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Cleaning and Maintenance Tips for Hardwood Floors

Dust Mop - Hardwood Floor

Hardwood cleaning and maintenance is very important to how it will look for years after the installation. When properly maintained, a hardwood floor can look as beautiful as the day it was installed and for many decades later. While the hardness of the species and the finish do play a role in how well it will hold up to the hustle and bustle of daily life, it really all comes down to how well the floor is cared for.

Cleaning and caring for a hardwood flooring depends on how it is finished, rather than the type of wood it is. This is where many owners make mistakes in the products they use to clean their hardwood floors.

How is Your Floor Finished?

The first thing you should know about hardwood cleaning and maintenance is that the finish of your floor makes all the difference to the required cleaning approach. These are the broad categories of finish types:

  • Surface-sealed finishes (the most common finish)
  • Urethane, polyurethane & polyacrylic
  • Lacquered, varnished & shellacked
  • Penetrating-seal-treated & oil-treated finishes
  • Wax finish (not so common anymore)
  • Oil-based finish

If you are not sure of the exact finish type on your hardwood floor, try putting a small amount of water on the floor. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. If there is a spot on the floor where the water was, chances are the finish is a wax or oil base. If not, the floor was likely finished using a surface sealer, such as urethane, polyurethane, or polyacrylic. Don’t want to use water? Try running a finger across the floor. If there is a smudge, the floor was finished with a penetrating sealer rather than a surface sealer.

If the floor has been finished with a surface finish such as lacquer, varnish, or shellac, it should be treated as though it was finished with a penetrating finish, because these options are not as spill resistant as other surface sealant options.

Cleaning and Maintenance Basics: Common to All Floor Finishes

hardwood floor finishes

The beauty of hardwood floor finishes is that, even though there are finish-specific guidelines to follow, there are several things to do for hardwood cleaning and maintenance that apply to all of them.

Place door mats by doors, requiring everyone who enters the home to either wipe their feet or remove their shoes. Dirt particles carried in on the shoes will scratch the surface of the finish, making the floor appear aged before its time. For high traffic areas, place non-staining rugs on the floor to protect its surface. Don’t forget to place mats around areas where water may be an issue, such as in front of the kitchen sink and dishwasher.

Use furniture protectors, like felt pads, under all furniture legs to prevent the floor from getting scratched when furniture moves. This is especially important if there is sectional furniture in the home, known to move frequently.

Sweep the floors regularly, or use a vacuum without a beater bar to clean the dust, dirt, and other debris from the surface of the floor. Doing this daily will minimize the damage to the floor.

Wipe spills clean as they happen to avoid letting any excess moisture seep into the flooring. Do not allow standing water to remain on the floor.

Cleaning Surface Sealed Floors

hardwood floor cleaning tools

Step One: Sweep the floor.

Once it has been determined the floor is surface sealed, as most new floors are, sweep the floor using a broom or microfiber mop to remove all dirt and dust particles.

Step Two: Mop the floor.

Fill a bucket with water and mix in a little floor soap, something specifically manufactured for surface sealed hardwood floors. Mop the floor, being careful to avoid standing water anywhere in the room.

Step Three: Dry with soft towels.

Dry and buff the floor using clean, soft towels until the floor is completely dry and shining.

Hardwood Cleaning and Maintenance for Other Finish Types

hardwood floor cleaning with mop

Step One: Sweep or vacuum the floor.

Once it has been determined that the floor is either not sealed at all or has a penetrating sealer, sweep and vacuum the floor to remove all dirt, dust, and debris. As water cannot be used on this type of finish, it is important to get rid of all the dirt without using dry methods.

Step Two: Buff out the scuffs and stains.

Use a dry, soft, cloth to buff away scuffs and any stains on the floor surface.

Step Three: Use liquid wax stripper.

Using a liquid wax stripper designed for the floor finish at hand, follow the directions on the product labeling, applying to the floor accordingly, with plenty of ventilation. Allow the floor to dry.

Step Four: Apply a thin layer of wax.

Using a wax formula specifically for the floor finish at hand, apply a thin layer of wax according to the manufacturer’s directions. Allow to dry and apply a second coat, if desired.

Step Five: Use a floor buffer to polish.

Using either a buffing machine rented from a local hardware store or clean, dry, soft towels, polish the floor to its beautiful sheen.

Stain Removal

Depending on the nature of the stain, there may be a specific way to handle it to protect the floor.

  • Water Stains: Remove using steel wool or sand paper and then refinish the floor.
  • Cigarette Burns: Remove using a dampened piece of steel wool.
  • Heel Marks: Remove using steel wool and floor cleaner, rubbing the spots vigorously.
  • Ink: Use a floor cleaner and steel wool to thoroughly wash the area and attempt to remove the stain. If it is still there, sand down the spot and refinish.
  • Chewing Gum: Use ice to harden the gum until it is brittle enough to break off. Use a cleaner with a cloth to remove the remaining “gunk”.

Hardwood Squeaks

As humidity conditions change throughout the year as a result of heating and air conditioning systems, wood floors will contract and expand. Extended periods of time where floors are contracting and expanding will lead to squeaking, which though annoying for most owners, can be fixed with relative ease.

To get rid of a squeak, use a liquid wax, powdered soap, talcum powder, or powdered graphite between any floor boards that are rubbing together. Though this should correct the problem; if it does not, use a two inch finishing nail on both edges of the board and hide it with color matched putty.

BuildDirect Hardwood always a solid choice

(18) Comments

  1. Pingback: The 9 Main Benefits of Solid Hardwood Flooring

  2. Carpet Cleaning Machines can also be used for hard wood floors .. They have an optional advantage over them , some time ago called as vacuum cleaner.. I am having my own machine namely, Bissell 3624 Cleaner, which works as Deep Clean Portable and is also professional spot cleaner

  3. Our house has wood floors put down in the 60’s. My mother always said to never put water on the wood as it would stain it. Covered with carpet in the 80’s and after parents passed away we removed carpeting and back to the wood floors. Very beautiful, but the problem is that every footprint shows, I have to buff every single day, sometimes twice a day. What is the best thing I can do?

  4. I just spilled soda in my 3/4 inch pre finished hard wood oak floors and wiped it up right away should thet be okay

  5. we have a lacquered finished maple hardwood floor in the hallway and throughout the downstairs of the house which was put in about 8 years ago. Over time, the bottom of the front door has scratched the wood and now it’s quite unsightly when you open the front door as, the first thing you see are the scratches, and it’s not just the odd scratch but quite a number.. What can I do to remove them, is it possible to sand them and lacquer over the scratches?
    Also, because of the wear in the kitchen some of the boards are very scratched and impossible to clean. I would like to bring back the shine to the flooring, is there anything I can do.

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  7. My son installed bamboo hardwood floors in his house and used glue to put the flooring in. Now he is having trouble removing the glue spots. Any suggestions?

  8. After cleaning my engineered hardwood floors with a microfibre mop and a spritz gun( Bruce hardwood cleans, suggested by Bruce Flooring) the floor comes up beautiful however when I walk on them it leaves footprints. Also water spots show up after dogs (small dogs) drink water, husband puts dishes in dishwasher, carrying something across the floor that is (you think) has been dried off. What should I do to stop this from happening ? Is there something I can use to seal the floors that will handle water a little better?

  9. I have a solid 3/4 thick oak floor. My installer used liquid nail when installing. There are all these liquid nail smudges on my floor that I cannot get up. He suggested mineral oil, but that doesn’t work. Any suggestion?

  10. After cleaning my engineered hardwood floors with a microfibre mop and a spritz gun( with a solution of water and a bit of lysol ) the floor comes up beautifull however when I walk on them it leaves footprints. What should I do to stop this from happening ?

  11. Shawn And Christie Yantos

    We are having a new hardwood floor installed by the end of Febuary
    The finish is an aluminum oxide?
    How do we clean and maintain?
    Thanks and God bless

    • HI Shawn and Christie,
      The only thing we would recomend is giving it a good sweep and then use a mircofiber mop with water, but make sure you spray the mop head just slightly. There are lots of cleaners on the market, but without testing them in a small area first to see how it reacts to the floor, I would not recommend using it everywhere.

  12. I have been cleaning hardwood floors for years. I am not a professional, but we got such great results, people started to pay us. Hoover has a cleaning system called the Floor Mate. It is awesome! We normally use hot water with just a touch of whatever..Mr. Clean, Lysol, vinegar (for pet problems). After dispersing and scrubbing, the machine vacumns the water right up, so it is not on the floor long enough to damage it. And it sucks up that stuff in the cracks. We also love it for tile floors, because it gets the grout cleaner than anything else we have tried.

  13. That, unfortunately is the downside of pre-finished wood floors, they have to have bevels so that you can’t see the minor height differences, that would be sanded out in a site finished floor. Manufacturers have been making these bevels smaller and less noticeable, but they are still there and prone to collect dirt.

    As far as solutions, there isn’t any really good one, you can have the floors sanded and this will hopefully get out most if not all of those bevels that are collecting that dirt. Also have any cracks filled. This will give you that easy to maintain floor that you are looking for.

    Let me back up a little bit before you do that though. Now people have tended to take the no water on hardwood floors a bit too far. In cases like this you can do a periodic deep cleaning. Make sure to work in small areas and dry up the water thoroughly. Use a heavily thinned detergent such as Formula 409, like a table spoon to a gallon. Using a large rag, get copious amounts of the detergent/water mix and rub down in the grooves (I would work in a 2ft by 2 ft area at a time), immediately dry the water. It sounds masochistic but do not use a mop, this process is a down on your hands and knees scrubbing adventure. A fine plastic bristled brush can help too, use a bottle brush from your kitchen sink if you don’t have one handy.

    When you are done make sure and put some fans in the room and turn the a/c or heat on depending on the season. This is not something to do every week, this is a once a year type deal.

  14. Pingback: Hardwood Flooring Learning Center

  15. I know very little about hardwood floors. My cousin hired a person to install flooring approx. five years ago. It is called “engineered flooring” – it is a beautiful maple wood that can be sanded a couple of times. My problem is dirt in the grooves. I have expressed to everyone the need to minimize use of water on the flooring, that if the dirt is not removed and settles into the grooves then water is added thru mopping, etc. it is like mudd. After all these years some of my flooring, in the closets, out of traffic areas, etc. still looks like knew, however, the kitchen, traffic areas, etc. have dirt in the grooves and I don’t know how to deal with this. I have actually got down on my hands and knees with a rag, or paper towel and worked in the grooves to remove dirt. It has worked somewhat but is impossible to continue. I have not seen this problem addressed anywhere and I have gone online, to Home Depot, etc. and have not got an answer. Wow, Thank you for providing a means to express my problem. I do hope you have an answer! Thank you so much. Suzanne

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