How to clean hardwood floors

Lauren Corona

You might not love cleaning your floors, but with the right method, it's pretty quick and easy.

Cleaning real wood floors

Hardwood floors are an attractive feature in any room, but you must keep on top of cleaning them for them to look their best. Using the wrong products, improper cleaning and infrequent cleaning can leave them looking dull. 

Once you learn how to clean hardwood floors the right way, you'll never look back. It’s fairly simple when you know how, and you'll be rewarded with beautiful, shiny flooring. 

How often should you clean hardwood floors? 

How often you need to clean a hardwood floor depends on a range of factors, including how much foot traffic the area gets, how many people live in your home, if you have pets and the time of year (hard floors tend to get dirtier in the winter, especially if you have pets or wear shoes indoors). A hardwood floor in an area that doesn't get much foot traffic might only need mopping once every couple of months, while a similar floor in a high traffic area in a home with dogs might need twice-weekly cleaning to keep it looking good. That said, between mopping sessions, you'll probably want to clean the dust and loose debris off your hardwood floors by sweeping or vacuuming them — some people do this daily in high-traffic areas. 

What should you use to clean hardwood floors?

When cleaning hardwood floors, you'll get the best results by using dedicated commercial-cleaning products, rather than homemade-cleaning solutions, some of which can damage wooden flooring. 

Solvents are one type of ingredient that play an important role in hardwood floor cleaners, as they reduce build-ups that can lead to dull floors and make floors dry quicker to avoid streaks and prevent water damage. Solvents might sound harsh and scary, but they don't have to be. For instance, Method Hardwood Floor Cleaner contains a solvent made from corn. It also contains chelators that help prevent water spotting. 

Surfactants are important in floor cleaners, loosening grease and dirt and emulsifying them so they don't just get spread around the floors. Many hardwood cleaners contain surfactants, including Rejuvenate High-Performance Professional Hardwood Floor Cleaner

If you're trying to clean a hardwood floor that's been neglected for some time, choose an oxidizing floor cleaner. These cleaners use hydrogen peroxide to deeply clean floors, removing tough stains. Need an extra-tough cleaner for your wood floors? Bona PowerPlus Deep Clean Hardwood Floor Cleaner is an excellent choice. Don't use general household bleach on your hardwood floors, however, because it's easy to get the concentration wrong and do some damage. 

What damages or dulls hardwood floors? 

Some products and substances can damage or dull your hardwood floors, so you should avoid using them to keep your floors in good condition. Although natural cleaners like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda are often said to reduce product build-up and increase shine, this isn't the case when cleaning hardwood floors. These substances can degrade sealants and varnishes, causing serious damage over time. 

Water is the enemy of hardwood floors and can cause floors to warp. Of course, you need some moisture to clean your floor, but be careful not to oversaturate it or leave water sitting on the surface. Whether you've spilled a drink or gone overboard on water when cleaning your hardwood floors, be sure to wipe up any excess. 

You should also avoid using polishes and waxes — unless your wooden floor is an older type with a wax coating that will need topping up occasionally. These products claim to add shine but can build up over time and dull your floor. All you need to do to make your wooden floor shine is clean it thoroughly. 

How to clean hardwood floors

Now that you know more about what you should use to clean hardwood floors and what you should avoid using, it's time to go over the cleaning process.

Sweep or vacuum your floors

Before you mop your floors, you should remove dust and loose debris by sweeping or vacuuming your floor — this will make the mopping process easier. When vacuuming, you'll get the best results with a vacuum that has a hard floor setting and a soft brush roll as this will help remove more dust and tiny particles of dirt. An angled broom with dense, soft bristles is great for hardwood floors because the soft bristles won't scratch it and the angled head will reach into nooks and crannies. 

Prepare your cleaning solution

Once you've swept or vacuumed your floor, you'll need to prepare your cleaning solution, if necessary, before you start mopping. Although some floor cleaners are already diluted to the correct concentration, many need to be mixed with water in a mop bucket before use. Make sure you prepare your cleaning solution according to the directions on the bottle. It isn't the case that more is better or will make your floors even cleaner. The dilution ratio has been tried and tested to give the best results. If you use a stronger concentration, there's the possibility that it will dull your floors or even damage the sealant. 

Mop your floors

Now you need to mop your hardwood floors. The type of mop you use makes a difference. If you're using a type of floor cleaner that you simply spray onto a hardwood floor then wipe over it with a mop, choose a dry/damp mop such as the O-Cedar Dual-Action Microfiber Flip Mop. If you're using a floor cleaner that's diluted in a bucket of water, your best choice is a wet mop like the Libman Wonder Mop. This style of mop is easy to wring out so you won't get your wooden floors too wet. Microfiber strings rather than yarn tend to hold less water when rung and is gentle on your floor, making it ideal for hardwood.

Dry if necessary

If you're careful not to get your hardwood floor too wet when you clean it, it's fine to let it air dry in its own time. However, if there's any water pooling on the surface of your hardwood floor after mopping, you should dry it with absorbent cloths or a soft towel so that it doesn't suffer from water damage.

Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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