How to Clean Hardwood Floors
Most cleaners should never touch hardwood floors.
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I recently spent a chunk of hard-earned cash to restore the original hardwood floors in my home. Without question, I was delighted with the results—my floors’ honey- and rose-hued tones and the grains of the red oak planks gleamed like never before.
Of course, I wanted to know how to properly take care of my investment. So who better to check with than Walter Kamfonik of Atlas Flooring, the guy who refinished them? His answer was surprisingly simple.
“You want to clean your floors like you would a window,” Kamfonik explained. “You don’t want to add anything to the floors.”
But if you go to any grocery store or home goods outlet, you’re likely to find a shelf full of cleaning products allegedly designed for hardwood floors. Kamfonik cautioned that most of these were not what I should be investing in for my newly refinished floors.
“There are a lot of them out there—like Rejuvenate Wood Floor Restorer, Orange Glo, Murphy’s Oil—but most of these products add things like oil, soaps, or ammonia. On your floor, they leave a film, or they will mar it and scuff it up.”
“Use one of these on a window and see how it looks,” he joked.
One product Kamfonik did recommend was Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner. Bona is a Swedish company specializing in hardwood floor care since 1919. Though it’s not the only gentle or environmentally friendly floor cleaner you can buy, Bona is widely available at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, and Walmart (and, I’m told, seasonally through Costco).
When you’re ready to clean, prep your floor with a suction-type vaccum (no bristles) to get rid of large particles of dust and dirt. A padded microfiber dry cloth mop, such as a Swiffer Sweeper is ideal for cleaning, but don’t use wet or scented microfiber cloth.
Then apply a pH-neutral, non-acidic, water-based cleaner designed specifically for hardwood floors, using a fine spray mist and cleaning one section at a time.
A few other care tips Kamfonik passed along:
• Wipe up any liquid spills immediately, then dry immediately.
• Dust frequently, using a dry microfiber dust mop; this prevents scratches.
• Use throw rugs at entrances to minimize debris intrusion, which leads to scratches.
• Make sure rugs don't have rubber backing; over time, the rubber can dissolve the floor finish.
Bona isn't cheap. For the DIY crowd, a common homebrew remedy is a solution of vinegar and water. For tough cleanup jobs, a solution of ¼ cup white vinegar to 4-6 cups of warm water is the ideal dilution.
But while this mix has the benefit of being both inexpensive and environmentally sensitive, the acid in vinegar will eventually break down the finish of hardwood, leaving a dull surface. And too much water can lead to discoloration over time.
One question remained: If you want to clean hardwood floors as you would windows, why not use Windex?
“Glass cleaner is also a bit harsh for the floors—the ammonia can be damaging to the finish,” said Kamfonik. “But if someone put a bad polish on the floor, or there’s a buildup of film, Windex can help cut through it.”
Kamfonik said that, diluted down, vinegar and water or glass cleaner won’t harm your floor. “But don’t use them on a regular basis,” he added.