The Best Way to Clean Wood Floors

a microfiber mop on a wood floor

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Project Overview
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  • Skill Level: Beginner

Wood floors add warmth and a unique look to all home decor styles, and most are easy to care for if appropriately cleaned to maintain the shine. But, frequent foot traffic tracks in dirt and grime, which builds up on hardwood floors, making them look dingy, and if you have pets, then dust bunnies are probably multiplying daily.

Aesthetics aside, you need to keep floors clean because it's safer and healthier for you. A thin sheet of dirt or dust can make wood floors slippery and a fall hazard. Dust and dust mites accumulate, triggering asthma and respiratory conditions.

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Watch Now: The Simple Method to Make Hardwood Floors Shine

How Often to Clean Hardwood Floors

To keep the finish bright and clean, wood floors should be swept, vacuumed, or dust mopped daily, and you should clean up spills as soon as they happen. You should do a more thorough floor cleaning weekly or monthly, depending on how much use the floors get.

Before You Begin

The main thing to determine before you start cleaning is your type of flooring: solid hardwood flooring, engineered hardwood flooring, or laminate wood-look flooring. They look very similar but care for laminate differs from solid or engineered hardwood. Solid and engineered hardwood flooring can receive the same cleaning regimen but never use hardwood floor cleaners on laminate since the oil and waxes in the ingredients can dull the surface.

Types of Wood and Wood-like Flooring

  • Solid hardwood flooring: This flooring is installed in planks or strips and left natural or treated with a wood stain. The flooring can be any hardwood (oak, maple, teak, walnut, ash) cut from one solid piece of wood.
  • Engineered hardwood flooring: This flooring is manufactured by gluing together several thin plies of hardwood. The layers are stacked with the grains running in different directions to strengthen the floor pieces. The surface layer can be a thin veneer or a thicker layer of hardwood that can be sanded and refinished over time.
  • Laminate wood-look flooring: This flooring contains no hardwood. The surface is a photographic image of wood covered by a thick layer of melamine resin over fiberboard.

Tools for Cleaning Hardwood Floors

The tools you use to clean can vary. A soft-bristled broom is the best choice for removing crumbs and grit from hardwood floors while preventing additional scratches. The bristles can be made from nylon or rubber. Both types of bristles are static-charged and help to grab particles. Use a dustpan or hand vacuum to grab the accumulated soil.

Microfiber mop heads attract dust better than cotton or sponge mops and can be easily washed and cleaned. While you can use a vacuum on hardwood floors, choose one that has soft-bristle rollers and a retractable beater bar to prevent scratching. Use the upholstery brush attachment to reach dusty corners of the room.

Hardwood Floor Cleaning Solution

Since most wood floors are sealed with cured polyurethane or polyacrylic urethane, choosing a wood floor cleaner that will leave the sealant bright and without streaks is essential. Never use harsh chemicals like chlorine bleach, ammonia, pine oil, or undiluted vinegar. Choose instead a commercial product that is formulated for sealed wood floors. Never apply liquid or paste wax over a polyurethane-sealed wood floor.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Broom, dust mop, or vacuum
  • Microfiber mop

Materials

  • Commercial wood floor cleaner
  • Paper towels
  • Water

Instructions

How to Clean Solid or Engineered Hardwood Floors

  1. Sweep or Vacuum Daily

    Sweep or vacuum daily to remove grit and crumbs that can cause scratches and wear down the floor's finish. Don't forget to clean under area rugs regularly. Remove scuff marks as soon as you notice them.

    Tip

    It's best to have two microfiber mops, one for dry mopping to capture dust and another with denser fibers for damp mopping. A clean mop equals a cleaner floor.

  2. Tackle Messes as They Happen


    Don't allow any dry mess or wet spills that can leave water rings to remain for more than a few minutes on hardwood floors. This is especially important for mud or any foods or liquids that are dark in color and can leave difficult-to-remove stains.

    After cleaning the spill with a paper towel or cloth, give the floor a final "rinse" with a slightly water-dampened cloth or mop. Wipe in the direction of the wood grain to prevent streaking.

  3. Dust Mop Weekly

    To capture the dust bunnies that seem to appear from nowhere, dust mop wood floors at least once per week.

  4. Damp Mop Seasonally

    If you have been taking care of messes promptly and keeping floors free of grit and dust, you should only need to damp mop with a cleaning product a few times each year. Never use a sopping-wet mop. Excessive water can damage every sealant on wood floors and cause them to buckle.

    Lightly dampen a microfiber mop and always clean following the grain of the wood and allow the wood to dry completely before walking to prevent spotting. If you live in an area with hard water, damp mop with distilled water. The excessive minerals in hard water can leave the floor finishes looking dull.

    If you use a commercial wood floor cleaner, choose one with a spray applicator or a mop that includes a refillable spray feature like Bona. Too much product can leave floors sticky and attract more dirt. Just a heavy mist of about one-half teaspoon per two square feet is adequate for cleaning.

How to Clean Laminate Wood-Look Flooring

Caring for wood-look laminate flooring is relatively easy. Wipe up spills as they happen and sweep or vacuum frequently. For deeper cleaning, you can use a steam mop but avoid wet mopping that can cause the underlayers to warp. Avoid harsh cleaners like pine oil or any cleaner that promises to leave a shine. The waxy build-up will leave the laminate looking dull. Opt for a small amount of plain dishwashing liquid in warm water to dampen your mop.

Tips to Keep Floors Clean Longer

Make sure you have a doormat outside your main entrance door and, if possible, inside your door too. The door mat may get dirty fast, but it's better there than all over your house.

Tip

To keep your floors looking shiny and clean longer, adopt a shoes-off policy at the door. Shoes track in a lot of dirt. To encourage guests to feel comfortable with the policy, offer guest slippers at the door.

Spills and messes can worsen if you don't clean them up right away. If you've lived with children or pets, you know what happens when Cheerios get flung from a high chair or dog kibble is left on the floor; it becomes a crumbly, powdery mess once a foot steps on it. Juice splatters become a sticky nightmare after a few hours. If you leave these cleaning tasks until the next time you wash the floors, your floors will look dirtier and will take longer to clean when you get around to them.

Homemade Wood Floor Cleaning Solution

One of the most inexpensive and effective cleaners for hardwood floors is diluted vinegar. A good ratio is 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water. To leave a pleasant scent behind as you clean, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the cleaning solution. The vinegar smell will dissipate as it airs out.

Tips to Prevent Scratches on Wood Floors

Scratches cause floors to look dull and wear out more quickly. Taking a few precautions will help keep away scratches.

  • Place felt pads on the bottom of the chair and table legs.
  • Never place houseplant pots directly on hardwood floors.
  • Never drag heavy furniture or objects across the floor.
  • Skip stilettos and cleats when walking on hardwood floors.
  • Place doormats inside and outside entrance areas and clean them frequently. Reducing the amount of grit brought into a home will reduce the number of scratches.
  • Keep pet toenails trimmed and filed.

Removing Stains From Wood Flooring

To remove a pesky stain like wine from hardwood flooring, you can try a commercial hardwood spot cleaner or go into your medicine cabinet and grab the hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide has bleaching properties, and it's safe for hardwood flooring. Soak a clean cloth in hydrogen peroxide and cover the stain for six to eight hours. After the time has elapsed, the stain should be gone.

When to Call a Professional

If your floors have lost their luster or you don't have the time or inclination to clean your floors, regularly schedule a periodic maintenance visit from a local wood flooring professional cleaning service. Prices average about $250 to $400 depending on the amount of wood flooring you have. Professional cleaning can extend the life of your flooring and hold off the need for refinishing for years,

However, if you have excessive dents, scratches, or water damage, you might need your wood floors refinished. If the wood starts rotting, splitting or splintering, or turning black, it's a sign you need a professional to fix your flooring or potentially replace it.

Article Sources
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  1. Dust and dust mites. American Lung Association.