When one of our editors bought a house recently, he was pleased that the home he and his wife chose had hardwood floors. No surprise—more homebuyers prefer wood flooring to any other kind.
Once he had the floors refinished, he asked me for some hints on how to maintain those satiny hardwoods, to keep them looking great. It’s a legit question—there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there, and if you do it wrong, you can ruin the finish and damage the wood.
Hardwoods can be intimidating: Some people never get beyond a quick sweep or an occasional vacuuming. That's just not enough. To keep a hardwood floor clean, you have to do that every day. A robot vac may help with daily maintenance. You still need to wash your hardwood floor when it starts looking grimy.
To find out how to get wood floors clean, I spoke with an expert, Robert Ellington of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, a company that creates custom hardwood flooring.
Ellington was reassuring. “My secret weapon is warm soapy water with vinegar,” he said. But before we get to the specifics, let’s go over a few of the hardwood Do’s and Don’ts.
- Don’t wash a gritty, dirty floor until you’ve swept, dust-mopped, or vacuumed it.
- Don’t ever let spilled water stand on a wood floor—wipe it up immediately.
- Don’t wear shoes in the house, or at least avoid wearing cleats and spike heels—they cause indents in the wood.
- Don’t use bleach, ammonia, or mineral spirits on the floor.
- Do wipe your feet on a doormat to stop dirt at the door.
- Do use felt pads on furniture legs to minimize damage.
- Do trim your pet’s claws to prevent scratches. Wipe your pup's feet when he comes in from outside.
- Do protect floors when having appliances delivered or moving furniture.
It turns out that it’s not too hard to clean hardwood floors. The important thing is to remember is to use water sparingly, and avoid soaking the floor.
What You Need:
- A bucket
- A mop
- Warm water
- White vinegar
- Liquid detergent (Ellington recommends dye-free Dawn.)
- Clean towels or a dry mop
Varies according to the size of the room
How to clean hardwood floors
Don't clean old fashioned waxed floors with water—they require special products to protect them. These directions apply to unwaxed, pre-finished floors and floors with water-based finishes, the most common types.
- Mix 5 parts warm water to 1 part vinegar in a bucket. (Test the solution in an inconspicuous spot before you wash the whole floor. You may choose to omit vinegar.)
- Add a few drops of liquid detergent.
- Dampen the mop with the mixture, and wring it out well.
- Mop in the direction of the wood grain.
- Change the solution when it gets dirty.
- Dry the floor with a cotton terrycloth towel. Avoid microfiber cloths, because they might scratch the floor.
- Sweep or vacuum every day.
Read more: Best cordless vacuums of 2018
Keeping hardwood floors clean doesn't just keep them looking nice—it can help prevent long-term wear and tear that could require a costly refinishing job. Now that you know how to maintain them, you have no excuse for letting your hardwood floors get dusty and dirty. But to be on the safe side, always leave your shoes at the front door.