Best Way to Clean Hardwood Floors and Keep Them Shining

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best way to clean hardwood floors

You did it. You made the investment in your home and added hardwood flooring.

Now that it is installed and looking great, you will notice that eventually, the day will come when you need to clean it.

Cleaning a hardwood floor isn’t difficult.

It is, however, tedious and time consuming.

If you have hardwood flooring throughout your home, this can easily become an all-day project.

In a world of multi-income families and “instant gratification” generations, cleaning can quickly become a chore.

This article will help you make the most of your cleaning time. We will examine the best methods for cleaning hardwood floors, what not to do, things to avoid and give you everything you need to know to make your floors stay beautiful and look new even years down the road.

Best Hardwood Floor Cleaning Methods

best hardwood floor cleaning methods

Cleaning hardwood isn’t like cleaning any other floor type. You don’t need special cleaning solutions or expensive products. Here are the top cleaning methods for hardwood floors:
  • Microfiber cloth and damp mop. A simple sweep and light mop is usually all you ever need.
  • Dish soap and water. When it comes time to deep clean, you need to protect your shiny surface.
  • Preventative care goes a long way. The use of rugs and other measures minimize cleaning time.
  • Save money using your own cleaning solutions. You can quickly and affordably make hardwood flooring cleaning solutions yourself.
  • Proper cleaning style. Unlike most other flooring, you can’t clean the entire floor at once. Learn to go section by section.

There’s More to Cleaning Hardwood Than Cleaning

If you want to clean carpet, it’s simple. Pull out the old vacuum and get to cleaning. With hardwood, though, it is different. You can’t just pull out the broom and mop and expect your floors to stay looking clean, shiny and new.

Preventative Care

The best defense is a good offense. When it comes to hardwood flooring, nothing is more true. The best cleaning method is to minimize how often you have to actually clean.

The biggest thing you can do is invest in a few throw rugs. Place them by the doors and have people remove their shoes. This will drastically minimize the amount of dirt, dust and debris brought into the home in the first place.

If you have pets, shedding hair and muddy paw prints aren’t going to stop at a welcome mat. However, you can use your vacuum to get the hair before it builds up on your flooring and a simple hand towel can get paw prints before they dry, so you don’t have to scrub.

Go on the offensive and prevent the floors from getting dirty as much as possible and you will save a lot of time, effort and headaches along the way.

Know Your Flooring

First thing is first, you need to know everything about your floor that you can. This includes the type of wood, the sealant or wear layer used and even the brand. Each manufacturer will have different warranties and you also need to know what that warranty covers.

Some brands will immediately void the warranty if you ever use anything more than plain water on the surface. More importantly, different sealants require different care tactics. Some will break down or wear out faster than others.

The wood planks, sealants and adhesives all respond differently to different cleaning methods. Make sure you understand what the manufacturer recommends for your particular brand and style before attempting to clean.

Combining Efforts With Other Floor Types

Once you know what the best methods for cleaning your hardwood floors entails, you may be able to reduce your overall cleaning time by using the same methods on other floor types in your home.

For example, if you have a vacuum with a power cleaning head, you can use the vacuum with the cleaning head on while cleaning your carpets and then turn the cleaning head off to vacuum your hardwood floors.

Likewise, sweeping and dusting the hardwood floors can be combined with the vinyl or tile floors you have in the wet areas such as your bathrooms or basements.

Being able to use multiple cleaning methods throughout your home will save time and frustration on chore days.

Choose Your Cleaning Tools Carefully

choose your cleaning tools carefully

For every type of hardwood flooring, there are at least 2 cleaning tools for sale to help you get clean floors. The problem is that most, if not all, of these tools are unnecessary.

Of course you will need some tools to assist in your cleaning efforts, but you need to choose carefully.

A lot of products are marketing for scrubbing stubborn messes off your floors. However, you should avoid these at all costs. Anything that scours, scrubs or scratches your floor clean will damage the wear layer and sealant on your hardwood planks.

You will also find there are a lot of products designed to disinfect or sterilize your floors. Steam mops can be used on hardwood, but only under certain circumstances. You can find out more about steam cleaning hardwood in our review of the process here.

UV light is among the best and most unobtrusive sterilization methods, but it can get expensive and take a long time. Some robotic vacuums, like the RolliBot have UV sterilization included and may be worth a closer look.

What it boils down to is the need for a good dusting cloth and a way to mop and dry your hardwood floors. This can be as simple as a few microfiber dusting cloths and a sponge with a bucket of water. Stick vacuums, robot vacuums and even stick cleaners like the Swiffer series are more than enough to keep your hardwood floors looking clean, fresh and new.

The Cans and Cannots

Before you start cleaning your hardwood floors, there are things you need to first understand. There are certain things you should do, of course. However, there are also things you should avoid. Let’s take a closer look at those things now.

Can

What is acceptable for all hardwood floors?

  • Dust mopping. A microfiber dust mop will collect dirt, debris and particles to keep your floors clean.
  • Damp mop. You can mop your floors, however it should be a damp mop. When using a sponge or cloth, make sure to wring it out completely before using.
  • Dry. You should dry your floor as you clean. Use a lint-free cloth to dry up any water or cleaning solution left behind.
  • Sterilize. You can sterilize your floor. UV lighting is the best method for this. It does take some time, though.
  • Deep clean. More than just a surface sweep, deep cleaning involves dust mopping, sweeping or vacuuming the hardwood and even mopping. This should be done every 60 to 90 days.

Cannot

As there are things to do, there are also things to avoid.

  • Wet mopping is a no no. Wood and water don’t play well together. Even with sealants and wear layers, hardwood planks can swell, crack or distort if the mop is too wet.
  • Scrubbing stains and messes should be avoided. Anything that can scratch your floors should never be used to clean. This includes scrubbing pads on stick mops, rough sponges or other scouring devices.
  • Avoid using chemicals. Even the use of vinegar (which is allowed) should be kept to a minimum. Using plain water or a homemade cleaning solution (see further below) is good enough. Chemicals can wear down the top layer and void your warranty.

How to Properly Clean Hardwood Floors

how to properly clean hardwood floors

Properly cleaning your hardwood flooring isn’t a difficult process. Using simple cleaning tools and water or cleaning solutions will have your floors sparkling, fresh and ready for anything. Let’s learn the best way to clean your hardwood floors.

The Pre-Clean

Before you get to work, you will need to carve out some time. Depending on how much flooring you have to clean, this can be a long process. If you only have a room or two, it may not take as long.

You should gather all of your cleaning tools and supplies that you will use. This will eliminate the need to go back and forth, potentially tracking dirt along with you, or having to leave water on the floors.

The supplies should include your microfiber dust mop, vacuum, a sponge, bucket of clean, warm water or your cleaning solution and a lint-free towel for drying.

Cleaning

When the time to clean approaches, your first step should be to dust mop or vacuum (or even both) the floor. To help eliminate added work, you should do a single room at a time. If the room is large, you may even split it in smaller halves.

The vacuum will remove the larger debris and anything like pet hair from along the edges. The dust mop can then be used to get the finer particles and in groves or seams better.

In most cases, this is all you need to do. Over time, though, the finish on the planks will begin to dull and fade. Depending on the type of sealant you have, restoring the shine will vary.

For clear sealants, the type that make a waterproof barrier, you can damp mop the planks. You will want to ensure your sponge or mop is wrung out well, so when you clean you don’t leave puddles behind. Even on waterproof sealants, the water can get underneath and cause damage.

For absorbent sealants like linseed and other oils, water will soak in almost immediately. The wax and oils won’t hold up for long if you use water or water-based cleaners. For these, it is best to not mop at all. If you have to, though, a solvent-based cleaning solution is recommended.

When you do mop, even with a damp mop, you should do small sections at a time. After you mop, use the lint-free towel to dry the floor completely. Move to the next small section and repeat.

This mopping and drying process is tedious, but will restore the shine to your floor, and more importantly, prevent damage to the floor, planks or cores from water or cleaners soaking in.

Mopping or deep cleaning only need be done when you notice the shine is starting to fade. Under general daily use of the floors, this will be about every 60 to 90 days, so you will only need to vacuum or dust mop with a deep clean 3 or 4 times per year.

Maintenance & Care

Maintenance for hardwood floors is fairly simple and straightforward. Along with weekly dusting or vacuuming, you should make it a point to also inspect your floors. You want to look for scratches, dents, or cracks that have developed.

If you notice anything, you can see if it is covered by your warranty and file a claim. If it is not, there may be steps you can take to repair or prevent the spread. The sooner you notice the damage, though, the easier it is to fix or halt.

At least every 90 days you should perform the sweep and mopping deep clean outlined in this article. If you notice your floors becoming dirty and dingy, you can do this more often. However, because of the finish and sealants, it shouldn’t be done more than once a month.

The Use of Chemicals

As we have stated over and again here, the use of chemicals should be avoided as much as possible. Your brand manufacturer will have cleaning tips and a list of cleaning solutions that can or cannot be used on their flooring.

For clear sealants, though, the answer will always be water-based cleaning solutions, or just plain warm water. If you have a penetrating sealant with a wax coat, detergent-based solutions will be the answer.

The best option is to make your own cleaning solution (see below) so that you know exactly what is in the cleaner, how much and how it works on your particular floor. If you cannot make your own cleaner, using plain water, sparingly, is the best course of action.

Make Your Own Cleaning Solutions

make your own cleaning solutions

One of the best things you can do, if not using plain water (or can’t because of the type of finish), is to make your own solutions. There are a few different ways to do this.

Vinegar

Vinegar solutions are used on a lot of floor types and if done correctly, you can use them on hardwood floors, too. Mixing a cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water is more than enough solution.

However, vinegar is acidic, and if used too much or too often it will eat through the wear layer or sealant on your planks. While this is the cheapest solution to make, it should only be used once a year, or less.

Castile Soap

Castile soap is an all natural cleanser. It is made of natural ingredients and is used for shampoo, body soap, degreaser, floor cleaner and a lot of other things.

This diluted cleanser is gentle on hardwood floors, and doesn’t leave a residue behind, so you only need to wipe once, then dry. Having a bottle of castile soap handy to mix up will always be a good thing, and it will last quite a while.

Bona Hardwood Cleaner and Paste Wax

For those planks that have a wax finish over a penetrating sealant, you can’t use water or water-based cleaners at all. Instead you need a detergent-based cleaner. This can be difficult to find because of the use of harsh chemicals that can damage your floor.

Luckily, Bona is a company that makes cleaners for all floors and understands what it takes to have a hardwood detergent that doesn’t void your warranty. The Bona hardwood cleaner is great for penetrative sealed flooring and helps restore the shine to your floors with ease.

However, constant cleaning will remove the wax over time and your floors will fail to shine and look like new. This is why you need a hardwood wax and should apply it every 6 months. SC Johnson makes a great hardwood paste wax that is easy to apply and is an inexpensive solution to your dingy floors.

Frequently Asked Questions

best way to clean hardwood faqs

Here, we answer some common questions about cleaning hardwood floors. If you have any other concerns or questions, please use the comment section below the article.

Q. Do hardwood floors clean as easily as ceramic tiles?

  1. Ceramic cleaning is similar in its process to hardwood. Using a mop, mild detergents and water like with hardwood is the same. However, you can use wet mops on ceramic tiles and leave the floor wet to air dry. Hardwood needs to be hand dried and must be mopped in small sections at a time. 

Q. Should I wax my hardwood floor after cleaning?

  1. The only time you want to use a wax paste on your hardwood floor is if the planks had a penetrative sealant covered by a wax paste layer in the first place. Depending on your type of hardwood and the brand you chose, this may or may not be the case.

If your planks have a clear coat sealant, you should never use a wax paste on them. Much like waxing a cork floor, though, some hardwoods do need a fresh layer of wax paste about every 6 months to maintain protection and shine.

Q. Why can’t I leave water or wet mop hardwood floors, it says it is waterproof?

  1. Many hardwood planks are labeled as waterproof. This is due to the sealant that protects the top layer of the wood. However, over time, even this sealant can break down, wear thin or allow water to get into the wood below. In all of these cases, any amount of moisture is a bad thing and can cause major damage. 

Similar to making your marble floors maintain their shine, you want to avoid using too wet of a mop, mopping too large of a space and not being able to dry the mopped area immediately. Protection of your floors should be a high priority, and that usually means using less water, if you use water at all.

Q. Can I use dish soap to clean hardwood floors?

  1. You can and it is advised when possible. The proper mixture is about ¼ cup of dish soap to 3 or 4 gallons of water. You want to add the soap to the water, though, and you don’t want to mix it around so it creates a lot of suds. Instead, add the soap to the water and lightly mix it with your hand. Make sure to thoroughly remove the soap water and dry completely afterward.

For more advice on hardwood floors check out Ask the Pros: Expert Advice for Homeowners by Porch.

Conclusion

Cleaning your hardwood floors doesn’t have to be a strenuous chore. It does take some time and effort, but that effort is well worth it. Even if you don’t see the dullness in the finish of your hardwood floor, you will notice the extra shine after performing a deep clean.

Hopefully this article expressed the importance of the best way to clean your hardwood floor, and showed you what to avoid. Following these steps will have your floors shining and looking brand new for many years to come.

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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