How to Clean Your Hardwood Floors Like a Pro

Despite what their name may imply, hardwood floors are actually pretty easy to clean. The trick, though, is knowing how to clean them and what to clean them with. While most hardwood floors get treated when they’re first installed, untreated wood floors aren’t unheard of and require a little more TLC. What’s more, incorporating both a microfiber mop head and cotton mop head into your wood floor cleaning routine can make more of a difference than you think.

But we’re here to talk about all of that more in-depth, so read on to learn how to care for your hardwood floors like a true flooring professional.

Sealed VS. Treated: What’s the Difference?

Plot twist: they’re essentially one in the same. By sealing your wood floor, you’re treating it with a solution that will preserve its appearance for months and years to come–if you care for it correctly, that is.

However, different finishes/sealants/cherries-on-top require different cleaning methods. For example, polyurethane finishes are among the most common wood floors finishes out there. However, water-based polyurethane finishes are typically easier to apply and more environmentally friendly than its oil-based counterpart.

Other finishes include wax, shellac, aluminum oxide, and even acid-cured, to name a few. We’ll talk more later about which cleaning method pairs with which type of finish, but for now let’s get into what you should look for in a wood floor cleaner.

Choosing the Right Floor Cleaner

So you have your SWOPT wet mop ready to go, but which wood floor cleaner should you choose? Below are some common wood floor cleaner ingredients and what they do:

  • Surfactants – These chemicals soften and loosen grime on your floor so that it can be mopped up easily.
  • Citric acid – Like surfactants, citric acid breaks down dirt by combining it with alkaline ingredients, which will balance out pH levels.
  • Oxidizers – Another dirt buster, but with a twist–oxidizers release hydrogen peroxide to tackle the toughest and oldest of stains on wood floors. You’ll often find them in extra-strength floor cleaners because of their potency.
  • Solvents – Solvents’ job is twofold: to speed up the drying process and to reduce streaking and filminess.
  • Chelators – These fight stains left over from snow-melt salt or water droplets, for example.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a traditional wood floor cleaner that doesn’t include most, if not all of, these ingredients. Of course, more people are opting for the all-natural route these days out of a desire to limit their exposure to harsh chemicals. Whether these methods are as effective as their traditional counterparts, though, varies considerably.

One more thing: regular sweeping is your best friend when it comes to caring for your wood floors. A microfiber dust mop is the most effective when it comes to trapping and removing dirt, debris, and any other unwanted particles from the surface of your wood floor. The more you sweep up this top layer of dirt, the less likely it is grime will cake up and make your cleaning routine more difficult overall.

Cleaning Your Wood Floor According to Its Finish

So you know which finish your wood floor has and you have the appropriate cleaner–now it’s time to put it all together. We’ve chosen some of the most common wood floor finishes to explore in greater detail here, but please note that this list is not exhaustive.

  1. Polyurethane – Believe it or not, cleaning methods are the same for both water-based and oil-based polyurethane finishes: a solution of warm water and heavily diluted glass cleaner along with a damp mop. Avoid oil-based wood floor cleaners or floor cleaners containing silicone, as they can leave a pesky, hard-to-remove film on the floor that will make new sealant applications very difficult. Also, try not to use a truly wet mop, but a damp mop that will clean more effectively and be less likely to damage the floor’s finish.
  2. Wax – Wet mop lovers beware! Oversaturating your wax-treated wood floors with water can dull the finish and even damage the wood. Opt for a waterless wood floor cleaner instead, or a warm water and mild detergent solution if water as a cleaner is one of your only options.
  3. Shellac – Steer clear of oil soap cleaners for wood floors treated with shellac, as the alcohol in them will ruin the finish. Instead, go with a gentle warm water and biodegradable dish soap solution, and always be judicious with the amount of water you use.
  4. Acid-cured – These top-of-the-line floors are easy to care for thanks to their durability. With regular sweeping and periodic cleaning with a damp mop and wood floor cleaner, you can keep your acid-cured wood floor looking spectacular for decades.
  5. Aluminum oxide – Commonly found in high-traffic areas, you’ll need to look for a wood floor cleaner specially designed to clean floors treated with an aluminum oxide finish. Pair this with warm water and a damp mop and you’ll be golden.
  6. Penetrating oil sealer – If a wood floor cleaner has wax, vinegar, ammonia, bleach, or detergents in it, it’s not going to work for an oil-finished floor. Like floors finished with aluminum oxide, oil-finished floors require special cleaners, so be sure to purchase one specifically designed for them.
  7. Untreated – What if your wood floor isn’t wearing a coat? In this case, avoid wet mopping at all costs! Water can rot untreated wood over the long term, making for an expensive and unsightly mess to clean up.

Instead, do a once-over with trisodium phosphate and a scrub brush to remove any stains, keeping in mind that a little goes a long way. Once the stains are removed, you’ll want to take a spray bottle filled with mineral spirits and a clean, non-abrasive white rag to clean and disinfect the area. Make sure to wear protective gear (i.e., gloves and a mask) and ventilate the area well prior to cleaning, as mineral spirits can be harmful if exposed to for too long.

Let’s Get Scrubbin’

…or sweeping, dusting, mopping–what have you! Armed with all this knowledge, cleaning your hardwood floors should be a cinch now. If nothing else, remember to keep up on regular sweeping, to avoid using too much water when mopping up treated wood floors, and to use the right wood floor cleaner according the the finish yours has. Thanks for reading and check back regularly for more updates!