How to Clean Hardwood Floors

How to Clean Hardwood FloorHardwood floors look great in any home. If you'd like to keep them that way, you need to learn how to clean them properly. Without regular cleanings, even the finest hardwood floors will start looking dull and dingy. Fortunately, caring for hardwood floors is easy.

Before delving into the specifics of cleaning hardwood floors, there are three things you should keep in mind:

  1. Vacuum or sweep regularly - Sweep or vacuum your hardwood floors at least once a week to prevent dirt and other debris from wearing them down.
  2. Clean messes promptly - When spills occur or mud is tracked in, wipe up the mess right away. Moisture can quickly wreak havoc on even the best hardwood floors.
  3. Take care with area rugs - Use caution when buying area rugs. Make sure they don't contain dyes that could transfer onto your floor. Avoid plastic backings whenever possible. Either way, always use a high-quality rug pad.

Determine the Finish of Your Hardwood Floors

The cleaning method you'll need to use depends on the way in which your hardwood floors are finished. They may be surface-sealed, which means they're treated with polyacrylic, urethane or polyurethane sealants that make them resist to water damage and stains. They may be oil- or penetrating-seal-treated, which means they're soaked through with the finish, which then hardens, and waxed. They may also be varnished, lacquered, shellacked or untreated entirely.

If you're not sure how your hardwood floors are finished, just wipe your finger across them. If no smudge appears, they're surface sealed. If a smudge does appear, they're treated using one of the other options and then waxed.

Cleaning Surface-Sealed Hardwood Floors

It's easy to care for these floors thanks to the way they're finished. Still, there are a few things to avoid when cleaning them:

  • Oil - Cleaning with oil-based cleaning products will leave a residue.
  • Furniture polish - This method will leave your hardwood floors dangerously slippery.
  • Wax - Waxing a surface-sealed hardwood floor is difficult, and doing so makes it tricky to recoat again in the future.

Recommended Cleaning Products

Hardwood Floor CleanersOnly use a cleaning product that's recommended by the finisher. Otherwise, stick with plain soap and water. Just mix about 1/4 cup of a pH-neutral soap like dish detergent with a bucket of water. Murphy Oil Soap does the trick nicely.

Don't use cleaning products that are alkaline or abrasive, and never use plain ammonia. Your hardwood floors could be rendered dull and scratched up.

Never clean your floor with a mix of water and vinegar. It doesn't clean as effectively, and it may even make your floors look dull and dingy.

Finally, never wash your surface-sealed hardwood floors with plain water. It won't remove dirt effectively, so your floors will perpetually look dingy and unclean.

How to Mop Your Surface-Sealed Hardwood Floors

Dip your mop into the cleaning solution of your choice, and then wring it out thoroughly. Never apply a soaking wet mop to a hardwood floor because moisture can cause serious damage. Mop in the direction of the grain. When the cleaning solution gets dirty, pour it out and mix up a fresh batch. Once you're done, go back over the floor with the mop and a bucket of clean water to rinse it.

Cleaning Non-Surface-Sealed Hardwood Floors

Cleaning these types of hardwood floors is a little more involved. First, make sure to avoid the following:

  • Water-Based and Acrylic Waxes - They can make your floors turn white.
  • One-Step Waxes - They may sound convenient, but they can trap dirt.
  • Furniture Waxes - They will leave your floors dangerously slick.

Cleaning Technique

The first step to cleaning this type of hardwood floor is thoroughly vacuuming or sweeping it. Next, you need to remove the old wax. For this, use a commercial stripper like Trewax and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Alternatively, use mineral spirits. Rub them into the wood and then wipe the floor with a soft, clean cloth.

After allowing the floor to dry, apply the floor wax. Liquid wax is applied with an applicator. It's fast and easy, but it doesn't leave a very thick layer. Paste wax takes longer to apply, but it delivers a much thicker layer of protection. Either way, allow the wax to dry and consider applying a second coat.

Finally, you need to buff the floor. For this, you can just use a cloth. To get it done faster, rent a buffing machine. Remember to buff the wood in the direction of the grain.

Tips and Warnings

Never apply a damp mop to a floor that isn't surface-sealed. This can cause water damage, and you will need to strip the old wax and go through the whole process again.

Generally speaking, non-surface-sealed hardwood floors only need to be thoroughly cleaned once or twice a year. In between major cleanings, make sure to sweep and vacuum regularly. Without doing so, dirt can build up on the surface of the wood and cause damage over time. Regularly removing the dirt will help to keep your hardwood floors looking as good as new for a long time to come.

If you're ever in doubt about a cleaning product or technique, test it on an inconspicuous part of the floor first.

That's all there is to it! By using the right cleaning products and techniques, you'll have no trouble keeping your hardwood floors in excellent shape.

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