Best Ways to Clean Hardwood Flooring

Best Ways to Clean Hardwood Flooring

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 how 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.

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.

Tools & Supplies Needed

First and foremost, you will need a hardwood floor, of course. Before you can clean it, it’s important to know what kind of hardwood floor you have.

Not all hardwood floors are created equal. 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.

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Floor Protection

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. $-$$
Felt Furniture Pads, many brands available
  • Best for small- to medium-sized furniture.
  • Best for overall floor protection.
  • Comes in colors to match furniture
  • Can be used to slide items but may fall off.
  • May need frequent replacement
Widely available in-store and online at big box and local retailers. $
Moving Blankets, Generic
  • Best for large furniture and used with a helping hand.
  • Heavy-duty and lasts a long time
  • Protects furniture while cleaning
  • Can be unsightly if left under furniture
Available at moving truck rental locations, hardware stores, and Amazon $$-$$$

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Vacuums

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.

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 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.

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.

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

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 to 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.

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 floor cleaning products on the market that promise to deliver a sparkling like-new hardwood floor, but which one is the best? 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. In a few easy steps, you can get your hardwood looking like new and keep it looking that way.

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.

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 a 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 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 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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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 product 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, 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.

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 a one or two cleanings with a steam mop, planks can shrink or swell, buckle, splinter, delaminate, and look aged well beyond their years.

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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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.

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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Sarah Williamson

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.

7 thoughts on “Best Ways to Clean Hardwood Flooring”

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    Dear Sarah, Unfortunately, I used the Swiffer Wet Jet on some of my wood floors before knowing it was possibly damaging them. The easiest way to describe this is if you are in your socks, the areas I didn’t touch are smooth and you can slide easily. The areas where I used the Swiffer have a sticky residue and I can’t slide on them at all. Any damage to the actual flooring however, is not visible, there’s just this stickiness. How can I get that residue off those floors without causing further damage? I appreciate your insights. Thank you.

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      I’m noticing a touch of that in areas where I cleaned with bleach. I look forward to the advice you receive. It will help me too.

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      I’m so glad I found your article this morning. I have a puppy making big messes & needed to know the best way to tackle them. I was debating a steam mop – you ruled that out. And I’ve made the mistake of cleaning with bleach a couple of times in his most accident prone areas. I’ll surely stop that. I’ll stick with my dry mop & various appropriate sprays.

      Do you have a best recommendation for keeping up with a puppy & all of his messes?

      I have also noticed gaps in my planks and what I’ll describe as chips in the floors in a few spots; as well as, uneven surfaces (1958 floors). What causes this & can I fix it? I am in FL & have concerns of moisture under the house.

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    I used Proteus Floor Cleaner for hardwood and I am very satisfied with the result. There are lots of floor cleaner that can’t be used on different surfaces. This Proteus can be applied to almost all types of surface.

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    What kind of bucket is that? I bought an O-Cedar and it doesn’t wring out the mop hardly at all. What’s the best wring mop that will get the mop almost dry?

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