How To Clean Hardwood Floors

Beautiful Living Room with Shining Wood Floors.

Cleaning Hardwood Floors

Sand, grit and dirt are hardwood floor’s worst adversary. They act just like sandpaper each time you step on it, scratching the floor beneath your feet.

The best advice for wood floor owners is: remember that when you are cleaning your hardwood floor, you are cleaning the finish – not the wood.

With that in mind, is the cleaner you are going to use the appropriate one for the type of finish you have on your floor? Learning about your floor’s finish is essential to proper care.

Maintaining Hard Wood Floors

Maintaining your hardwood floors requires several things; Sweeping, vacuuming, dust mopping and stain removal – these are just the start.

Maintaining your floors will require occasionally refinishing as well. Knowing about your floors will help you decide when and how to proceed with care and maintenance.

Types of Wood Finish

The all-important floor finish – this is the one thing you need to know before deciding on how best to clean the wood floors in your home – what type of finish your floors have.

Surface finishes can be polyurethane (the most common), pre-finished floors, water based polyurethane (second most common), and catalyzed.

Penetrating seals can be acrylics, oils or waxes. Most seals have either a matte or satin finish and most surface finishes have a shiny finish.

If you can feel the grain of the wood then you most likely have a penetrating seal instead of a surface finish.

Oils and waxes penetrate the wood and protect it from the inside out. Surface finishes cover the wood with a clear finish that keeps anything from damaging the wood.

Please note that ammonia is especially bad for oils and waxes. Ammonia will cause oil and wax to weaken, soften and turn white.

Remember when cleaning your wood floors that you are cleaning the finish and not the actual wood so knowing about your finish is important. Because the finish is so important, some manufacturers will not guarantee their product if you use anything but their cleaners. If your floor is still under warranty, be sure you read the manual before putting any cleaners on the floor.

One trick to determining the condition of your wood floor is to put about 2 tablespoons of warm water on the most worn part of your floor.

If that water soaks in and turns a dark color, your floors are in need of refinishing. If your floors soak up the water but leave a lighter spot, you probably need to consider refinishing them. If the water doesn’t soak in and just beads on the top, this means you’re in good shape and can do regular cleaning.

Cleaning Old Wood Floors

The most important thing to use on old wood floors is a small amount of water to clean this floor. This floor type is usually found in older homes or buildings. These floors are generally worn in appearance, and the surface is porous and can hold a lot of dirt.

Use Murphy’s oil soap on this type of flooring. The oil helps restore luster. Use 1/4 cup of Murphy’s to 1 gallon warm water. Make sure your mop is not soaking wet. Do not set your mop pail on the floor as it may leave a ring. If you have no where convenient to put the pail, make sure it’s sitting on a towel or something similar to keep the floor from getting wet. Always wipe the floor dry when you’re done.

Waxing Old Wood Floors

If you want to spruce up your floors and aren’t planning on refinishing your floor in the next few years, you can wax the floor. Waxing will leave your floor looking fairly new without the expense or hassle of refinishing the floor.

However, waxing does have its disadvantages. One disadvantage is that it is a difficult process and may be better to leave it up to the professionals. Another disadvantage is that it limits the options later on when you decide to refinish the floors. Re-coating options may also be limited by the kind of wax you have applied to the floors.

Cleaning Swedish Finish Wood Floors

Swedish finish wood floors should not be waxed. Swedish finish wood floors can be identified by their bright, shiny appearance. If you are not sure if a floor is Swedish Finish or not, be cautious and just use plain water.

We clean Swedish Finish floors using 1 capful (1 TBL) of vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water. Swedish finish floors are easily streaked, and puddles will dry as spots. Dry the floor thoroughly after mopping.

How to Avoiding Damaging Hardwood Floors


Direct sunlight will damage, discolor and possibly even warp your natural hardwood floors. Add sheer curtains if necessary. Pull closed the curtains during the day or when you will be gone for long periods of time.


Always lift the furniture when moving it to avoid scratching or damaging the floor or the floor’s finish. Brooms that have ends that fray out are better because the end acts as a polisher and also picks up the smallest bits of grit. If you change the layout of the room often consider using skids under legs to avoid scratches.

Oil Soap

Also, oils soaps aren’t a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, they are sticky when dry and therefore attract more dirt than repel. Oil soaps also leave a residue that creates problems when it comes time for heavier cleanings or refinishing.

Removing Stains from Hardwood Floors

If a spill happens on your hardwood flooring, clean it as soon as possible. If allowed to sit for a long period of time, removing the stain could require more work than you bargained for. If this happens, it will require several steps.

  1. Removing 1 – 2 layers of finish from the entire piece of wood
  2. Sanding the area with the finish removed
  3. Remove the dust from the area to make sure it doesn’t get mixed back into the refinishing process
  4. Reapply the same finish being careful not to apply more layers than you removed.
  5. Buff well.

Squeaky Wood Floors

Squeaks can occur in wood floors after several years of cold winters. Wood dries in cold weather and contracts.

The humidity in the summer causes the opposite effect. After several years, squeaks can occur. To fix these try pouring talc, powdered soapstone or powdered graphite between the boards. Place a towel over the area, walk on it a bit to work the powder in, then vacuum remaining powder. This should go a long way toward quieting it.

If you have access underneath the floors, you may be able to place a shim between the joist and sub-floor to quiet the squeak. If you are sure about doing anything yourself, call in a professional.

Something to consider when having hardwood floors installed is to keep several planks of spare flooring. Each time you have the colors changed or have anything done to the floor, also have it done to your spare planks. As sections of your floor get damaged, you’ll then have a few spare planks to replace. This method may keep you sane instead of spending an incredible amount of time trying to match up stain colors when you find that you must replace a plank.