, its Swiffer WetJet Multi-Surface Cleaner Solution does include laminate floors. Be care with Swiffers, though, as it is still possible to deliver too much cleaning fluid on the flooring.

Tip: Close Laminate Floor Plank Gaps to Prevent Damage

Laminate flooring's particle wood core resists water only when the planks are tightly locked, allowing no moisture to seep downward. Some laminate floors inadvertently have open seams. If your floor has developed gaps near high moisture areas, such as around the kitchen sink or dishwasher, close those gaps to avoid damage to the floor.  

To permanently fix this area, run a thin bead of carpenter's glue in the gap, push the boards together, and then quickly wipe off the excess glue. Lay a strip of painter's tape over the fix until the glue has dried.

Avoid These Laminate Floor Cleaning Mistakes

No Wet Mops

Wet mops of the same saturation as you might use for a vinyl or concrete floor should be avoided at all times. Keep anything but the driest damp mop away from your floor.

No Waxes or Polishes

Never use waxes or polishes on your laminate floor. Your floor's surface treatment is already built into the wear layer.

No Abrasives

Abrasive cleaners or anything remotely abrasive should be kept away from your laminate floor. This includes cleaners like Clorox or Bon Ami. While your laminate floor's wear layer is surprisingly good at avoiding fine scratches, abrasive cleaners will dull it down.

No Steam Cleaning

Steam cleaners are unnecessary on laminate floors and possibly even detrimental. However, if you have a problem spot that is confined to a small area that spans only one floorboard and​ you are judicious about dispensing moisture to the surface, you may want to try using the hand-held attachment.