The best way to clean hardwood floors

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Preventive maintenance and regular light cleaning is the best way to clean hardwood floors

Hardwood floors are gorgeous. No one denies that! The problem with them is keeping them looking their best – because nothing is sadder than dull, bleached, stained or scratched hardwood floors.

So what’s the very best way to clean hardwood floors? Keep them from getting too dirty in the first place.

The best way to clean hardwood floors: Prevention

The best thing you can do for hardwood floors is to not let dirt, dust, pet hair, and the like accumulate.

To prevent dirt in the first place:

  • Put down doormats both inside and out of exterior doors to keep dirt and moisture from being tracked in.
  • Use felt pads on the bottoms of furniture legs and feet.

The best way to clean hardwood floors: Prevent dirt buildup

This should become a regular part of your cleaning routine. Dirt that isn’t cleaned regularly will be ground into the wood, making it look dull and harder to clean later. Also, as dirt is walked on, it can scratch your lovely floors.

Patrick, an Expert on JustAnswer, relates that his floors were refinished 13 years ago, and his routine is to dry mop weekly, and damp mop high-traffic areas. “The floor is as nice as when it was first finished,” he says.

The experts agree with Patrick, so get out your mop and get to it!

If you have children and pets, do this every day. If you have neither, do this at least once a week:

  • Use a dry mop that’s electrostatically charged to attract dirt to remove dirt.
  • Vacuum with a floor-brush attachment (never a beater bar).

The next advice for floor cleaning depends on the type of wood flooring you have. Newer floors are sealed at the surface level with urethane, polyurethane or polyacrylic to make them stain- and water-resistant and easier to clean.

Floors in older homes, however, require more care, and liquid or paste wax to make them shine. These floors were given a penetrating seal or oil finish that soaked into the wood grain and hardened; were lacquered, varnished or shellacked; or were even left untreated.

PRO TIP: To decide what kind of finish you have, rub your finger across the floor. If there’s no smudge, your floor is surface sealed. If your finger creates a smudge, you’ve got an older floor that needs more care.

If you have newer floors:

  • You can also do your daily or weekly cleaning with a damp mop instead of a dry mop. Again, do it daily or weekly depending on whether you have children and/or pets, or you have neither.
  • Use a floor-cleaning product recommended by the floor finisher or opt for plain soap and water. Remember, the mop should be damp, not wet! Rinse with clean water and use a towel to dry any excess.
  • OR use a tea-based cleaning solution whose tannic acid will create a beautiful shine. Steep two teabags in boiling water and use the tea as you would use a commercial cleaner.
  • For either cleaner, always mop in the direction of the wood grain.
  • After cleaning, use a specially-made wax crayon, or even a child’s crayon, that matches your floor to fill in scratches. Heat the wax with a blow dryer on high and buff with a soft cloth.

If you have older floors:

  • Vacuum, sweep or dry mop the floor every day or every week.

The best way to clean hardwood floors: Deep cleaning

You’ll want to apply these techniques once in awhile to truly keep your floors sparkling.

For newer floors:

Sand and refinish completely every three to five years, to remove the old protective finish and replace it, and to smooth out scratches or gouges. This can be a difficult job, so you may want to have a professional do it. If you want to do it yourself, here are detailed instructions.

For older floors:

Once or twice a year, strip the old wax and apply a fresh coat. Keep the area ventilated as you work. After vacuuming to remove dust, use a wax stripper, following the manufacturer’s instructions, or use mineral spirits, rubbing into the wood and wiping it off with a clean, soft cloth.

After the floor has dried, apply a thin coat of wax, using an applicator if you’re using liquid wax, or a cloth for paste wax. Let the floor dry and apply a second coat. Buff with a cloth or a rented buffing machine, always buffing in the direction of the wood grain.

The best way to clean hardwood floors: Some things to avoid

For newer floors:

  • DON’T use vinegar and water, soap-based cleaners or wax on hardwood floors. Vinegar and water, though it’s considered a standard, will dull the finish on your floor, and soap and wax leave a residue.

    Home improvement Expert Charles on JustAnswer warns that if you don’t use the right cleaners on a urethane finish, you’ll damage the finish and “the luster of your hardwood surface is going to go out the door. Hardwood by itself is not that shiny, and the sooner you remember that, the better off your floor will be.”

  • DON’T use straight ammonia, alkaline products, abrasive cleaners, sandpaper, steel wool, or harsh chemicals. These products will dull or scratch the finish, often permanently.
  • DON’T use oils, waxes or furniture sprays. Oil leaves a residue, furniture spray creates a slippery surface (think ice-skating rink!) and wax takes time to apply and makes re-coating difficult.
  • DON’T use steam cleaners. These apply excessive heat and water to the floor, which can lead to damage.

For older floors:

  • DON’T use a damp mop.
  • DON’T use acrylic or water-based waxes, furniture waxes or one-step waxes. Acrylic and water-based waxes can turn floors white, while furniture wax creates a slick surface and those popular one-step waxes can actually trap dirt.

The best way to clean hardwood floors: Common problems and solutions

We’ve all scowled at scuffmarks or other unsightly marks on hardwood floors. Here are some tips for resolving these issues.

  • Scuffmarks: Rub with a bit of baking soda on a damp sponge when your family’s shoes have left heel marks.
  • Food, water or grease stains: Always use commercial cleaners to resolve these issues.
  • Vacuum cleaner damage: Using a vacuum set too close to the floor can leave areas looking shiny and buffed. Use very fine steel wool or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to remove these marks. Make sure to test on a small area first, since these can change the gloss of the finish.
  • Hairline cracks: Don’t do anything! Usually these are caused by dry heat during winter that causes the wood to shrink and crack. During summer, these cracks will usually close up. If cracks really bother you, turn on a humidifier.

For older floors:

  • White water spots: Add a small amount of mineral spirits to an extra-fine (000) steel wool pad and gently rub the area in a circular motion. Keep the area well ventilated as you work.
  • Heel marks, dark spots and pet stains: Use a small amount of wax on an extra-fine steel wool pad and gently rub the area in a circular motion. If the spot or stain persists, allow bleach or vinegar to soak into the wood for about an hour and rinse with a damp cloth.
  • Food stains: Wipe the surface with a damp cloth, rub dry and wax. When removing any stain. Always work from the outside edge in toward the center.
  • Oil-based stains: Rub the area with a soft cloth and dishwashing detergent to break down the grease. Rinse with clear water. Repeat if one or more applications don’t work. Let the spot dry, then smooth the raised grain with fine sandpaper.


Have you ever done something damaging to your hardwood floor while you were cleaning? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below!


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