How to Clean Hardwood Floors: Must-Know Tricks

Keep wood floors clean, polished, and looking fresh. Learn how to clean wood floors with smart cleaning methods that will make caring for wood floors and maintaining their good looks even easier.

What's the secret to fabulously clean hardwood floors? Find out from home cleaning expert Donna Smallin Kuper.

Floors take on a lot—from daily traffic to inevitable spills and mishaps. The best way to clean hardwood floors starts with smart preventive measures, which not only help protect floors, but also cut down on the time you'll spend cleaning. Place floor mats both outside and inside exterior doors to lessen tracked-in dirt. In snowy or rainy weather, set up a boot removal area to avoid damaging floors with tracked in water and de-icing agents. Along with a spot to sit down and a place to store shoes, keep a rag or cleaning cloth tucked away next to the door to quickly clean up errant puddles.

Even when the forecast doesn't call for precipitation, it's smart to remove shoes when coming indoors so dirt, grime, and germs don't get tracked in all over the house. And when hardwood floors are underfoot, scratch-causing heels and cleats should definitely be checked at the door. Prevent marks on hardwood floors by using floor protectors under furniture and by using rugs in play areas to ensure children's toys don't scratch the floor.

Learn how to stop dirt at your doorstep.

How to Clean Wood Floors During Your Regular Cleaning Routine

A regular once-over with a broom or dust mop will do wonders for cleaning hardwood floors. How often you have to do this chore depends on the traffic your hardwood floors see. For a quick clean, dust wood floors with a mop that has been treated with a dusting agent to pick up dust, dirt, and pet hair that might scratch the floor surface. Options for the best mop for hardwood floors include those with a microfiber head. This material is designed to trap dust and grime. Follow the mop manufacturer's recommendations for using wood floor polish or dusting sprays—some mops won't require an extra cleaning agent. When considering how to clean hardwood floors, don't overlook vacuuming. For weekly or biweekly cleaning, vacuum with a floor-brush attachment. Do not use a vacuum with a beater bar attachment, which can scratch a wood floor's finish. For quick dusting, use disposable electrostatic cloths.

Mop Wood Floors (The Right Way)

While the best way to clean hardwood floors starts with preventive measures and routine cleaning, sometimes a deeper clean is in order. Dirt, oil, and grime build up over time and aren't completely removed by a weekly dusting. For occasional deep cleaning (consider doing the cleaning in the spring or just before the winter holidays), use a wood floor mop and wood floor cleaning product diluted according to the label instructions. Saturate a sponge or rag mop in the water, then wring it almost dry so it feels only slightly damp to the touch. Damp-mop the floor, being careful to prevent standing water on the floor. Rinse with a clean mop dampened in clean water, but only if the cleaning product requires it. Wipe up excess liquid because standing water can damage wood surfaces. If the weather is humid, operate a ceiling fan or the air-conditioner to speed up drying.

Cleaning not cutting it? Refinish wood floors to look like new.

Find the Best Wood Floor Cleaner

Floor manufacturers will often recommend the best hardwood floor cleaner to use for their product. But if your floor isn't new, or you can't consult the manufacturer, pick a product that is specifically made for cleaning wood floors. Don't use vinyl or tile floor cleaners as these products will damage, rather than clean, wood floors.

For a natural wood floor cleaner, use a common kitchen staple: vinegar. Clean wood floors with vinegar by adding 1/2 cup of vinegar to a gallon of water. Follow the tips for how to clean hardwood floors with a mop above to prevent water damage.

Genius ways to clean floors (and more!) with vinegar.

Stains on Hardwood Floors

Consider your wood floor's finish before trying to remove a mark. If the stain is on the surface, your floor probably has a hard finish, such as urethane. If the finish stain has penetrated through to the wood, the floor probably has a soft oiled finish—common in older homes whose floors have not been refinished and resealed. Wipe surface stains from a hard finish with a soft, clean cloth. Never use sandpaper, steel wool, or harsh chemicals because they can permanently damage the finish.

The following remedies are for hardwood floors with soft oiled finishes. If needed, end each treatment by staining the wood, then waxing and buffing the spot to match the rest of the floor.

  • Dark spots and pet stains: Rub the spot with No. 000 steel wool and floor wax. If the area is still dark, apply bleach or vinegar and allow it to soak into the wood for about an hour. Rinse with a damp cloth.
  • Heel marks: Use fine steel wool to rub in floor wax.
  • Oil-base stains: Rub the area with a soft cloth and dish detergent to break down the grease. Rinse with clear water. If one or more applications don't work, repeat the procedure. Keep children and pets out of the room until you're done. Let the spot dry, then smooth the raised grain with fine sandpaper.
  • Water marks or white stains: Rub the spot with No. 000 steel wool and floor wax. If the stain goes deeper, lightly sand the floor and clean with fine steel wool and odorless mineral spirits.

More tips for removing stains from wood floors.

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