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How to Clean Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors are one of the most popular types of flooring in the United States today, and for several key reasons:

  • Hardwood floors are strong and durable, and when maintained properly can last for several generations.
  • They help enhance the overall look and feel of the home, and is an investment that adds value to the property as well.
  • Hardwood floors happen to be fairly easy to care for and maintain compared to other types of flooring surfaces.

However, even though hardwood floors (as with patio tile floors) are low maintenance, that doesn’t mean that they don’t require proper routine cleaning and occasional deep cleaning to maintain their high-quality look and feel.

And, wooden flooring cleaning is straightforward and won’t even require you to get on your hands and knees with bucket and sponge (or rag) on a weekly basis.

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to clean hardwood floors, which includes many types of wood floor. Just think of this article as Wood Flooring Cleaning 101:

Tools and Supplies | What You’ll Need

How to clean hardwood floors

Let’s kick things off with the equipment and supplies you’ll need for cleaning wood floors. Here’s a look:

A Vacuum Cleaner

You should be vacuuming your hardwood floors at a minimum of once a week to capture any dirt, dust, grime, or debris, and prevent such from embedding into the floor’s surface areas.

So what sort of vacuum should you be purchasing for a wood floor? While this largely depends on personal preference, here are a few suggestions for vacuum selection:

  • Flexibility matters: If you have a mix of carpet (or rugs) and hardwood in your home, you’ll want a vacuum that can effectively clean both. Look for a vacuum that has various cleaning settings so you can easily adjust it between carpet and hardwood flooring. We also suggest looking for a model that can turn the brushroll off when you’re cleaning hardwood to eliminate the potential for scratching or spreading residue.
  • Choose soft wheels: Stay away from vacuums with hard plastic wheels, as these can scratch wood floors and finishes. Wheels with rubber padding are suitable for cleaning wooden floors.
  • Consider a hardwood specific vacuum: Like carpeting, the best way to clean wood floors is via suction applied to the surface. Wood specific vacuum cleaners generally don’t come equipped with a brushroll underneath the vacuum.

Our editors find that several manufacturers make vacuums that work well on a wood floor. Examples include those in the Miele Classic C1 Series – some of these aren’t particularly suited for carpet though, as they don’t include a rotating brush underneath.

Miele Compact C1 Pure Suction Powerline Canister Vacuum

Mops and Brooms

While you should be sure to vacuum hardwood floors at least once a week, dust mopping and sweeping should be done almost daily to keep floors in the best condition.

When using a mop, you’ll want to use a microfiber cloth, or choose a mop that uses a microfiber head to attract and remove dirt and debris. If you were to damp mop, conversely, you’d do more moving dirt and particles around the floor than you would capturing it and removing it.

Damp mopping does still have its purpose, however, but only when it comes to removing spots. For example, if there’s a stubborn stain or grease, or a soiled part of the floor, the moisture or water of the mop head can loosen it so you can properly remove it.

Brooms are another useful tool to have in your hardwood cleaning arsenal. While they don’t clean as thoroughly as a dust mop, they’re ideal when you need to clean up more isolated messes. A good sweep ideal for dusting and cleaning the likes of pet hair, leaves, and food crumbs – debris that’s not contaminating the entire floor, but still needs to be removed.

Cleaning Products

There are also a variety of hardwood floor cleaning product that you can use on a regular basis to take your cleaning efforts to the next level and give the floor an extra shine when it’s done.

But keep in mind that you should only be using a floor cleaner that’s designed specifically for hardwood. In other words, we’d strongly advise against making your own hardwood floor cleaner, regardless of all the great things you read online about ingredients like vinegar, soap, and water mix.

Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner Spray

And be sure to refrain from the likes of alkaline or abrasive cleaners that could dull the finish and cause it to lose color. Stick to the specific hardwood cleaners from the hardware store or cleaning supply store.

But if you really want to make your own alternative cleaning solution or ingredient to clean hardwood, a soap-water mix is among your safest options. Just be sure to dry the floor quickly after cleaning so it doesn’t incur any damage. Remember, hardwood floors and water don’t get along.

How to Clean Hardwood Floors | A Step-by-Step Guide

cleaning your hardwood floor

Now that we’ve covered the supplies you’ll need to effectively clean hardwood floors, let’s delve into how to actually clean these floors for the best end result. Here’s a process you can follow to ensure a quality cleaning:

Cleaning Steps

  1. Start with a surface clean: Take a vacuum, dust mop, or broom to the surface of your hardwood floor first to remove any debris that is sitting on the surface. Don’t forget to clean along the edges of the wall or doors, and in corners, as these happen to be spots where debris can build up. If you plan to clean the entire room, be sure to carefully move furniture out of the way. Even if you’re not moving anything, it’s a good idea to use the vacuum hose with floor-brush attachment to reach under furniture and into a corner.
  2. Test your wood floor cleaner: Applying solutions to your floor can help give it a like-new shine. As we mentioned above, be sure that you’re only using chemicals that are designed for use on hardwood floors. Even so, it’s always a good idea to test floor cleaners you want to use on a location of the floor (i.e., closet, under the TV stand, etc.) to make sure you’re getting the result you want before applying the product to the entire floor. 
  3. Apply the product: If the last step went well, it’s time to apply the cleaning solution to the entire floor. Spray the floor in sections, then use a microfiber mop (or regular mop) to work the product in, moving your way from the back of the room to the front of it. As you apply the product, you want to avoid puddling. It’s important that the floor dries in a fast manner. Consider opening windows or using fans to accelerate drying times. 

How to Deep Clean Wood Floors

This isn’t an article on deep cleaning, but we can certainly give some tips. The best way is to perform a surface cleaning of the hardwood floor first. Then, carefully remove furniture and perform a cleaning with a mop or broom following manufacturer-recommended instructions with hardwood specific products.

These liquid products will provide a thorough cleaning of the floor and help bring out the finish once it dries. 

How to Remove Stains from Wood Floors

First and foremost, try to be as proactive as possible against staining by quickly cleaning up smudges from oil, or food and drink spills before they have a chance to become embedded in the floor.

Even with these proactive measures in place, however, staining is still likely to occur on occasion. The trick with removing stains is that you don’t want to harm the floor’s finish in the meantime. Start with dampening a cloth with water and seeing if some wet agitation is enough to remove it.

If this doesn’t work, we’d suggest purchasing a hardwood-specific spot and stain remover either online or from your local cleaning supply store and applying a few drops on the area.

FAQs about Cleaning Hardwood Floors

How to Clean Wood Floors without Water?

Like we noted above, you can use a vacuum cleaner, microfiber pad or mop, or broom to surface clean the floor. Spot cleaning with water isn’t usually an issue as long as you’re sure to dry the area promptly. 

Why Is Water Such an Enemy of Hardwood Floors?

Even if your floor is sealed, you should avoid water coming into contact with hardwood floors. That’s because when wood becomes wet, it expands – and when it expands, there’s a better chance that it cracks or splinters. This applies to all hardwoods.

Prolonged water exposure to hardwood floors such as puddles or standing water will result in water damage (i.e., stained or warped materials), which will cause your floor to lose its buff and be difficult to restore.

Is Steam Cleaning Good for Wood Floors?

Steam mop hardwood floor

Steam cleaners (like a steam mop) apply heat with water under high pressure and can damage your hardwood floor over time if it’s not sealed.

According to experts, you should only use a steam mop on a hardwood floor that’s been sealed with polyurethane after the floor’s been installed (and not on a surface that was pre-sealed at the factory). In other words, the floor seams should be covered by some kind of waterproof seal.

So it’s OK to use a steam mop on the linoleum floor of your kitchen, but doing so on an unsealed wood floor may cause the warranty with the manufacturer to be voided.

Aside from Water, What Else Can Be Harmful to Hardwood Floors?

Even though it’s related to water, you’ll want to watch the humidity levels in your home. Ideally, you’ll want humidity levels to be between 35 and 55 percent. If humidity goes south of 35 percent, the wood may dry out, weaken, and potentially splinter.

Conversely, humidity that’s too high can cause floorboard swelling and warping. You may want to consider using a dehumidifier or humidifier at certain times of the year or during certain weather to maintain the humidity sweet spot.

Are There Other Ways I Can Protect Hardwood Flooring?

Yes, we suggest taking several additional measures to further protect and safeguard your floors. Here’s a look:

  • Shoes off: Ask people to remove their shoes before walking on your hardwood floor. Shoes have a tendency to track dirt and debris throughout the floor, which can lead to an accelerated rate of soiling.
  • Door mats: Placing door mats by entry/exit points can go a long way toward capturing dirt and debris before it has a chance to soil your floor. Door mats can also soak up water from rain or snow melt so that it doesn’t come into contact with your floor.
  • Furniture pads: Avoid scratching the floor by placing floor protectors or furniture pads underneath couches, chairs, and entertainment centers. This doesn’t just safeguard your furniture from scratches and denting, but it can also help prevent furniture from sliding.
  • Keep pet nails trimmed: If your household has dogs especially, be sure their nails are trimmed regularly to avoid scratching of the hardwood floor and preserve its beauty.