Category: Home Design

How To Clean Hardwood Floors

The first thing to keep in mind when cleaning your hardwood floors, is that the wood is not in most cases what you are usually cleaning. There are numerous wood types out there used in hardwood flooring. Whether you have oak floors, mesquite floors, maple floors, or any other of the various types of wood floors, what you will most likely be cleaning is the finish. The most common finishes are polyurethane, wax, and oil surfaced. It gets more technical than that about which you can read at However, because polyurethane, for instance can be either water based, oil modified, and moisture cured. If you are scared that you may not know what type of finish you have, you can always call a flooring specialist, who can tell you exactly what you are working with.

The Water Drop Test

Water drops are the best test for checking for what type of finish you have. Drop a water drop or two in the wood. If it soaks in, the finish has worn away. If the water drops bead up, then the finish is intact.
Another good test with water droplets, is to let the water drops sit for about 15 minutes. Wipe away the water, and if you see white spots, then you have a wax finish.

In older houses built before 1970, shellac may have been used. To find out if you have a shellac finish, take a coin and scratch the surface in a place where you won’t notice. If the finish flakes, then you have a shellac finish.

Tips on How to Clean Hardwood Floors

What Not to Do

1. Be Cautious About Using Random Cleaners – Never use cleaners or waxes used for vinyl or tile flooring on your wood floors. The residue adheres to the surface, creating an adverse effect when areas wear off quickly, leaving your floor looking dull.

2. Do NOT Water Mop – Standing water will discolor your floors, damage the wood, or leave a dull finish, again creating the opposite of what you want.

3. Do Not Over Wax – Over waxing your hardwood floors can build up over time and will dull in areas with heavier traffic.

4. Use Beater Bar – If you vacuum your floors, never use a vacuum with a brush roll or beater bar unless you can turn it off. The best way to go is an attachment designed for hardwood floors.

5. Never Use Wax on Polyurethane Finish – If you have a newer floor that was recently laid, you most likely have a polyurethane finish. Wax can damage polyurethane floors.

6. Never Damp Mop a Wax Finish – Again, water can discolor, damage, or dull hardwood floors that have a wax finish applied. Always sweep, and for spills use a damp cloth, with a dry one right behind it, as to not leave water behind, preserving the shine of your floors.

7. Never Use Vinegar or Ammonia on Polyurethane – The acid in these products will eat through the finish eventually dulling your floors.

What to Do

1. Prepare the Surface – The first thing you want to do is sweep, vacuum, or dust mop the floor, to remove any dust and debris.

2. Damp Mop – Using a cap full of mild cleanser, like Murphy’s Oil Soap, or a ph neutral soap (dish soap) to a bucket of water.

3. Wet Your Mop and Wring Out Completely – Again, standing water is your enemy, and can hurt your floors.

4. Go with the Grain – Always mop in the direction of the grain for a better, more even shine.

5. Keep Water Clean – Frequently refreshing your cleaning mix when it gets dirty will prevent merely rubbing in dirt, spreading dirt to new areas, or damaging the finish with tiny particles of dirt or sand while you are working.

6. Buffing Method – If you aren’t satisfied after damp mopping, you can use a spray bottle and a rag to hand buff the floors, also going with the grain, and this may produce better results.

More Tips for Hardwood Floor Care

1. Don’t Wear Shoes – Shoes, and especially cleats, boots, high heels, etc. can damage your floors over time, and not wearing shoes will prolong wear and tear and cut down on cleaning as well.

2. Vacuum at Least Once a Week – The more dust and dirt is on your hardwood floors, the more damage it can do to your floors by walking on it.

3. Use a Broom with Synthetic Fiber Ends – The less abrasive your broom, the better.

4. Buff or Mop Twice a Year – On average buffing or waxing occasionally will help you maintain your floors shine.

Hardwood Floor Myths

There is some controversy on what is best to clean with, and with all the blogs around telling you to use vinegar, you may or may not feel inclined to try it. The fact is, the vinegar and water method has been proven to be less effective than regular soap and water method, and can wear away the finish over time, dulling the floors shine with prolonged use.

Final Thoughts

In the end, properly caring for your hardwood floors is a big part of keeping them in good condition. The more you sweep, clean, and take measures to prevent the wear on your floors the better. There are other, specialized wood cleaners, such as Dr. Bonner’s, Eco Mist Colloid W, or Method, and if you choose to use one of them, that is fine, just follow the directions on the label. It will be your choice in the end how to care for your floors, but the tips in this article are from professional floor experts. If your floors will not shine, it is possible that the finish is wearing off, and you may want to look into getting your floors professionally refinished. With the proper preventative care, like regular sweeping or vacuuming habits, not wearing shoes, and cleaning spills properly, the maintenance required to keep up hardwood floors will seem relatively minor, and with some practice, you can keep you beautiful hardwood floor’s luster all year long!