How to clean hardwood floors

Want sparkling clean hardwood floors? Here's how to shine them up while preserving their life

how to clean hardwood floors
(Image credit: Bona )

Whether they’re mahogany or pine in color, thin in shape, or recently discovered under carpet installed in the '70s, hardwood floors add sophistication and value to the overall aesthetic of homes. Though laminate and vinyl floors are becoming more popular for their affordability, they can’t compete with the depth and beauty of hardwood floors. 

The only drawback is when it comes time to clean hardwood floors. Hardwood floors require a mindful maintenance approach. Use the wrong product or perform an incorrect tune up, and you could do more harm to your floors than good. Never fear. We’ve got the insider scoop on how to clean and maintain those precious floors for decades to come. 

  • Check out our guide to the best mop for more floor care must-haves

How to clean hardwood floors

Below, you'll find the most important considerations for cleaning you hardwoods. 

Go for softer bristles

The bristles, mop pad, or brush head you use to clean with should be soft enough not to scratch your hardwood floors.

All the hardwood floor experts agree – you should invest in a good microfiber mop, like those made by Turbo. Dust and dirt are two of the most harmful things to hardwood floors, so you don’t want either sitting on your floor for too long. Reusable microfiber pads attract dust, dirt, and grime keeping your floors looking fresh and clean. Depending on how dusty your home gets, you might have to use the microfiber mop daily, if not every other day.

While brooms might pick up those big pieces of dirt and trash, they tend to push dust around the room, and could scratch your floors if they have the wrong bristles. The safest brooms are the LandHope Rubber Bristle Hardwood Floor Sweeper, for its rubber bristles, and BISSELL Smart Details Hardwood, designed with horsehair bristles which are soft enough for hardwood floors. 

When it comes to vacuums, it's also important to be mindful of the bristles on the machine. Those with bristly brushes and rolling wheels may scratch your floor. If you really want a vacuum, find one that suctions dirt and dust well, and use it no more than once a week. The Bissell Hard Floor Expert Bagless Canister Vacuum is a good pick – and it’s handheld so you don’t have to worry about wheel scratches. On the other hand, we love the Shark Navigator Lift Away because it has a brushroll shutoff option for cleaning wood floors.

 Mop or flop? 

When mopping your hardwood floors, resist the urge to over-saturate your mop. Water is not a hardwood floor’s friend. Wood is so porous that when lots of moisture seeps in, it can cause discoloring or the wood to buckle. 

The best thing is to dampen your microfiber mop with a little bit of water and clean your floors. When we say a “little bit” – we mean it. You don’t want a lot of water to sit on your floors. It's also a good idea to dry your floors right after mopping them. 

Unfortunately, this also means avoiding the popular steam mops on the market. While these mops are ideal for non-porous floors like laminate and tile, they saturate  wood floors with too much water, an effect that's intensified with steam.

Finally, steer clear of harsh detergents and chemicals. For instance, while some are partial to Murphy’s Oil Soap, the cleaner can cause a buildup over the finish of your floors and leave behind a sticky residue that makes footprints or streaks more visible. Others praise vinegar, but the all-natural cleaner is actually too acidic for hardwoord floors, and may react negatively with your finish and cause some dulling or damage. 

So what should you mop with? Ideally, use a gentle detergent like Bona Wood Floor Cleaner Spray, or an everyday Castille soap or dish soap mixed with water. 

 Rugs are your friend 

When it comes to hardwood floors, it’s most important to prevent wear, scratches, and damage. This means outfitting the bottom of the legs of furniture with furniture pads, so the wood doesn’t suffer indentations or scratches. Door mats at every entry to your home are also necessary to prevent water or dirt from entering the home and damaging the floors. 

However, one of the easiest and most stylish ways to protect your hardwood floors is with a rug. Area rugs are like furniture pads in that they’ll protect the hardwood floors from scratches. They also catch the dust and dirt that your door mats don’t. Just make sure they don’t have a rubber or synthetic latex backing or a rough exterior that will scratch or damage the hardwood. 

Either defer to a softer rug, like the nuLoom Handmade Braided Wool Area Rug (which has a backing that allows airflow to the floors) or utilize a foam or felt pad beneath area rugs such as the Mohawk Home Dual Surface Rug Pad

Keep the end in mind

 In your care and maintenance of your hardwood floors, keep in mind that your main goal is to assist the floors in having a long life. That will require some long-term maintenance actions. 

Whether you have curtains or blinds, be aware of how much sunlight you’re allowing onto your hardwood floors. Wood is photosensitive in the same way we are. The more light they get, the darker they become. Areas of a hardwood floor hidden under a rug may appear much lighter when the rug is moved. To prevent this, you’ll want to move rugs and furniture around, so you don’t end up with light and dark patches of wood. 

Or, for a more permanent solutions, purchase curtains, blinds, or shades that help filter light around rooms that have hardwoods. Sunbrella Window Shade treatments are designed to protect your home from the fading power of the sun. If shades aren’t for you, check out thin window films designed to cut down the UV and IR light that enter your home. 3M’s Sun Control Window Film Prestige Series will do just this without sacrificing style or natural light. If you upgrade your windows, consider low-e glass windows which will do the same as the UV thin film.  

If you think your hardwood floors have been damaged beyond repair and they need to be refinished, think again. Refinishing hardwood floors is an expensive task and only necessary every decade or so (doing it too often is bad for floors). Historic hardwood floors might not be able to handle the sanding of a refinishing. 

In the meantime, there are simpler ways to bring your floors back to life without refinishine. Start with liquid hardwood scratch concealer to remove eye-catching scratches. Polishing is also a great fix for scruffs and scratches. You only need a flat-head mop with a microfiber cleaning pad and wood floor polish to get it done. If your hardwood floors are unsealed or have a tun oil finish, you’ll need to give it a wax, rather than a polish. 

Ultimately, if you choose the path of refinishing, be sure to use a finishing that protects the wood from liquid, dirt, scratches, and UV rays. It’s worth the extra cost. 

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