How Do You Deep Clean Hardwood Floors?
Here’s how to give your hardwood floors a seasonal deep clean in 4 easy steps:
- Clear away surface dust and dirt
- Remove any scuffs or greasy marks
- Buy and apply a wood floor cleaner specific to your wood floor finish
- Work the cleaner into your floors using a microfiber mop
Last Updated: May 23, 2023, by: Rob Parsell
In this hardwood floor cleaning report we will look at several aspects of wood floor cleaning and maintenance. We help you with daily, weekly and seasonal cleaning routines, as well as how to clean hardwood for scuffs, spills and other sticky messes. Read on for the Do’s and Don’ts of cleaning hardwood floors easily and efficiently.
Hardwood floors add character and warmth to your home – at significant cost – and they must be cleaned properly to keep them looking their best. And you certainly don’t want your cleaning to do more harm than good.
The two biggest enemies of hardwood flooring are dirt and water. Let’s talk about how to best keep your floors clean without using excessive water.
This hardwood floor cleaning advice applies to solid hardwood and engineered hardwood, since they both have a top layer of solid wood. Yes, engineered hardwood handles moisture better, but it is still wise to prevent the material from being soaked.
SWEEP OR VACUUM DAILY – YES, IT’S OK, BUT WITH THESE TIPS
Wood floors should be cleaned often to prevent gritty dirt from being walked over, especially in high-traffic areas, which can scratch the wood and wear down the finish.
If you have a very quiet household, twice a week may be enough, but for a household with pets or children going in and out of the house all day, a daily dirt-removal routine is the best strategy for protecting your investment in hardwood.
DAILY HARDWOOD CLEANING TOOLS – MOPS, VACUUM CLEANERS & MORE
To remove dirt and crumbs from the floor, use a soft bristled broom made of either nylon or rubber to prevent scratches. Choose a broom that is angled on one side so you can get into corners. Use a dustpan or vacuum to pick up the accumulated debris.
A broom is good for picking up larger crumbs and dirt, but for fine dust, you’ll want to use a microfiber dust mop. Dry microfiber mops are excellent for capturing fine particles, like dust. You should have two of these on hand, one for dry mopping and one for damp mopping. Microfiber mops heads can be cleaned in the washing machine.
You can also vacuum the floor but don’t use the brush rollers or beater bar as those can damage a hardwood floor. Robot vacuums will also work well but make sure the one you choose is designed with a hard floor setting for safest use.
What about wet mopping? Damp microfiber mopping is about as wet as it should get. We don’t recommend using a large cotton deck mop on hardwood.
CLEANING LIQUID SPILLS ON HARDWOOD BEFORE THEY BECOME STAINS
Because it is porous, hardwood readily absorbs moisture. This can even be true if you’ve had the flooring sealed or waxed but the protective material is worn or doesn’t adequately cover seams. In other words, sealer and wax provide moisture resistance and give you more time to clean up, but they don’t make the floor waterproof.
Note: A few brands including LifeCore have introduced waterproof engineered hardwood floors you might want to consider.
Clean up liquid spills as soon as they happen – before moisture can penetrate the floorboards where it can cause the wood to swell and possibly allow mold growth. First soak up the spill with a towel or clean cloth. Always wipe in the direction of the wood grain. If the liquid was something other than water, give the floor a “rinse” with a very slightly dampened paper towel, cloth, or mop. Make sure the floor is completely dry after cleaning.
If the liquid was allowed to sit on the floor for more than a few minutes, clean it up and then run a fan or a dehumidifier for 24 hours to help dry the floorboards.
HOW TO CLEAN STICKY HARDWOOD
For small spots, use a slightly damp paper towel or cloth. For a large area, use a barely damp mop. You can also use a small amount of hardwood floor cleaner with a damp mop or soft cloth. Rinse off the cleaner then thoroughly dry the floor.
GETTING RID OF SCUFF MARKS
When it comes to cleaning scuff marks from hardwood floors we recommend going the simplest route. Forget about all the homemade recipes and formulas, a magic eraser will do the trick more often than not. Mr Clean is the most well known magic eraser product but any similar product will do.
WEEKLY ROUTINE CLEANING
When dust becomes noticeable under furniture, or about once a week, use a dry or slightly damp microfiber mop. A mop with a retractable handle is helpful for hard to reach areas. Always move the mop along the grain of the wood.
SEASONAL CLEANING – DEEP CLEAN HARDWOOD
If you’re taking care of dirt and crumbs daily, spills when they happen, and dust mopping weekly, you should only damp mop with a wood floor cleaning product a few times each year for a deep clean.
Lightly dampen a microfiber mop with water or floor cleaner and mop, always following the grain of the wood. If you use a spray product you will only need a light mist. Too much cleaning product can leave floors dull and sticky and cause them to attract dirt.
USE THE RIGHT WOOD FLOOR CLEANER
Be sure that all cleaning products are approved for wood floors…and not only wood floors but a cleaner that is right for your wood floor. Your flooring manufacturer probably has recommendations on its site – and might even make its own brand of cleaner.
Choose wisely! Paste wax can make wood floors slippery. Cleaners, especially oil-based cleaners that are not specifically made for wood, can leave a residue or even harm the wood or the finish.
Home Flooring Pros does not recommend some of the natural floor cleaning recipes touted by thrifty homeowners. If they include vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, dish soap, or ammonia, pass on them. Vinegar and lemon juice are acidic and can dull the finish, ammonia and baking soda can scratch the finish, and dish soap will leave a film on the wood. Never use harsh chemicals like chlorine bleach or pine oil.
Once, these might have been the only products available, but today, there are many products specifically made to clean wood floors without damaging them. For example, Bona is a trusted brand you may have heard of and they sell various home floor cleaners that are suitable for most wood floors.
DON’T USE STEAM CLEANERS AND BUFFERS
Even though you’ll find manufacturer’s instructions that indicate their steam mops are safe for hardwood, there is no good reason to use one on your pricey hardwood.
Steam mops can force the moisture between the planks and eventually cause them to warp. Floor buffers can actually remove the seal or finish on the floor and damage the wood.
WAXING HARDWOOD FLOORS
First, check the literature you received with your hardwood floors, if it is available. Does the manufacturer recommend waxing? Suggest avoiding it? Follow its direction.
Waxing can restore the shine to solid hardwood floors and help prolong their lifespan, but not all wood floors can be waxed. If your floor was originally finished with wax, penetrating wood sealer, lacquer, varnish, shellac, or oil, you can use wax to add protective properties to these finishes. You can also wax unfinished hardwood flooring.
Never use wax on urethane finished wood floors as wax might prevent them from being recoated with urethane without refinishing them, which is an expensive project. To brighten urethane finished floors, use a product that does not contain wax and is specifically made for these floors.
If you don’t know what your floor is finished with, don’t wax.
Further Reading: Cost to Refinish Hardwood Floors
Do not use any product containing wax on engineered hardwood. Wax can make the floor extremely slippery and eventually dull the finish. To refresh the floor, use a polish recommended by your flooring manufacturer.
DO’S AND DON’TS FOR HARDWOOD FLOOR CARE
Excessive water is a don’t, but so is any amount of hot water. If you have to use water, keep it room temperature or cooler.
Never use abrasive products on the floor like steel wool or scrubbing pads – but you likely knew that.
Don’t use 2-in-1 cleaners/polishers that contain acrylics or urethane.
If possible, don’t wear shoes in the house to avoid tracking dirt or grime onto the flooring.
Don’t place houseplants directly onto the floor.
Do clean liquid spills as soon as they occur.
Do use the right cleaning products and equipment. For instance, don’t use a broom meant for the garage on hardwood or a mop meant for ceramic tile that sloshes water everywhere.
Do use doormats or area rugs at the entry doors, both inside and outside, to reduce the amount of dirt, salt, and water that is tracked into the house. Clean the mats frequently, because dirt beneath them will scratch your floors like sandpaper.
Do use rugs in high-traffic areas – but not mats or rugs with a rubber backing, since they can trap moisture beneath them and damage hardwood.
About the Author:
Rob joined the Home Flooring Pros team in 2014 and is a freelance writer, specializing in flooring, remodeling and HVAC systems (read more).
“I’m the son of an interior designer and picked up an eye for design as a result. I started hanging wallpaper and painting at 14 and learned enough on the job to be the general contractor on two homes we built for our family and did much of the finish plumbing, electrical, painting, and trim work myself.”