How to Make Hardwood Floors Shine

Dining room with stunning hardwood flooring

David Papazian/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Installing new hardwood floors or finding them in an older home is a bonus to the value of a home. They are durable, 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. Could your cleaning habits be part of the reason your wood floors are dull?

What Type of Finish Do Your Floors Have?

One of the key bits of information in keeping hardwood floors shiny is knowing what type of finish has been applied to 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 it beads and sits there for several hours, the hardwood has been sealed. If the water is absorbed or causes spotting on the finish, the wood is not sealed and should never be cleaned with water.
  • 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.
3:21

Watch Now: The Simple Method to Make Hardwood Floors Shine

7 Reasons Your 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 Are 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 the floors look worse. When they are applied on top of polyurethane finishes or paste wax, the finish can look patchy or turn milky. You can use mineral spirits and elbow grease one small area at a time to remove the milky look of acrylic waxes. To completely restore the shine, you'll have to strip and reseal the floors.

Harsh chemicals such as chlorine bleach, ammonia, undiluted vinegar, or pine oil can damage floor finishes. Read labels and choose a commercial product that is formulated for sealed wood floors and follow manufacturer and expert guidelines on how to keep wood floors shiny.

You're Using Too Much of a Good Thing

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 a 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 Edward Scissorhands toenails, forget to put clean doormats inside and outside entrance areas, and frequently wear stilettos or cleats in the house, you're going to have scratches. Scratches equal dull floors. Practice a little prevention.

You Have 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 buildup and look dull. The shine will absolutely be gone if you have applied paste wax on top of a polyurethane sealant. Even if you use wax appropriately only once or twice a year, eventually it will buildup and turn dull in low traffic areas. Paste wax can be stripped off using mineral spirits or another commercial wax stripper.

Floor Needs to Be Refinished

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 as the top layer, can be refinished and resealed a couple of times before needing to be replaced.

How to Clean Hardwood Floors and Make Them Shine

Follow these cleaning tips to keep newly installed or refreshed hardwoods shiny:

  1. Wipe Up Spills

    Immediately wipe up any wet spills as they happen to prevent watermarks.

  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.

  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 must use a commercial cleaner, choose one with a spray applicator. Just a heavy mist of about one-half teaspoon of cleaner per two square feet of flooring is adequate for cleaning.

  4. Buff Dry

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