Not sure how to clean your hardwood floors? Here’s our guide to cleaning hardwood effectively and safely.
At Spotless Vacuum, we’ve picked up plenty of tricks for caring for hardwood floors over the years.
Here are 14 of our favourite hardwood cleaning tips to keep your floors in top condition.
1. Find Out What Finish Your Hardwood Floor Has
Before you start cleaning, it’s important to check your hardwood floor’s finish.
Most modern wooden floors are sealed with a polyurethane coating and are straightforward to care for. The main point to remember is not to use wax on sealed hardwood, as it can leave your floor slippery.
Older floors tend to have an oil-based finish, and, unlike modern floors, are better off when treated with wax. The same wax treatment applies to lacquered floors, which have a harder finish than oiled floors.
Most of our tips apply to sealed hardwood floors, but a lot of the guidance applies to all types of hardwood floors. There are more specific tips for engineered, lacquered, oiled, and unsealed floors further down the page.
Testing Your Floor Type
If you don’t know what you’re working with, run your finger along the surface of the floor. If you see a mark, it probably has an oil, lacquer, or varnish finish. If not, assume it’s a sealed surface.
2. Use Doormats and Remove Shoes
Adding doormats and leaving shoes at the door is vital for protecting hardwood floors.
These changes prevent you (or guests) from bringing outdoor dirt into your home and tracking it across the floors. It’s easy for sharp grit to leave scratches, so you want to avoid this as much as possible. Keeping dirt at the door will help to minimise damage and cleaning time.
In particular, try and stick to this during the winter months when wet shoes pose an added risk. Hardwood floors don’t mix well with water, so the extra moisture from rain, snow, and ice is something you want to avoid.
Tip: While taking off all shoes is ideal, removing stilettos is essential. The sharp heels could scuff and damage the surface.
3. Establish a Cleaning Routine
Regular cleaning helps to prevent the build-up of dust, lint, dead skin cells, and dirt that can cause your floors to look dirty and worn. But how often is regular?
Daily sweeping or vacuuming is ideal, but not practical in most homes. If you can squeeze in two cleans a week, it’d go a long way to keeping your floors healthy.
Alongside vacuuming, you should aim to mop the floor with a damp mop every 1-2 months. It’s important not to use a wet mop, as you don’t want water to sit on the hardwood surface.
You should tweak this advice to match the level of foot traffic in your home. The more people and pets in your home, the more frequently you’ll need to clean the floors.
Tip: Hardwood floors don’t actually need frequent mopping, but regular vacuuming with a hardwood-safe vac is essential.
4. Choose the Right Hardwood Vacuum Cleaner
Vacuums with stiff rotating bristles can damage hardwood floors, so you need to use a cleaner that won’t cause scratches.
If your vac has a rotating brush roll, check to see if you can switch it off. Alternatively, opt for one with soft bristles or rubber fins, or a height-adjustable floorhead that lifts brushes off the floor.
Then consider the suction. If you can’t rely on brushes to sweep dirt away, something with a higher power setting will help to keep your floors spotless. For example, the Miele C3 Cat and Dog cylinder vacuum has adjustable power settings to suit a range of flooring.
It’s also worth looking into a hard floor attachment, particularly if you’ve got a range of surfaces and want one vac to handle them all. The Dyson V11 Absolute comes with two floor heads, for example, including a soft roller for hardwood floors.
5. Use a Dust Mop and a Wet Mop
Soft microfibre dust mops are great for removing the fine dust your vacuum doesn’t pick up. This means there’s less risk of particles dragging across your floor and leaving micro-scratches. Most also have washable pads, which makes them eco-friendly.
As for a wet mop, you want something soft that won’t saturate your floors.
Spray mops work well, as you control the moisture level with the spray trigger. As a bonus, most of them use microfibre pads, which trap fine dust and don’t hold too much water.
If you prefer a traditional mop and bucket, choose one with a wringing mechanism.
Tip: If your mop puts too much water to the floor, it can seep through the surface and damage interior layers or even remove the finish. Be careful to avoid oversaturating hardwood and use a soft cloth to dry spillages.
6. Stay Away From Steam Mops
Hot steam is likely to damage the finish of your hardwood floors, as well as the timber itself. Continued application of steam can lead to warping, cracking, and discolouration.
So, using a steam mop on hardwood floors is definitely something to avoid!
7. Clean Spills as Soon as They Happen
Excess moisture spells bad news for hardwood floors, so blot up spills as soon as you can. Use an absorbent cloth to remove the majority of the liquid, and follow up with paper towels to get any remaining water.
If left, it’s easy for sticky spills to dry and attract more dirt. Make sure you clean them as soon as you notice them and wipe any residue with a damp cloth.
Tip: Act fast with dark spills that could stain. They’re much harder to fix once they’ve dried and “set” into the wood.
8. Choose a Safe Cleaning Solution
Plain water is the best option for cleaning hardwood floors that aren’t too dirty. Simple tap water is effective and inexpensive, while also being gentle.
If you need extra cleaning power, choose a shop-bought cleaner that’s specifically designed for hardwood floors. Any other type of floor cleaner could leave a residue or damage the finish.
Whatever cleaning product you choose, test it on a small section of your floor first. If you’re happy with the results, apply it to the rest of the surface using the smallest amount possible.
If you add too much, your floor could feel sticky and attract more dirt.
9. Mop Hardwood Floors Infrequently with Minimal Water
You don’t need to wet mop as often as other floor types. A mopping every 1-2 months is fine, or potentially longer if your floors don’t look like they need it.
When mopping hardwood floors, use the following process:
- Sweep or vacuum first to remove loose debris.
- Follow up with a dust mop to get rid of any remaining dust.
- Use a damp (not wet) mop to clean the floors. You want to avoid excessive water on hardwood, so wring the mop out until it’s just damp.
- Leave the floors to fully dry before walking on them. This helps to prevent spotting and streaks.
If you notice any water pooling on the surface, soak it up with a soft cloth or a clean dust mop sheet. This helps prevent water damage and potential warping.
10. Use an S-Shape for Mopping
Mopping in an S-motion helps to catch dirt instead of spreading it around. Stick to the same pattern and mop with the grain as much as you can.
If you’re using a mop and bucket for this, rinse the mop often and change the water for each room. If your floors are really dirty, opt for the two bucket approach: one for rinsing and another with fresh water for dipping. This minimises the risk of rubbing dirt across the surface.
For mops with reusable pads, keep an eye on how dirty they get and change them as needed.
11. Cleaning Hardwood Floors with Vinegar
While vinegar is a natural cleaner, it’s not always the best choice for certain types of hardwood floors. It can leave a dull finish, so always test a small section first if you choose to use it.
It’s key to stick to cleaning vinegar, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. Don’t use balsamic or red wine vinegar on hardwood floors.
Dilute your preferred choice with water, using 4 tablespoons of vinegar per litre of water. Don’t use neat vinegar, as it can damage polyurethane finishes.
Tip: If you don’t like the scent of vinegar, try adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil. Vinegar dries odourless, but the oils will mask the smell while it’s drying. Lemon oil is a great choice for kitchens, as it smells fresh and cuts through grease.
12. Don’t Use Sandpaper, Steel Wool, and Abrasive Cleaners
Anything abrasive can scratch the finish of hardwood floors and cause permanent damage. So, stay away from sandpaper or steel wool, even if you’re trying to remove a stain or stubborn dirt.
The only exception is if your floor manufacturer specifically recommends sanding stains out of hardwood floors (but not manufactured or laminate floors). Always check with the manufacturer to make sure you don’t void your warranty.
As for abrasive cleaning agents, anything like chlorine bleach or undiluted vinegar can strip the finish. Find something that enhances the finish and leaves it looking bright and streak-free instead.
13. Finish Clean Floors With a Polish
This is an optional step, but applying polish can leave hardwood floors with a beautiful shine and an extra layer of protection.
If you choose to add polish, check that it’s approved by your flooring manufacturer. The best polish to use will depend on the type of floor you have, so don’t rush into buying one that isn’t right.
14. Speak to a Professional About Scratches
A few scuffs and scrapes are inevitable over the lifespan of your hardwood floors. They’re designed to last for decades, after all. As tempting as it is, don’t try and buff scratches out or fill them in yourself with home crayon kits.
Too many popular DIY methods don’t work and can make the situation worse. It’s best to call a professional and have a chat with them about what to do instead.
Tips for Cleaning Specific Types of Wood Flooring
Cleaning Unsealed Hardwood Floors
Unsealed floors are trickier to clean, as it’s easier for water to soak through the porous layers. Focus on dry dust mopping and vacuuming as much as possible, with occasional damp cleans.
Use a dampened microfibre cloth for small sections as needed, or minimal water on a mop for the whole floor. Dry with a clean cloth rather than allowing to air dry, as this limits the amount of time the timber is exposed to moisture.
Cleaning Lacquered Wooden Floors
Lacquer provides a tough and durable finish that should last many years. Stick to the tips above, but swap out the floor cleaner for one specifically designed for lacquered floors.
Stay away from using any steam mops or detergent, though. They break down the finish, and lacquer is tricky to repair if it gets damaged despite the hard exterior. Exercise caution whenever you try something new with your floor.
Cleaning Oiled Wooden Floors
Oiled wooden floors can be tricky to clean, as you need to know which type of oil the floor is treated with. For example, Woca Soap is the best product to use with Woca oil.
The oils work by penetrating the grain of the timber and then hardening to create a seal. So each time you use an appropriate product, it gives your floor an extra layer of protection at the same time as cleaning it.
When you know what treatment you need, it’s relatively straightforward to maintain oiled floors. But it is worth taking the time to find the best specialised cleaner rather than generic products to help keep your floor looking healthy and extend its lifespan.
Cleaning Engineered Wood Floors
Engineered hardwood floors are made from multiple thin layers of wood instead of the thick timber planks you get with real hardwood floors. Despite the differences in construction, the care advice remains pretty much the same.
Stay away from anything abrasive, and look out for floor cleaners designed for engineered hardwood floors.
Preventing Damage in the First Place
Scratches are unsightly to look at and leave hardwood floors looking dull, which often gives people the urge to clean them more often. Here are a few ways to prevent them from happening in the first place:
- Keep pet claws trimmed. Sharp claws cause untold amounts of damage to delicate wood floors.
- Use felt pad protectors on the bottom of furniture legs.
- Avoid dragging furniture and other heavy items. Try to lift them wherever possible.
- Remove outdoor shoes before walking across hardwood floors.
- Place rugs down in areas of high traffic. It protects the floor and saves you from needing to clean them so often.
A light touch is needed when cleaning hardwood floors. So, whether it’s your vacuum cleaner, mop, or cleaning solution, always opt for a gentle approach. Your hardwood floors will stay spotless and shiny for generations to come with the right care.
If you’re looking for some more advice on the best tools for the job, have a look at our recommendations for the best vacuums for hardwood floors.
Do you have any questions about cleaning hardwood floors? Let us know in the comments section below.
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