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How to clean hardwood floors the right way

Hardwood flooring cleaning guide and the best products and tools to use

I wanted to share the best cleaning practices, products and tools for hardwood floors.  Not everything you read online is true, so I wanted to set the record straight since there is a lot of incorrect and misleading info out there.

How to clean hardwood floors the right way. Hardwood flooing cleaning guide

Hardwood floors are beautiful, and they are easy to maintain, as long as you take a few precautions.  As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I’ll start with the best hardwood cleaning products and tools, followed by the best method.  I will also include some of the products you want to avoid (and yes, there are novice blogger promoting these products that actually damage your hardwood floors).


I’ve also included a special section on how to clean your floors if you recently had your floors sanded and refinished.  You should definitely check this out as many people don’t realize that they need to wait before cleaning their new floors.


And, I have some extra tips and products that will help if you have pets.


Please note that this article contains affiliate links.  This means that if you purchase some of these products, I may earn a small commission, at NO ADDITIONAL cost to you.  I only recommend products I know, use and recommend to my own customer.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.


What type of finish do you have?

how to clean hardwood floors. The best hardwood flooring cleaner and tools to useFirst, it’s important to know what type of finish you have on floor so that you have the proper type of cleaner.


Surface Sealed flooring:  The vast majority of homeowners have some sort of surface sealed finish (e.g. polyurethane, urethane, varnish, lacquer, shellac, etc.)  These finishes sit on top of the wood and help prevent water or stain absorption.  These types of floors are easier to clean and maintain.  Please note that these include BOTH water and oil based polyurethanes.


Penetrating and oil treated floors:  Unlike traditional polyurethane (which sits on top of the hardwood surface), oiled finishes will soak into the wood and harden, so that they essentially become part of the wood.   These finishes look different than what you typically see…there is no sheen and they are more porous.  In fact, they look and feel like they are bare wood.  These floors require special maintenance as they need to be protected with liquid or paste wax and a special (and more expensive cleaner).  See below.


NOTE:  It’s easy to get terms confused here.  Both oil based on water borne poly are sealed floors.  Do not confuse these with oiled floors (or oil treated floors or oil penetrating)..  The latter are specially treated to give a more natural and old world look.  These finishes would include brands such as Rubio Monocoat.  As I mentioned before, the vast majority (probably 95%+) floors are sealed floors (even if the floors are wearing down).


Best cleaning products and methods for hardwood floors that are sealed

I strongly recommend Bona Hardwood Cleaner.  You’ll find that this is a favorite among decorators as well as brand the most hardwood manufacturers recommend as well.  Now that’s impressive considering that these manufacturers also make their own hardwood floor cleaners.  And, you will also find that it’s the one that the most hardwood flooring professionals recommend…and it’s the best selling hardwood cleaner on Amazon.  You can find it here.  (And, yes, the price on Amazon tends to be lower than the price I find in my local big box stores.

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Don’t rely on water alone or a water/vinegar solution..  This won’t fight the dirt build up, so you floors will start to look dingy.from the build up.  Vinegar and water is less effective than soap and water.  In fact, vinegar may dull floors…or dull them sooner.


Alternative hardwood cleaner brands

Here are some other hardwood cleaners that are good:

The above are ranked based on Amazon sales.  Bona is, in my opinion, a better product and outsells all of them.  But, all of these are good options.


Best cleaning tools for hardwood floors

First, let me start with the items you want to avoid:

  • How to clean hardwood floors the right wayAvoid brooms…both the broom and the items they collect can easily scratch the floors.   Instead, use a microfiber mop.


  • Avoid a traditional mop.  These can soak the floors or release too much water, and of course water is hardwood’s worst enemy.  Instead, use a microfiber mop.


  • Avoid a steam mops.  The heat and moisture can permanently damage your floors.  Instead, use a microfiber mop.


Do you see a trend?  Yes, use a microfiber mop.  I don’t care which brand you use, but use one.  Bona has a great one, and here is their starter kit (which includes Bona Cleaner which I highly recommend).

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How to clean hardwood floorsFor vacuuming, only use a vacuum that is specifically designed for hardwood flooring.  Note that most vacuums are rated for carpets, and if you use most of these, they may damage scratch your hardwood floors.  Here’s the vacuum I recommend to my customers and you can read my full vacuum review here.  You’ll be happy to know that this vacuum is very reasonably priced and won’t cost you an arm and a leg.


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How often should you clean and vacuum hardwood floors?

tips for cleaning hardwood floorsWell this of course depends on how busy (and messy) your household is and how clean you like things to be.  The truth is that things will probably vary room to room based on how much they are used.


In high traffic areas such as the kitchen, family room, hallway/entryway, you may want to sweep with the microfiber mop every 1 to 2 days (without cleaning product), and mop with the microfiber mop and cleaning product once to twice per week.  Lower traffic areas can be cleaned less often.


You may want to vacuum once to twice a week in busy areas, and generally once a week in light traffic areas.  If you have rooms that are rarely used, you could probably get away with vacuuming these areas every other week.  Remember that vacuuming makes the cleaning/sweeping easier.


Routine mopping technique

The most important thing to remember is that water is wood’s worst enemy, no matter how well your floors are sealed.  So, never ever soak your floors or leave standing water on them.  Always use a damp mop rather than a soaking wet one.


Only use a little bit of cleaning product.  I spray this in front of the area I’m about to do.  Then, mop in the direction of wood grain and repeat.  When you’re finished, go over the entire surface with clean water to rinse.


If there are areas that need some extra attention, don’t be afraid to get down on your hands and knees and clean it with a cloth.  A cloth tends to work better than a sponge because you are less likely to soak and drip water there and you can “feel” the dirt as you wipe.


Special cleaning precautions to take after you’ve refinished your hardwood floors

guide for cleaning hardwood floorsIf you recently had your flooring sanded and refinished, you’ll want to be extra careful at the beginning as your floors are still curing and and are more vulnerable.  (To read more about the curing process and timeline, check out How long does it take for newly refinished floors to dry and cure?).


You’ll want to wait at least 15 days before using any cleaning product or water on your floors.  But, you can use a dry microfiber mop  once you reach the 7 day mark.


Items to avoid if you have hardwood floors:

  • guide for cleaning hardwood floorsDon’t use a steam mop.  The heat can permanently damage your floors and it may wear down the finish.  Yes, there are steam mops that claim that they work on hardwood floors, but I would recommend you avoid them.  And, you should be aware that they will invalidate your warranty.  But, steam mops are wonderful for tile floors, and here’s the one I recommend for tile.  You can read my full review here.


  • Avoid using any products that promise to give your floors a shine or sheen or “restore” them with a coating.  These products have oils and waxes, and that means that they will temporarily work, but they will also degrade the polyurethane so that you will need to refinish your hardwood floors sooner.  Also, if you use these products, you will not be able to do a screen and recoat year down the road.  This is a preventative maintenance strategy to prolong the life of your floors.  It’s less invasive and less expensive (and less time consuming) vs a traditional sand and refinish.


  • Avoid furniture sprays.  These will make the floors slippery.  And, they will also prevent you from being able to do a screen and recoat later.


  • Avoid ammonia, alkaline products and products with abrasive cleaners.  These will dull and scratch the surface.  Just use a plain old hardwood cleaning product (Bona is my favorite).



How to clean oiled hardwood floors

how to clean oiled hardwood flooringOiled hardwood floors need some extra care and maintenance.  The most important thing is to use the right cleaning product (standard hardwood cleaning products can damage your floors).  The best product to use is WOCA Natural Soap.  It’s specifically designed to clean and protect oil finished surfaces from dirt stains and other wear and tear.


Woca Natural Soap cleans and leaves behind an invisible layer of soy and coconut fats, which greatly help to ward off most anything. In fact, when used on a regular basis, WOCA Natural Soap increasingly makes your oil finished wood floor more dirt and wear resistant and easier to keep clean.

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You should follow these steps to clean your oiled floors.  These instructions are courtesy of US Floors.

  1. Clean daily by sweeping or using a vacuum cleaner.
  2. Shake the WOCA Natural Soap carefully before each use.
  3. Mix 3 ounces of the WOCA Soap into a gallon of lukewarm water.  They recommend that you work with 2 buckets – one with the soap solution and the other one with water to rinse.  Clean the floor the a minimum amount of water (water is wood’s worst enemy).  Leave the soap water on the floor briefly so it dissolves the dirt.  Then remove the dirty soap water with a hard-wrung cotton mop or a cotton cloth and rinse it out in the rinse bucket.  (Be sure to change the rinse water often.
  4. Always wipe wipe soap water with soap water on hard-wrung mop of cloth in order to re-establish the protective Natural Soap film.
  5. Using the 2-bucket cleaning method is effective and yields an extremely clean surface.  An alternative method is to use a Swiffer-type system with the WOCA Soap spray, provided that the micro fiber pad is replaced with a cotton pad.


DO NOT use microfiber as this will gradually wear down this type of wood floor finish.




General principles to prolong the life of your hardwood floors:

  • cleaning guide for hardwood floors - dark hardwoodsSweep and vacuum regularly. If you don’t, the dirt will scratch the floors when you walk on them.  So cleaning regularly will give you a cleaner home and better looking floors.


  • Wipe up spills and messes quickly.  Water and moisture can do a doozy on your floors, so wipe spills up immediately.  I know this can be a bit more challenging if you have pets and they don’t talk to tell you about their mess or accident, but see below for some specific suggestions for our furry friends.


  • guide for cleaning hardwood floorsArea rugs + area rug pads help.  Area rugs are great for many reasons including decor, noise reduction, softness on feet, warmth and a great place for pets to snuggle.  But, it’s critical that you also use a good area rug pad underneath, otherwise the backing on the carpet can scratch you hardwood.  Here’s the one that I recommend to my customers.  You’ll be happy to know that these area rug pads will also prolong the life of your carpets.


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Extra items that will help if you have pets


Related hardwood flooring cleaning and maintenance tips:


Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors


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How to clean hardwood floors the right way

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