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Here’s How to Clean and Care for Your Hardwood Floors

A person dust mopping hardwood floors with a wide paddle-style mop.
Dani D.G/Shutterstock

Hardwood floors can give a house a beautiful classic look, but they require different care than the other flooring in your home. Here’s what you need to know.

Carpeting only needs an occasional shampoo or spot cleaning and regular vacuuming, while wood floors need sweeping, cleaning, waxing, buffing, and more.

Taking Care of Your Hardwood Floors

Where you don’t have to worry about scuffs and scratches on carpeted floors, these are regular occurrences on hardwood floors if you’re not careful. There are some basic things you can do to protect your wood floors from things like scratches—just put a throw rug down. However, rugs on your wood floors defeat the purpose of having hardwood floors, doesn’t it?

It’s wise to keep a rug or matt down in an area of high traffic like inside doors coming from the outside. As far as the rest of your house, here are a few things you can do to extend the life and shine of your hardwood flooring:

  • Have people remove their shoes (including your family) before walking on the wood floors.
  • Invest in furniture cups for the legs of your chairs and other furniture.
  • Use small decorative rugs in areas where kids play to keep down on scratches from toys.

Doing these things will cut down on how often you need to clean your hardwood floors as well as cutting down on scratches. If you have pets, it may be more challenging to keep your floors from needing regular cleaning.

The Cleaning Process

A bit goes into the cleaning of hardwood floors. There are steps you can take a couple of times a week and other things that you only need to once a month. Let’s look at them in order frequency.

Wipe Up Excess Water

A person wiping a hardwood floor with a soft towel.
THINK A/Shutterstock

You don’t want to leave excess water on your hardwood floors. Whether it’s because of a spill or excess water while mopping, you need to deal with the water immediately. This is first on our list, because no matter what the cause of water on the floor, you need to deal with it.

Standing water on wood floors can lead to water stains, raised wood grain, and warping. If you don’t have spare rags to dry the floor by hand and it’s humid out, turn on a fan or turn up the air conditioning to help facilitate speedier drying.

Use the Right Cleaner

Speaking of mopping, before you clean, make sure you have the right cleaner for your floor. If you know who manufactured your hardwood floor, you can contact them for advice on the best cleaning products for your specific floors. If you have an older floor, you will just have to make a guess. The most important thing is that you pick a cleaning product that is made for hardwood floors—you don’t want to use a cleaner intended for kitchen tile or stubborn bathroom stains on your hardwood floor.

If you’re worried about harsh chemicals in your home, you can find hardwood floor cleaners that are made with natural ingredients. You can also DIY your own floor cleaner with ease (and it works wonderfully, too). Per gallon of warm water, add a forth of a cup white vinegar and a few drops of dish soap (plain old Dawn is great for this). The combination of warm water and a small amount of vinegar and soap works well to cut through grease and dirt.

Do be aware that vinegar can cause some clouding on certain hardwood floor coatings (so do a test patch in an out of the way corner first).

Sweep and Mop

In high-traffic areas, sweep or vacuum your hardwood floors daily. This will help keep most of the dirt coming into your home under control. You’ll want to mop at least once a week in these areas, spot cleaning more often when mud gets tracked in or spills happen.

The rest of your hardwood flooring will do well with a weekly sweeping and a monthly mopping unless there are spills that need to be cleaned up (then some spot mopping will take care of the issue). This is where the cleaner you picked comes in.

For deeper cleaning like spring cleaning or after holiday get-togethers, you’ll want to do a full sweep and mop of your hardwood floors, rather than spot cleaning. Again, follow the instructions on your chosen cleaning product.

Fight Stains

You swept, mopped with your wood floor cleaning product, and dried up all the excess water, and you notice stains. Maybe their’s crayon from the kids, a red spot from some spilled wine, or some water stains from the wet dog shaking off in the living room. Don’t fret; you can deal with most stains.

If you have a newer floor that is urethane coated, you can easily clean up stains with a soft cloth and a little elbow grease. These are surface stains. Don’t use anything harsh or you’ll scratch and damage the coating. There are scrub pads made for urethane floors, which may help get to deeper stains.

For older floors that have a soft oil finish, you have a more involved option for stain removal. Oil finishes allow stains to seep down into the wood, and you’ll need to get deeper to remove stains.

Plain old #000 steel wool is safe for your oil and waxed floors, but use them with some water. Once you get “through” the oils to the stain below, you will want to use some wood floor cleaner (or stain remover) or some mineral spirits. Once you get the stain out, you’ll need to stain, wax, and buff that spot again.

Refinishing Your Floors

Even with regular upkeep, your hardwood floors are going to start to dull as the years go by. When cleaning and stain removal no longer makes your wood floors pop with shine, it’s time to consider refinishing them. This is a huge step beyond regular routine cleaning, but in the life of every hardwood floor, the day comes that the floor simply needs a refinishing to bring it back to life. To see what that kind of project entails, check out the video above.

Upkeep on your hardwood floors will extend the life of the flooring and help keep the floor shiny and beautiful. By keeping down on scuffs and scratches, and by sweeping and mopping regularly, you’ll spend less time refinishing and more time enjoying them!

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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