How to Clean Hardwood Floors [Simple Step-by-Step Guide]

Average Cost To Install New Flooring Price Range: $1,215 - $2,460
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How to Clean Hardwood Floors [Simple Step-by-Step Guide]

Hardwood flooring is durable, luxurious, and has the best resale value.

But without the right maintenance, hardwood floors grow dull over time. With proper care, however, you can prevent your hardwood floors from aging or deteriorating faster.

This article will cover:

  • How To Clean and Maintain Your Hardwood Floors
  • How To Deep Clean Your Hardwood Floors
  • Useful Information For When You Want To Replace Your Hardwood Flooring

In Short…

  • Different floor finishes have different care requirements.
  • Sweep/vacuum weekly.
  • Mop monthly, and avoid using too much water when doing so.
  • Clean up spills as quickly as possible.
  • Waxing is only suitable for penetrating finished floors and is best done every 12-18 months.
  • Surface-finished floors are best re-coated every 3-5 years.

How to Clean and Maintain Your Hardwood Floors

These are the steps you can take on a day-to-day basis to preserve your floorboards and their finish.

The Cleaning Products and Tools You’ll Need:

For all types of floor:

For surface-finished hardwood floors:

  • Water-based cleaning products

For penetrating-finished hardwood floors:

  • Solvent-based cleaning products

Step 1: Sweep and Vacuum Regularly

If your schedule permits, try to sweep your floors once a day.

If that’s not practical for you at the moment, then even once or twice a week will go a long way. When abrasive dust or dirt particles are not removed from your floor, they can scratch the finishing as you walk.

You will want to pay extra attention to sweeping and cleaning up high-traffic areas.

NOTE: Make sure your broom/brush has soft bristles which will not scratch your floor’s finishing.

To speed up the cleaning process, use a vacuum instead of a broom and dustpan. You can browse our unbiased selection of the best vacuums to find one that suits you the best. 

Step 2: Mop Monthly

When it comes to hardwood floors, the best mop attachment to use is a flat-headed, fibre cloth one—this is in order to avoid scratching or damaging the floor.

Mopping hardwood floors can be especially tricky because different hardwood finishes have different care requirements.

If your floor has a surface finish, it is safe to use water-based cleaning products on it. This is because the surface finish prevents the water from seeping into the wood and damaging it. However, it always helps to beware of using too much water or water that is too hot.

If your floor has a penetrating finish, you’ll have to stick to solvent-based cleaning products only. Unlike surface finishes, penetrating finishes allow liquids to seep into the planks and thus warp and damage them.

So make sure to wring your mop out as much as possible so that it is only slightly damp and carefully follow the mixing instructions that come with your cleaning products.

NOTE: One quick way to check what kind of finishing your floor has is by running your finger over the grain. If you cannot feel its texture, then you most likely have a surface finish. 

However, if you can feel the texture of the grain, then it’s likely that a penetrating finish was used. 
Did you know that there are subtypes of surface and penetrating finishes? Find out more about which one you have by checking out our complete hardwood finish guide.

Step 3: Clean up Spills Immediately

Whether it’s water, coffee, wine, or chocolate milk, you need to act immediately to clean it up before it penetrates your floorboards and/or causes a stain. Letting a spill dry could result in it becoming sticky and therefore more difficult to remove.

Use non-abrasive materials like microfibre cloth rags, tissues, and towels.

After wiping up a water-based spill (which is what food and drink spills can be categorized as), go over the area with a cloth that has been slightly dampened with diluted dish-washing detergent. This way, reduce the growth of bacteria or development of unwanted odors.

In case of an oil-based spill, slightly dampen a cloth with mineral spirits and use it to clean the area.

NOTE: Not all mineral spirits are suitable for cleaning. Some grades of mineral spirits (a.k.a. “white spirits”) are commonly used as paint thinner or to clean, but they are different from mineral spirits specifically designed for cleaning purposes. Here is an example of what a suitable cleaning mineral spirit would look like.

Additional Maintenance Tips:

  • Avoid using old-school home substitutes for cleaning products (For example, vinegar). Some people may be tempted to use these DIY cleaning solutions in order to save money. However, when the ingredients are acidic (like vinegar), they will damage your floors prematurely and end up costing you even more money in the long run. 
  • Avoid using high heels, cleats, and other similarly heavy and/or sharp footwear on your hardwood floors.
  • Avoid moving heavy furniture around too much, or at least ensure that the furniture is placed on a rug (or something soft) before you move it out of the way. Check out our area rug guide to help you select a rug that goes with your room’s theme, size, and moisture.

How to Deep Clean Your Hardwood Floors

There are some things that won’t get taken care of during a quick cleaning session, so every few months or so, it helps to do a deep clean of your floors.

The Cleaning Products and Tools You’ll Need:


For surface-finished hardwood floors

For penetrating-finished hardwood floors:

  • Floor oil/wax

Step 1: Remove Spots and Stains

Dishwashing detergent on a slightly damp cloth or sponge should be enough to get rid of most stains—especially in rooms that have a surface finish.

NOTE: For floors that have a penetrating finish, you can try to use fine steel wool and some floor wax to remove any unwanted marks that the dish detergent could not get rid of.

However, make sure you do not try this method with surface-finished floors, because the wax will affect any new layers of finish you add during refinishing/touch-ups in the future. Instead, stick to using cleaners that are specifically designed for surface (or polyurethane) finishes.

But if a stain is especially stubborn in spite of everything you’ve tried so far, it means that the mark has penetrated through your finishing and into the floorboard itself.

In that case, you will have to sand down the spot that has the unwanted mark until the stain is no longer visible, and then refinish the spot. You can also try using bleach on a brush to lighten the stain’s mark.

Step 2: Use Wax (Penetrating-Finished) or Polish (Surface-Finished)

In addition to making your floors shine, wax also protects your floors from minor scratches and marks. But before you start waxing your floorboards, you’ll need to make sure that they are structurally-sound, not discolored, and not chipped since wax does not address any of those problems.

Waxing is more of a preventive measure rather than a solution to damage that has already been caused.

And as noted in the previous step, waxing is also only suitable for floors with a penetrating finish and is best done every 12-18 months.

Please do not wax surface finished floors as this will prevent any future coats of finish from adhering to the floorboards properly.

Surface-finished floors already have a layer of polyurethane protecting them, so they do not require the additional protection provided by wax. Simply polish them and they’ll be shining like they’re brand new again.

The polish needs to be spread evenly, so for the best results use an applicator pad. You do not have to force the polish into the floor, use the applicator pad to quickly guide it where you want it to go—take care to not back yourself into a corner! 

Step 3: Re-Oil (Penetrating-Finished) or Re-Coat (Surface-Finished)

Most penetrating finishes are oil-based or wax-based. So if you’ve noticed that your floors are looking dull, then simply re-oil or re-wax them.

However, if your floors are surface-finished, you can re-coat the protective polyurethane layer every 3-5 years depending on how dull or worn out your floor appears.

NOTE: Re-coating refers to adding another layer of polyurethane on top of your original surface finish.

After about 10 years, your surface-finished floors will need to be completely sanded down to completely remove the original coating of polyurethane and then re-finished with a brand new coating.

This step is much cheaper than completely replacing the floors—which have an average life expectancy of 20-30 years with proper maintenance.

Additional Maintenance Tips:

  • If circumstances permit, get professionals to do the major maintenance jobs for you. As experts, they will know the best specific steps to take and the most compatible products to use for your floors specifically.

Useful Information for Replacing Your Hardwood Flooring

Even the best maintained floors will need to be replaced over time. And when that time comes, you’ll want to make wise decisions that will benefit you in the years to come.

Choosing a sturdy wood species is a good first step. Some of the most durable tree species used for hardwood flooring are:

  • Oak
  • Hickory
  • Cherry
  • Maple

The availability and pricing of these species depends on where you live. If you’re on a budget, you might want to consider alternative species that are more readily found in your area.

Check out our Complete Guide to Wood Species for Hardwood Floors for more information!

Regardless of the species of wood you choose, you will also have the choice between:

  • Solid hardwood flooring: Each plank of this flooring type is manufactured from a single piece of wood.
  • Engineered hardwood flooring: Each plank is made of a thin layer of hardwood attached on top of one or more layers of plywood—this gives it the same appearance as solid hardwood.

If you’re unsure which type suits your needs best, we’ve developed a pros and cons page to help you make the best choice. 

We have also developed a complete and unbiased hardwood buyer’s guide containing everything you need to know about hardwood flooring. 

If you’re considering replacing your hardwood floors with a different kind of flooring, then check out our tiered rankings of the most durable flooring. And if you’re on a budget, you’ll find our cheap flooring ideas article quite handy!

Average Cost To Install New Flooring Price Range: $1,215 - $2,460
See costs in your area

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