How to Clean Hardwood Floors and Make Them Shine

Hardwood floor cleaning supplies

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 19 mins
  • Total Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Yield: 10 x 10 floor
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 (if cleaner is needed)

Installing new hardwood floors or finding them in an older structure is a bonus to the value of a home. They are durable, are valuable at resale time, and can enhance almost any decorating style.

While a few decorators may love a matte finish, most hardwood floor owners like finishes that shine. The trick is keeping that shine after years of the normal wear and tear of living. Your cleaning habits can be part of the reason your wood floors are dull—or why they continue to glow no matter how much time has gone by.

What Type of Finish Does Your Floor Have?

One of the key bits of information for keeping hardwood floors shiny is knowing what type of finish has been applied to the wood. Was your solid or engineered hardwood sealed with a polyurethane or polyacrylic urethane finish, or was it finished with a paste wax? If you don't know, here's a test to help you make the best cleaning choices:

  • In a spot with normal foot traffic, place a drop of water on the floor. If the water is quickly absorbed or causes spotting on the finish, this indicates the hardwood has been not been sealed and should never be cleaned with water. But if the bead of water just sits on the surface without being absorbed, it means the hardwood has been sealed.
  • To test for a paste wax finish, grab some fine steel wool and rub it lightly over the floor in a corner. If the floor has been waxed, there will be a gray, waxy film left on the steel wool.

7 Reasons Wood Floors Look Dull

Now that you've figured out what type of finish is on your hardwood floors, there are seven common issues that can cause them to look dull.

  • You're just redistributing the dirt: Using a dirty mop or forgetting to sweep, dust mop, or vacuum the floor before cleaning will simply redistribute the dirt. Imagine all that grit, dust, and dirt getting trapped in the cleaning solution and simply staying on the surface of the floor.
  • Your cleaner is doing more harm than good: Many acrylic-based liquid waxes that promise to make your wood floors glow can actually make them look worse. When applied on top of polyurethane finishes or paste wax, the floor can look patchy or turn milky. You can use mineral spirits and elbow grease on one small area at a time to remove the milky look of acrylic waxes. To completely restore the shine though, you'll have to strip and reseal the floors. Additionally, harsh chemicals such as chlorine bleach, ammonia, undiluted vinegar, or pine oil can damage floor finishes. Read labels, choose a commercial product that is formulated for sealed wood floors, and follow manufacturer guidelines for use.
  • Using too much product: Even if you are doing everything correctly, using too much cleaning product or water will leave floors looking worse. More is not always better.
  • Leaving the job half done: After damp mopping or waxing a hardwood floor, the job should be finished with a good buffing to prevent streaking. Simply use a dry microfiber mop to buff the finish and ensure a shiny floor.
  • Scratches are out of control: If you have pets with sharp claws, forget to put clean doormats inside and outside entrance areas, or frequently wear shoes with hard heels in the house, you're going to have scratches. Scratches and scuffs equal dull floors. Practice a little prevention to keep them to a minimum.
  • Waxy buildup: If the floors were not sealed with a polyurethane finish and rely on a carnauba paste wax to create the shine, the wax can build up and look dull. Even if you use wax appropriately only once or twice a year, eventually, it will build up and turn dull in low-traffic areas. Paste wax can be stripped off using mineral spirits or another commercial wax stripper.
  • The floor needs refinishing: No finish on hardwood floors lasts forever if the floor has foot traffic. Solid hardwood floors can be refinished and resealed numerous times. Even engineered hardwood, which has a thinner veneer, can be refinished and resealed a couple of times before needing to be replaced.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Broom
  • Sponge
  • Dust mop or vacuum
  • Microfiber mop

Materials

  • Cleaning solution designed for hardwood (if needed)

Instructions

How to Properly Clean Hardwood Floors

3:21

Watch Now: The Simple Method to Make Hardwood Floors Shine

  1. Wipe up Spills

    To prevent watermarks, immediately wipe up any wet spills as they happen.

    Wiping spill on hardwood floor
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  2. Remove Dirt Daily

    Sweep, vacuum, or dust mop daily to remove dirt that can cause scratches and wear down the finish of the floor. Don't forget to look under area rugs that can trap grit that will scratch floors.

    Sweeping dirt on hardwood floor
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  3. Damp Mop When the Seasons Change

    Unless you have neglected the floors for weeks and have mud and sticky messes everywhere, there is no need to damp mop more than four times per year.

    With a lightly dampened microfiber mop, clean in the direction of the wood grain. Never use a sopping-wet mop because too much water can cause even sealed floors to buckle. If you feel you need a commercial cleaner, choose one with a spray applicator like the ones from Bona. Just a heavy mist of about 1/2 teaspoon of cleaner per two square feet of flooring is adequate for cleaning.

    Wringing microfiber mop over bucket
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin
  4. Buff Dry

    Follow up with a completely dry microfiber mop to prevent streaking.

    Microfiber mop on hardwood floor
    The Spruce / Margot Cavin