How to Clean Hardwood Floors (Unbiased Guide)
Your hardwood was about as expensive as your car.
And like your car, your hardwood needs maintenance at certain “miles” to keep it looking new for the longest time possible.
There’s regular maintenance that needs to be performed monthly or more. There’s occasional “wear and tear” maintenance that needs to be performed. And there’s the less frequent major treatments required every decade or so.
There are two goals of this article:
- increase the life of your hardwood by performing general maintenance
- learn common mistakes that can shorten the life or temporarily damage hardwood
- learn from our experience of the best cleaners, treatments, and tools
Regular cleaning of the hardwood floors
Like vacuuming carpet, there are certain things you need to do
The most boring topic on the list is also the most frequent: general cleaning of your hardwood floors.
How often you clean boils down to part personal preference, part how dirty you get your floors, and part necessity cleaning to keep your hardwood from aging too quickly.
I’d clean your hardwood at a minimum weekly. It’s more than just about looks: dust and debris can act like sandpaper to grind down the finish of your floor.
It’s not uncommon for people to make mistakes cleaning their wood floor, which may be doing their flooring investment no favors. Here are a few tips on cleaning your hardwood:
You should always pay attention to the types of hardwood floor cleaners you buy and use. There are several brands to choose from, and each carries specific instructions on how to use them. If the cleaner is meant to be diluted or used directly on the floor without diluting it, then you should stick to those instructions.
The key things to remember when using any cleaning product on a hardwood floor are that water is not wood’s friend, and more product is not necessarily better. Strong cleaning solutions can be harsh on stains and finishes and should be used sparingly after being tested in an inconspicuous area.
Mopping and water damage
If you use a mop on your hardwood floors, it should be as slightly damp as you can make it. Even enough water to see beads of residue may be too damp for your sensitive hardwood floors. Water can cause both warping and permanent damage underneath and between the floorboards.
If there are any liquid spills onto the hardwood floor, you will want to wipe them dry as soon as possible. Blowing a fan or a hair dryer over the damp area can help dry out the water if you think it has already had time to soak through or between the boards.
Water stains can be cleaned out with a soft cotton rag and toothpaste mixed with mineral oil. Rub the cloth and the toothpaste cleaning solution over the white haze until the color returns to normal.
If the water damage is too extensive, then the damaged boards will need to be removed and replaced.
The best vacuums for hardwood floors will have settings designed for hard surfaces. If your hardwood floor also has area rugs, you will want one that is safe for your rugs too. This means a vacuum designed to safely vacuum thick fibers, or the edges of a rug, without catching and entangling them.
Polyurethane vs wax finish
When choosing your cleaning supplies, you might notice that some products are recommended for wax floors and others for polyurethane. If you are not sure which type of floor you have, most likely you have polyurethane.
Polyurethane is superior (requires less maintenance and better protection), and it’s become the standard. Some people still opt for wax because of it’s natural look.
Still not sure which you have? Here are a couple tests you can try:
One way is to drop a few beads of water onto the floor to see if it beads (polyurethane) or soaks in (wax). Or, you can wipe the floor with a rag dipped in mineral spirits. If the rag feels waxy after a single pass, it is probably a wax finish.
Captain’s Warning: If you do have a waxed wood floor, you should never clean it with water. Be sure to wipe up any liquid spills as soon as they happen, and only use the smallest possible amount of water for the test. A few drops will be enough to show the difference.
Caring for the finish
The finish is the top layer of the hardwood floor, the part that gives it shine and a well-kept appearance. Caring for the finish over the long term will keep the floor looking new and keep you from having to go through the work of refinishing the hardwood floor as often.
Cautions with furniture
Whether moving or standing still, furniture can damage a hardwood floor. When moving furniture across a room, you should place sliders underneath the legs or base. Not only does this make the furnishings easier to move, it will help prevent scratches and dents being left behind.
You should also place furniture pads on the chair, desk, and table legs. These will prevent accidental scratches when the furniture is moved by accident or on purpose, and be softer on your floors than wood or metal.
Cautions with shoes
If you have high heeled shoes, you should avoid wearing them across the hardwood floor. The impact of stiletto heels can dent wood floors. Cleats, heavy boots, and wet shoes should all be kept off the wood floors.
Cautions with pets
Pets and hardwood floors can get along, but it takes a little adjusting on your part. You will want to keep your pet’s nails trimmed so they do not dig in or scratch the wood floor while they walk or run around. You can also use rugs in your dog’s favorite sleeping areas to reduce wear and tear, and give them a comfortable place to lie down.
Refinishing hardwood floors
Eventually, even the best-maintained hardwood floor will need refinishing. Over the years, the pressure of walking, running, placing furniture, and cleaning your floors will add up. Refinishing is the best way to make the old floors look like new.
How often should you refinish the floors? That will depend. A surface refinish that doesn’t scrape into the wood can be applied every 3-5 years to add extra shine and polish.
Deeper refinishing that scrapes down some of the wood to smooth surface imperfections, then adds a new layer of stain on top is done less often. Normally this would happen every 10-15 years, and perhaps less often in rooms that see less foot traffic, such as bedrooms or offices.
How to repair damaged hardwood floors
If you have your hardwood long enough, it’s going to get damaged. The tips above help reduce your chances of scratching, denting, and warping your hardwood. The tips below help you fix the damage if it’s happened:
A wood putty and a closely matching wood stain are the best solutions to minor scratches and dents on your wood floors. The DIY fix is simple even for beginning homeowners since can find kits that have everything you need from the putty knife to the wood putty.
Use the wood putty to fill in the gap, then wait for it to dry. Some putty will change color so you know exactly when it’s ready to stain over. Use a wood stain brush or sponge to apply the wood stain over the repaired area and allow it to dry.
Sometimes it is possible to repair a warped floorboard without replacing it entirely.
If the board is only slightly warped, you can place a heavy piece of furniture or any heavy object on the board for several days to flatten it out. If that method does not work, you can nail the edges down and cover the nail heads with putty and matching the wood stain to hide the repair.
However, if the board is too badly damaged it may not survive the repair process intact. In that case, it will need to be removed entirely and replaced.
Captain’s parting words!
Hardwood floors are one of the most beautiful and durable flooring choices you can make. Daily cleaning and maintenance are easy, requiring only a broom or vacuum every couple of days.
In the long-term, refinishing and re-staining can keep wood floors looking at their best for decades. Some preventative maintenance will put off the need for that project, as will making small repairs as needed.
Most importantly, you should be aware of any and all protective sealants or finishes your floor might have, and how they need to be cared for and cleaned. Accidentally removing or damaging the finish will keep it from protecting your floors in the future.
By doing all of that, you can have a beautiful and long-lasting hardwood floor for your home.
Any questions or your own tricks on caring for your hardwood? Let me know in the comments below.