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how to clean hardwood

Best Way To Clean Hardwood Floors: Tips, Dos & Don’ts

August 23, 2021 / 26 Comments

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Whether you have had a hardwood floor for years or just had a new one installed, it’s important to preserve your pricey investment and learn the best way to clean hardwood floors. Believe it or not, there’s a bit more to it than using any old broom and a mop.

In fact, the way you’re used to cleaning your floors may be doing more harm than good. Finding the right brooms, mops, and vacuums for this flooring type is essential to prevent damage. Also, educating yourself on the best cleaning solutions will be very useful.

So, let’s look at some of the best products to clean your hardwood floors as well as the right and the wrong way to do it.

How To Clean Hardwood Floors: Tools & Products

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How do you clean hardwood floors?’ is one of the most common questions that we get. Below you’ll learn more about the essential tools that you should have on hand including brooms, mops, and vacuums as well as the best cleaning products. Before going over the dos and don’ts, let’s go over the most essential tools that will make your life easier and protect your beloved floors.

Best Tools And Supplies For Hardwood Floors

The tools and supplies you’ll use should be safe for the hardwood flooring type you have at home. Although many people are under the impression that all hardwood floors are the same, that’s not quite the case.

Best Tools And Supplies For Hardwood Floors

While there are general guidelines when it comes to hardwood care and maintenance, the specific type of hardwood and finish you have may require special considerations. You will want to check with the manufacturer if you aren’t sure.

After you get all the necessary information, you can dive into our recommendations for the best floor protectors, vacuums, brooms, and mops below.

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Floor Protection For Hardwood Floors

It’s always a good idea to use floor protection such as furniture coasters and felt pads under furniture legs and frames. This is a must-have item for deep cleaning days when it’s time to attack that nest of neglected dust bunnies under the sofa.

Furniture coasters only cost a few bucks and allow you to easily move heavy furniture pieces without much help while protecting your hardwood from scratches and gouges. In a pinch, you can even use a heavy-duty blanket.

Product Features Availability Price
Super Sliders, Furniture Sliders, Moving Men
  • Sliders comes in a variety of sizes.
  • Easy to use on any size furniture.
  • Smaller items can be moved by yourself.
  • Can be unsightly if left under furniture for long-term floor protection and moving ability.
  • Long-lasting
Widely available in-store and online at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon, and more. $-$$
Felt Furniture Pads, many brands available
  • Best for small- to medium-sized furniture.
  • Best for overall floor protection.
  • Comes in colors to match furniture
  • Can be used to slide items but may fall off.
  • May need frequent replacement
Widely available in-store and online at big box and local retailers. $
Moving Blankets
  • Best for large furniture and used with a helping hand.
  • Heavy-duty and lasts a long time
  • Protects furniture while cleaning
  • Can be unsightly if left under furniture
Available at moving truck rental locations, hardware stores, and Amazon $$-$$$

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Vacuums For Hardwood Floors

One of the easiest and most popular ways to keep your hardwood floor clean is to use a vacuum. You should only use a vacuum that’s designed for hard surface flooring. If you have both carpet and hardwood in your home, look for a vacuum that is designed for both.

Look for a vacuum that has adequate suction to easily lift dirt and lint. The vacuum should also be lightweight with wheels that will not scuff or scratch the floor finish. If it has a beater bar, it needs to be adjustable or removable as the beater bar can also damage the finish.

Canister vacuums, cordless stick, and lightweight upright vacuums with attachments are the most popular options.

Some folks prefer an automated vacuum such as a Roomba. However, if you have pets, this may not be the wisest idea.

There have been incidents involving Roombas and pet accidents. The Roomba can spread said accident to the far corners of your living room thus creating a smelly nightmare scenario for you to come home to. Enough said.

If you are a pet owner and struggle to keep the house clean of pet hair, try vacuuming the hardwood floors. Sweeping the floors will simply move the hair around. A vacuum meant for this flooring type will successfully suck up the hair that’s been bothering you so much.

Vacuum Features Availability Price
Shark Navigator Professional Lift-Away Upright Vacuum
  • Upright vacuum cleaner
  • Detachable canister
  • Adjustable beater bar
  • Bag-free and washable filter
  • Crevice tool and air-driver pet brush included
In-store and online: Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot, Sharkclean.com $-$$
Bissell Hard Floor Expert Bagless Canister Vacuum
  • Lightweight canister style for easy portability
  • Expandable Cleaning Wand
  • Bag-free and washable filter
  • Corded design with powerful suction
In-store and online Bissell.com, Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon $$
Dyson V8 Absolute Cordless HEPA Vacuum Cleaner
  • Cordless design, great vac for stairs and multiple levels
  • Washable HEPA filter and Bagless
  • Ultra-powerful suction
  • Available with optional attachment tool bundle
In-store and online: Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon $$$

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Brooms For Hardwood Floors

For the days you’d just rather not deal with a vacuum or for smaller rooms and messes, there is always a broom. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using a good old-fashioned bristle broom. However, there are more efficient tools available to sweep your floors in half the time.

Brooms For Hardwood Floors

Microfiber brooms are also known as dust mops. Dust mops replace your standard bristle head with a head wrapped in a microfiber cloth. Depending on the model, the cloths are either disposable or reusable and machine washable.

The benefit to dust mops is that they do a great job of attracting and picking up dirt, dust, and hair instead of just pushing it around the floor into a pile. You may still get a pile of dirt when you’re done, so don’t throw out your dust pan.

Just recently we reviewed some of the best brooms for hardwood floors. If you need more help selecting the best one for you, don’t hesitate to check that review, which comes with a buyer’s guide.

Broom Features Availability Price
O-Cedar Dual-Action Microfiber Sweeper Dust Mop
  • Made with microfiber and ultra-dense chenille for easy dust, dirt and hair pick-up
  • Eco-friendly and machine washable up to 50x
  • Refills available
In store and Online Amazon, Local Hardware Stores, Big Box Stores  $
Bissel Smart Details Lightweight Dust mop
  • Jointed handle
  • Bendable edges to clean baseboards and floors
  • Washable microfiber attracts dust and dirt without chemicals
In-store and online: Bissell.com, Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon    $

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Mops For Hardwood Floors

If your floor is soiled beyond a here-and-there spot cleaning, you will need a damp mop to get rid of the extra dirt and embedded grime.

Again, the magical microfiber comes to the rescue. Some damp mops are built like a dust mop with a removable and washable flat microfiber head. Others look like a yarn mop but replace the loops of yarn with microfiber strips.

The benefits of a microfiber damp mop are twofold. Like the dust mop, the fiber attracts dirt. The main benefit here is that the microfiber doesn’t hold onto as much moisture, so you can get your floor clean without saturating the wood.

One thing to keep in mind is to avoid wet mops at all costs. Unfortunately, water can damage the wood, so to protect the floors you should only use a damp mop. There are numerous mops designed specifically for hardwood floors, made of gentle materials that won’t cause any damage, and that use just the right amount of water.

If you ever notice a puddle of water on your floors, act fast. Grab a cloth and make sure the floors are completely dry.

You should mop high-traffic areas two to three times a week and low-traffic areas once or twice a month.

Mop Features Availability Price
Bona Hardwood Floor Premium Spray Mop
  • Safe for all unwaxed, unoiled, polyurethane finished wood floors
  • Extra-large mop head
  • Comes with full-size Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner cartridge and machine washable microfiber cleaning pad
In-store and online: Home Depot, Amazon $-$$
Temple’s Pride Professional Microfiber mop for Hardwood
  • Comes with three types of washable drag-resistant microfiber pads for dry, wet, and wet/dry applications
  • Lightweight aluminum collapsible handle
Amazon $$

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Hardwood Cleaning Products

In most cases, you’ll only need a little water to get your floor clean. If your floor is extra dirty or needs to be disinfected, you can enlist the power of a floor cleaner.

There are so many products on the market that promise to deliver a sparkling like-new floors, but which one is the best cleaner for hardwood floors?

In short, some of the best options (depending on your wood’s finish) are:

  • Best Overall: Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner Spray
  • #2: Weiman Wood Floor Cleaner
  • #3: Method Squirt + Mop Hardwood Cleaner
  • Best Budget: Dish soap diluted in distilled water

There are some general guidelines you should always follow when choosing a hardwood floor cleaner. The most important is that it needs to be pH-neutral and designed specifically for urethane-finished hardwood floors. This is where it really pays to read the label because some products labeled as safe for hardwoods are not.

If your floors are finished with wax, oil, or Monocoat, avoid using water. Manufacturers make their own cleaners for these finishes, which should only be used as directed.

Some folks swear by diluting a couple drops of dish soap in water for use as a floor cleaner. This is a cheap, eco-friendly, and effective alternative to store-bought cleaners. With this method, make sure that you remove any soapy residue from the floor with a clean damp mop before it dries.

If you are using any amount of water to clean your floor, it’s important to consider what type of water you are using. Distilled water is always the safest bet. Hard water from wells, chlorinated city water, or tap water treated with softeners can cause mineral deposits and discoloration that is difficult if not impossible to remove without completely refinishing your hardwood floor.

Let’s look at a few appropriate cleaners for hardwoods. Later, we will discuss what not to use.

Product Features Availability Price
Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner Spray
  • Safe for all unwaxed, unoiled, polyurethane finished wood floors
  • Water-based cleaning formula
  • Premixed
  • GREENGUARD Gold certified – very low VOC emissions
In store and online $
Weiman Wood Floor Cleaner
  • Streak-Free
  • Can be used on any finished hardwood surface
  • No-rinse formula
  • Use on any pre-finished hardwood floor
Hardware stores, Amazon, department stores $
Method Squirt + Mop Hardwood Floor Cleaner
  • Non-toxic squirt + mop wood floor cleaner.
  • Plant based biodegradable cleaner
  • Formulated for sealed hardwood and laminate floors.
  • No need to rinse.
  • Pleasant almond scent
Amazon, Grocery stores, Hardware stores $

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What To Do

Now that you’ve gathered your arsenal of tools and supplies to clean your hardwood floor, you’re ready to get to work. Learning how to clean wood floors will be much easier once you follow these seven steps:

1. First, remove furniture and belongings from the area to be cleaned. Use your handy furniture coasters, felt pads, and blankets to slide heavy items out of the way.

This is where it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a friend to help with the initial heavy lifting—safety first. If the coasters are left in place, most able-bodied folks can do the sliding on their own in the future.

If you own a lot of furniture and live in a smaller space or just don’t have many places to move things, you can shuffle everything to one side of the room, clean the cleared side, then repeat the process on the other side. This technique gets the job done but is probably best reserved for deep cleaning days.

2. Next, grab your vacuum or dust mop to go after all the dirt and dust.

Many people don’t think twice before using a vacuum on a hardwood floor. However, it’s always a good idea to inspect the wheels and vacuum head before each time you use it. Do this before you plug it in to avoid injury.

What To Do

Abrasives such as gravel, salt, and coffee grounds can become embedded in the hard-plastic vacuum wheels. This can act like sandpaper and quickly destroy the finish of your floor with marks, scratches, and even deep gouges everywhere you rolled your vacuum.

The best way to maximize your effort is sweep or vacuum with the grain of the wood. This will allow you to pick up the most dirt. Pay extra attention to the joints in the wood as dirt tends to accumulate there the most.

The stair wand attachment for your vacuum is for more than just stairs and cobwebs. It works great to clean along the edges of the walls where dust gets trapped around baseboards.

Don’t want to move your furniture, but still want to exterminate that dust bunny nest under the sofa? Use the stair wand and upholstery attachments on your vacuum or a dust mop with an extendable handle.

3. Now that the floor is free from dirt and the dust bunnies are no more, it’s time to make your floor shine.

If you purchased a floor cleaner concentrate, now is the time to mix it with water into a spray bottle. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions completely when diluting a concentrated cleaner. There is too much of a good thing–mixed too strong, it can ruin the floor finish.

While using a concentrated cleaner can save you money and allow for more flexibility for cleaning strength, there is something to be said for using a premixed cleaner. A premixed option saves you time and takes the hassle out of getting the mix right.

4. Before you begin to spray your new cleaner everywhere, it’s always a good idea to test it on your floor in a closet or corner of the room that isn’t noticeable. Spray the cleaner on a small area, wait a couple of minutes, then wipe it off. Look for any discoloration, residue, clouding, or bubbling of the floor finish.

5. Now that you’re positive that the cleaner is safe for your floor, assemble your mop and plan to work in small sections starting from the back or corner of the room to the door.

Begin by spraying a small section of floor with your cleaner. Then, mop the area working backwards using long side-to-side figure-eight motions while going with the grain as much as possible. This simple technique captures more grime instead of just pushing it around.

The goal here is to get enough product on the floor without creating puddles or saturating the wood. You want the floor to dry as quickly as possible.

If you find that it’s still too wet when you’re done, you can go over it with a dry mop head or buff with a soft cleaning cloth. You can also open a few windows or use portable fans to help with air circulation.

6. If you have a lot of square footage to cover, it can be a real chore to keep your hardwoods looking good. Believe it or not, the best way to spend less time cleaning your floor is to do it more often. This may sound like an oxymoron, but spot cleaning saves time in the long run.

Just grab a few cheap dust brooms with pans and small empty spray bottles from your local dollar store. Fill the bottles with some of your favorite floor cleaner diluted with distilled water and stash these spot cleaning kits in easily accessible places around your home.

Now, you can spot clean high traffic areas such as entries, hallways, and have a quick solution for kitchen and bath messes. It’s like the spill kits used in retail stores but designed for your active home.

7. Finally, grab a cold drink, stand back and admire your sparkling clean hardwood floor.

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How To Deep Clean Hardwood Floors

Deep cleaning means that you will pay more attention and use several tools and products to keep your floors squeaky clean. You should practice deep cleaning once or twice a year.

  1. Start by first cleaning the floors with a broom, vacuum, or dry mop to remove all the debris, dirt, dust, and sand that can cause damage to the floor surface.
  2. Use your wet mop to clean the entire floor.
  3. Find areas with stubborn stains, spots, or buildup that need a deeper clean. Apply a deep-cleaning product and let it do its magic.
  4. Mop the floors once again with a clean mop cloth and check if any areas need to be cleaned once again.

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What Not To Do

Now that you know the steps of how to clean your hardwood floor properly, it’s also important to understand what not to do.

First and foremost, do your best to steer clear of internet misinformation and ‘cleaning hacks’ as many of these methods can do more harm than good. If you are ever unsure, consult your flooring manufacturer for recommended cleaning products and methods.

There seems to be a lot of confusion on what kinds of products, particularly store-bought, are safe to use. Using an inappropriate cleaning solution on your hardwood can be devastating and expensive. These can leave an impossible-to-clean residue that turns milky white, discoloration, delamination, wood splitting, and bubbles or ripples in the finish.

A few cleaning products you should avoid are Pine-Sol, solvent-based cleaners, Mop & Glo, Swiffer WetJet, Murphy’s Oil Soap, Pledge and furniture polishes like it, rubbing alcohol, white vinegar, and any cleaners containing ammonia or bleach. Also, avoid any ‘scrubbing’ cleaner that contains abrasives.

Speaking of scrubbing, you never want to use a scrub brush, Brillo pad, or steel wool to clean your finished floor. This is practically like taking sandpaper to your hardwood.

Another frequently-seen floor cleaning faux pas is the amount of water that is used when mopping the floor. Hardwood floors are not waterproof; they aren’t even water-resistant. Water damage isn’t something your floor can come back from and if that happens, it will likely need to be replaced.

Avoid oversaturating the floor with water or ‘swabbing the deck’ when you mop. You shouldn’t see puddles or standing water as you go. The floor should dry quickly.

Your mop bucket should be reserved for rinsing your mop head and cleaning your vinyl plank and other waterproof flooring in your house.

Is Steam Cleaning Safe For Your Hardwood?

Despite what the appliance companies would have you believe, you should never use a steam mop on a hardwood floor. The pictures on the company websites and boxes of these gadgets often feature a person cleaning and happily ruining their hardwood floors with this expensive appliance.

The intense heat drives the moisture deep into the wood and causes irreparable damage. After just one or two cleanings with a steam mop, planks can shrink or swell, buckle, splinter, delaminate, and look aged well beyond their years.

You can potentially use a steam mop on hardwood if you’re confident your floors have been sealed, and that the hardwood seal is still in-tact. To test this, drip a small amount of water on your floor. If it beads up right away, the seal is likely still intact and. If the water seeps into your wood or runs without beading, your floors need to be resealed.

Note: be sure to run this test in several spots on your floor, as the quality of your hardwood’s seal can vary from location to location.

If you’re confident in your floor’s seal, you might consider steam mopping with a tool marketed for use with hardwood. Be wary, though – hardwood manufacturers recommend against using steam cleaners without exception. If you go down this road, keep a close eye on any moisture left behind from your steam mop. Put simply, trust your gut – if things look too wet, abort.

Topical Refinishing Or Rejuvenation

Also, be wary of any topically applied product that claims to refinish or rejuvenate your floor. At the best, these products might leave you with a short-lived polished look that will wear off in a few washes. At the worst, they will create an ugly, difficult-to-remove residue or eat through the finish.

The only way to truly rejuvenate and refinish your worn-out hardwoods is to have them sanded, refinished, and sealed professionally.

Furthermore, if you have pets, you are probably already aware of the damage their claws can do. This is particularly true of large, heavy dogs. Don’t go too long between nail trimmings; your pets, and your floors will thank you.

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FAQ

What is the best thing to use to clean hardwood floors?

One of the easiest and fastest ways to clean hardwood floors without damaging them is using a vacuum designed for this type of floor cover. It should provide good suction, be lightweight with wheels that don’t scratch the floor, and have a removable beater bar. 

Upright, canister, and cordless stick lightweight vacuums are the best types to use for cleaning hardwood floors.


What is the best wood floor cleaner and polish?

Only approved wood floor cleaners and polish should be used for hardwood flooring. The cleaning products should be pH-neutral and designed specifically for hardwood floors with urethane finishing. Hardwood floors with wax, Monocat, or oil finishes should not be cleaned with any water. Specific cleaning products for these types of floors should be used.

Some of the best hardwood cleaners include Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner Spray, Weiman Hardwood Floor Cleaner, and Method Squirt + Mop Hardwood Floor Cleaner.


How often should you clean hardwood floors?

With the right tools and cleaning products, hardwood floors should only need to be cleaned two or three times a month. High-traffic areas will need to be cleaned at least once a week. Low traffic areas may benefit from the occasional spot cleaning. Otherwise, clean them every second week. Deep cleaning of hardwood floors can be done once or twice a year.


How to clean and protect hardwood flooring

When cleaning hardwood flooring, make sure you use tools such as mops, brooms, and vacuums designed for this type of floor. Many brands carry their own cleaning products, so ensure you use approved cleaners designed for specific hardwood floors. 

Furniture coasters and felt pads are excellent products for protecting hardwood flooring. Heavy-duty blankets work well when you want to move furniture on cleaning days without damaging the hardwood flooring.


How do you clean hardwood floors naturally?

One of the best ways to clean hardwood floors naturally is to use a mixture of water and dish soap or detergent. Add a few drops of dish soap to 4 cups of warm water and mix together gently without shaking the bottle vigorously. Use a microfiber mop and spray the floor area before wiping it over with the mop. Ensure you don’t saturate the hardwood flooring.

Conclusion

Your hardwood floor is a long-term investment that, with the right amount of care, will last for years. With cleaning, like all good things, a little here and there goes a long way. Learning how to safely clean hardwood floors is essential in preserving their health and prolonging their lifespan.

Keeping your hardwood floors looking like new doesn’t have to take up every Saturday for the rest of your life. With the right tools and supplies, quality hardwood cleaning products, spot cleaning, and knowing what not to do, you can spend less time cleaning and more time living.

What will you do with all the time you saved? Do you have any safe hardwood cleaning tips? Tell us in the comments.

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About Sarah Williamson

Sarah is a self-described “flooring nerd” with over a decade of building industry experience including installation, estimation, and sales. She thrives on finding unique solutions to interior design challenges and sharing her love of creating inspired spaces through writing.

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