The Best Way to Clean Wood Floors

Wood flooring is beautiful, but it can be a pain to clean. However, getting rid of the dirt and grime can make a big difference — as well as help with upkeep (including scratches). Fortunately, all it takes is a few tips and tricks to achieve the sparkling floors of your dreams. Read on for the best way to clean wood floors.

Know your finish

Before you dive deep into cleaning, get to know your floors a little better. Cleaning wood floors is less about the wood and more about the finish, so it’s important to figure out what type of finish you have (if at all). New wood floors are usually surface-sealed with polyurethane, polyacrylic, or urethane and are stain and water resistant. However, there are a handful of other sealants, including a penetrating seal or oil finish, lacquered, shellacked, or varnished. Some wood floors are also unfinished.

mop on wood floor

Determine what type of finish you have before cleaning. | tommaso79/iStock/Getty Images

Having trouble determining the finish? Rub the flooring with your finger to check for smudging. If the floor smudges, it’s most-likely been sealed with a penetrating seal, oil finish, varnish, lacquer, or shellac. If the floor doesn’t smudge, you can bet that the surface is sealed with polyacrylic, urethane, or polyurethane. Lucky for you, that means your wood floors are easy to clean.

Surface-sealed floors

Cleaning surface-sealed floors — aka, wood flooring sealed with polyurethane, polyacrylic, or urethane — is easier than you think. In fact, all you have to do is sweep and mop with warm water and dishwashing soap. Just be sure the mop is damp, not soaked, as too much water can damage wood floors — no matter what the seal is.

Penetrating seal-treated or oil-treated floors

Wood floors with a penetrating seal or oil treatment are a little trickier to clean and require occasional treatment with liquid or paste wax. Like surface-sealed floors, you can mop the penetrating seal or oil treated floors, but be sure to use a damp mop.

Lacquered, shellacked, or varnished floors

Similar to penetrating seal-treated and oil-treated floors, wood floors with lacquer, shellac, or varnish finishes also require some R&R by way of liquid or paste wax. In addition, you can mop up grime with a water and dishwashing soap mixture.

The best way to clean wood floors

In addition to using a damp mop to clean wood flooring, there are a handful of other useful tips and tricks to consider. Keep reading to find out the best way to clean surface-sealed wood floors, including what to avoid.

cleaning hardwood floor

Avoid cleaning wood floors with furniture spray. | iStock/Getty Images

Steer clear of furniture sprays

Surface-sealed wood flooring does not need oil or wax to shine. In fact, using greasy formulas — such as furniture spray or the paste wax used on other types of wood floor finishes — can make surface-sealed floors slippery. Not to mention: Applying wax can be time-consuming and complicated (which is why so many newer wood floors are surface-sealed).

Use a gentle cleanser

When cleaning your surface-sealed wood floors, be sure to avoid products with high alkaline levels, abrasive formulas, or ammonia — all of these can scratch the finish. Instead, use a gentle pH-balanced soap (or a little bit of dishwashing soap) mixed in warm water. To clean, simply dunk the mop inside the mixture and ring out until damp. Then, apply the mop to the surface and get cleaning!

Don’t use vinegar to clean

Vinegar might be a common DIY cleaning ingredient, but it has no business on your wood floors. In fact, some suggest vinegar gives wood floors a dingy appeal. In addition, you don’t want to use plain water either, as that will only spread the grime around — not lift it from the surface. Soapy water is the way to go.

Ask your floor finisher for recommendations

If you’re stuck on what type of floor cleaner to use, reach out to the floor finisher for a recommendation. As experts — with knowledge of your specific floors — they should be able to recommend a safe wood floor cleaner.

Clean often

We can all agree: Cleaning wood floors is usually the very last thing we want to do. Luckily, there is a way to prolong the life of your clean. In areas with high traffic — e.g., the dining room, kitchen, or family room — sweep or Swiffer often to help maintain cleaner-looking floors.

Replace dirty water

Cleaning with dirty water defeats the purpose. When mopping wood floors, swap out the water as often as needed to ensure you’re using clean soapy water. After you’re done mopping with soapy water, go over the areas with fresh, clean water (hold the soap!) to get rid of any leftover residue.

Get rid of scratches with baking soda

If you notice a few scratches while cleaning, don’t panic. Reach for a damp sponge and apply a small amount of baking soda. Once you’re armed and ready, rub the sponge gently across the floors for less-noticeable scuffs and scratches.

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