Hardwood floors, once considered old-fashioned, have come back into style in a big way. Their popularity is only increasing, and for good reason. Carpet may be softer, but it’s notoriously difficult to clean.
Carpet is absorbent, and it absorbs smells in addition to stains. Carpet requires vacuuming, deodorizing, and periodic shampooing. Hardwood can be much easier to maintain, and it looks great as well.
Still, hardwood does need to be cleaned. Spills happen and dirt and mud get tracked in to every house. It’s easier to clean these things off of a hardwood floor than it is to get them out of carpet, but you still need to know how to do it properly. Improper cleaning risks ruining the floors. You might strip the stain or varnish off the wood, or event damage the wood itself.
This comprehensive guide will go over all of the best, safest, and most effective methods for cleaning hardwood floors. All of these methods will get your floors clean enough to eat off of, and they’ll do it without risking any damage to your beautiful flooring.
Different Types Hardwood Floors Clean Method:
1. How to Clean Hardwood Floors with Vinegar
Vinegar is so much more useful than most people realize. Simple white vinegar can be used in almost any way you want- make pickles with it, use it in salad dressings, hot sauce, and all kinds of other culinary projects.
What surprises many people is how effective vinegar is as a cleaner. It’s very acidic substance which allows it to break down a lot of other things, and it’s perfectly safe. Vinegar is a product of fermenting alcohol, so it’s completely natural. It’s also extremely affordable, and it’s price is one of the reasons so many people choose it.
How Vinegar is Made
To make vinegar, first you have to make alcohol. This is why you see red and white wine vinegars in stores- wine vinegars are some of the oldest vinegars in the world. Alcohol is made through fermentation. Fermentation is a biological process in which organic compounds are converted into new compounds by enzymes. Or, to put it in layman’s terms, fermentation happens when microscopic creatures digest something and turn it in to something new.
For alcohol, fermentation is the result of yeast digesting sugars and turning them into alcohol. Once alcohol has been created, acetobacter bacteria move in. These bacteria eat alcohol, and turn it into acetic acid, or vinegar.
All vinegar starts out as something sugary that ferments into alcohol. Red wine vinegar starts out as grape juice, which is then fermented into wine, and then fermented in to vinegar. Apple cider vinegar begins life as apple cider, then hard cider, then vinegar. These vinegars are unsuitable for cleaning. The still have some sugar content, but most importantly they have color, so they’ll stain.
White vinegar is usually distilled for purity. This means that, while you could make white vinegar from wine, balsamic, or cider vinegar, it would be a waste. Those vinegars are all prized for their color, aroma, taste, and health benefits. Real balsamic, in particular, can be very expensive. White vinegar ends up perfectly clear, with a very straightforward vinegar smell and taste. Quite often i’ts made by dissolving sugar in water, fermenting that into alcohol, and then fermenting into vinegar before distilling.
Why Vinegar is an Effective Cleaner
A quick google search for the uses of white vinegar will turn up recommendations to use it for cleaning bathrooms, killing mold, preventing spots on glasses in the dishwasher, and more. People used to clean garbage disposals and some folks even use it as an all-natural deodorant.
So, what makes vinegar so good as a cleaner? In short: acid. Vinegar is a very acidic substance. Acetic acid, which is what makes vinegar so acidic, has a pH of 2.4. That makes it more acidic than coffee, orange juice, or lemon juice.
White vinegar is, essentially, pure acetic acid mixed with water, and it’s by far the most acidic vinegar you can buy. The acid essentially dissolves the things you want gone- soap scum, mud, grime, mineral deposits, etc. This happens in two ways. For some things, the acid dissolves them because it’s breaking them down just like stomach acid does with food. For some stains, the acid dissolves them because the stain itself is slightly acidic, so it mixes easily with the acid.
Vinegar’s acidity also makes it an effective disinfectant. The acid kills bacteria and fungi, including mold and mold spores, so using bacteria on the flooring can not only clean them, but disinfect them and improve the overall health of the household.
Cleaning Floors With Vinegar
Before you use vinegar on your hardwood floors, vacuum and/or sweep them to get rid of most of the debris on them. This will make mopping with vinegar much more effective.
To clean hardwood floors with vinegar, mix one gallon of hot water with one cup of white vinegar in the mop bucket. Then mop in an “S” motion, making sure to lead with the same edge of the broom every time so that you’re actually absorbing the dirt and not spreading it around.
Change out the solution with fresh water and vinegar each time you move to a new room to make sure that you are still cleaning effectively. Otherwise you’ll eventually be spreading dirt around the house instead of removing it.
Don’t worry about making the house smell like vinegar- the smell won’t be very strong to begin with, and it dissipates very quickly. Besides, the vinegar smell is probably more pleasant than smelling ammonia, bleach, or other harsh chemical cleansers.
Benefits of Cleaning Hardwood With Vinegar
Perhaps the biggest benefits is that vinegar is all-natural and perfectly safe. If you’re worried about using strong, harsh chemicals around your pets and children, vinegar is an excellent alternative. Quite often it cleans just as well as those chemicals will, but it is much safer.
It’s also much cheaper. You can purchase a gallon of white vinegar for less than $5 in many places, and that will provide you with a lot of cleaning power. It’s a fraction of the cost of other, more artificial cleaning products.
Finally, vinegar is very effective. It will leave your floors with a beautiful, clean shine and it doesn’t leave any residue behind. In fact, since you don’t have to worry about residue, it’s even more effective than a lot of household cleaners.
Vinegar is also a multi-purpose substance. If you buy vinegar to use on your floors, you’re going to have a lot left over- remember, you’re diluting it in water before you mop, so you end up using very little at a time. Vinegar can be used to spray down the shower after each use to prevent mold and mildew. You can use to clean the toilets and sinks in the bathroom as well, and it will remove soap scum from any surface.
Mixed with baking soda it can be a very good cleanser for your drains, too, which are often a source of unpleasant bathroom smells. This includes the drains in your kitchen sinks and the garbage disposal, which often needs cleaning.
White vinegar is one of the best ways to prevent spots on your glasses and dishware when washing them, as it effectively dissolves and prevents the soap residue and mineral deposits that cause them. It can dissolve limescale on appliances like your coffeemaker, too.
If your microwave is dirty, one of the easiest ways to clean it is to microwave a bowl of water and vinegar for a few minutes, and then wipe it down. The vinegar-water steam will soften and lift any messes on the inside of the microwave.
You can use it to soften fabric in the wash instead of a chemical fabric softener, and it won’t leave behind a vinegar smell either. It’s also a very effective stain remover on color-safe fabrics.
Vinegar can even be used in your yard- it’s a great, all natural weed killer. Spray directly on the plants you want gone and soak them thoroughly to ensure the vinegar gets to the roots.
Vinegar also has uses beyond cleaning. It can be used in all kinds of cooking, and many people like to use it to make their own pickles. Basically, there’s very little that white vinegar can’t do. It’s liquid duct tape. You’ll buy it to clean your floors, and then find that you can use it for just about anything.
That said, it isn’t perfect, and there are some drawbacks.
Drawbacks of Cleaning Hardwood With Vinegar
Using vinegar and water to clean hardwood floors can easily result in too much water on the wood. Too much water will lead to warping and buckling of the wood, which can be costly to repair. To safely use vinegar on hardwood, you have to dilute it with a lot of water, otherwise it’s much too acidic.
It’s also important to remember that you are not actually cleaning the wood itself- you are cleaning the finish on the wood. All hardwood flooring has a protective coating on it. Sometimes that coating is very strong and resistant to acid, but other times it isn’t. Depending on the coating, it’s possible that using vinegar to clean your floors will, over time, wear away the protective coating and leave your floors dull and damaged.
The most vulnerable floors in this case are those with polyurethane surface coatings, rather than oil or wax based coatings. The acid in the vinegar can wear these coatings down over time. It’s unclear, though, how big of a problem this really is. All polyurethane coatings wear out over time, no matter what you clean them with. Cleaning with vinegar might wear them down faster, but it’s difficult to determine how true that is. The only time when you absolutely shouldn’t use vinegar on hardwood is with old (20+ years) hardwood flooring that’s already damaged.
2. How to Clean Hardwood Floors with Bona
If you’re worried that vinegar might damage your flooring, there are plenty of alternatives. You don’t want to just buy any product on the market, though. Plenty of companies are making products marketed as hardwood floor cleaners that really aren’t suited to the task.
One thing you’ll notice if you’re searching for hardwood floor cleaners is that Bona is one of the most commonly mentioned products, and it seems to be highly regarded by most people who’ve used it to clean their floors.
What is Bona?
Bona is hardwood floor cleaner that’s engineered to clean hardwood flooring just as well as vinegar, but with a neutral pH that won’t risk causing any damage. Unlike vinegar, Bona is not an all-natural product, but it’s still very safe.
Bona’s main ingredient is actually water. Water is a powerful solvent in it’s own right, and microfiber cloths (which are the only thing you should be using on your mops for hardwood) are designed to be very effective cleaners with just water. Bona uses pure water that’s had all dissolved solids and impurities removed.
In addition to water, Bona uses three co-solvents: PPG-2 Methyl Ether, Butoxypropanol, and Ethoxylated alcohol. Now, no one likes to see a bunch of unpronounceable names on the ingredient list, but rest assured that none of these are anything to be worried about. In fact, these are all frequently used in cosmetics, and at much higher concentrations than you’ll find in Bona. In other words, they’re harmless. They help lift grease stains off the floor by allowing the grease to mix with water, which it normally won’t.
The next ingredient is trisodium salt, which is used to prevent buildup from hard water. Hard water can leave behind mineral and metal deposits on surfaces in your home, and trisodium salts remove these easily.
Isothiazolinones are ingredients in Bona that act as a preservative and also destroy harmful bacteria. Again, these are very common ingredients that can be found in all kinds of household products, including your shampoo.
Finally, Bona includes Liquitint Blue, a natural blue coloring that’s completely water-soluble and won’t cause a stain. It’s only included so that you can differentiate a spill of Bona from a spill of water.
How does Bona work?
Just like with vinegar, the first thing you’ll want to do is vacuum and/or sweep your floors to get rid of any dust or debris. Then, apply the Bona to the floor.
You can do this in one of two ways. You could buy the Bona mop, which comes with a special spray attachment that allows you to spray the Bona directly on the area of the floor right in front of the mop.
Or, if you’d rather use a microfiber mop that you already own, you can just put the Bona in a spray bottle and spray it on the whole floor before using a microfiber mop to clean it. Bona doesn’t need to be diluted with water, so you don’t need to use a mop bucket with cleaning with Bona.
You will need to rinse off the cloth periodically to ensure that you don’t end up spreading the dirt around, though.
Why types of flooring does Bona work with?
While Bona is designed for use on hardwood floors, it can’t be used on all hardwood floors. Whether or not you can use Bona on your floor depends on the type of protective coating that the wood in your floor has.
Bona can only be used if the wood has a polyurethane coating. You cannot use Bona to clean a floor with wax or oil based coating. Most modern hardwood floors use polyurethane, so this isn’t a issue for most people.
You can also use Bona to clean tile, vinyl, porcelain, laminate, and engineered wood. Remember that Bona is a fairly gentle cleaner, though, and those materials can all stand up to much harsher cleansers which may be more effective on them.
Benefits of using Bona
Bona is almost certainly the best hardwood floor cleaner you can buy. It’s gentle on the wood, cleans it effectively, and doesn’t leave behind any residue. It gets rave reviews from amateurs and professionals alike. It won’t leave behind streaks or residue, there’s no harsh chemical smell, and it won’t damage your floors.
Because Bona is pH neutral, it won’t degrade the protective coating of the wood in the way that vinegar can. It’s also received the Gold stamp of approval from Greenguard, a third-party organization that tests products for safety. The Gold stamp of approval means its safe for use in healthcare facilities and schools.
Since it’s so gentle, you can use Bona on any hardwood floors. It doesn’t matter how old they are or how damaged they are. Bona is safe and effective on all of them. While it’s certainly not as cheap or versatile as white vinegar, there’s no doubt that Bona is incredibly effective at what it is designed to do.
Drawbacks of using Bona
Some reviewers with Brazilian hardwood floors note streaks or strange, film-like residue left behind by Bona. It isn’t clear what’s causing this, and it isn’t especially common, but it’s always a good idea to spot test a new cleaner before using it on the entire floor, just in case.
Bona doesn’t have fragrance. Some people like this, but others really want a nice, fresh scent like lemon, orange, or pine. It may seem nitpicky, but for a lot of us the fresh scent of a clean home is deeply satisfying, and Bona won’t give you that.
Finally, Bona is much more expensive than vinegar, and more expensive than many other hardwood floor cleaners. That said, there are also plenty of hardwood floor cleaners that are a lot more expensive.
Overall, Bona is a very effective, perfectly safe cleaner for your hardwood floors. The only real, consistent drawbacks to it are the price and the fact that it is not an all natural cleaner. The price is less of an issue than it seems, since it still isn’t a particularly expensive product.
The fact that it’s not all natural, though, is a sticking point for a lot of people. While most feel that it’s a perfectly safe product to use around pets and kids, others aren’t completely convinced and there are plenty of other reasons to prefer using all natural products as much as possible.
3. How to Clean Hardwood Floors Naturally
We’ve already covered a popular, all-natural method for cleaning hardwood floors: water and vinegar. There are more all-naturals ways to clean hardwood, though. Many people are surprised by how effective all-natural cleaners can be. When made and used properly, an all-natural cleaner can work just as well as one made with harsher chemicals.
Why you should use natural cleaners
When cleaners like Bona are so effective, and so safe, you might be wondering why you should be considering natural cleaners at all. That’s fair, but there are plenty of reasons to switch to all natural cleaners for your hardwood floors.
One of the biggest reasons for switching to natural cleaners is that they are much better for the environment. Whatever you use to clean your home will end up in the water supply, and then in the soil, and then in the plants around you. Many of the chemicals in the cleaners can cause problems for wildlife, inhibiting their ability to reproduce effectively or harming them in other ways.
Natural cleaners also contain fewer allergens. You may be surprised by how many allergens are in your cleaners. Next time you use them, notice how they affect your eyes and nose. You might be experiencing watery eyes, sneezing, itchy eyes or nose, or other symptoms that indicate an allergy. All natural cleaners do not have as many allergens, and are much more pleasant for people to use.
Natural cleaning products are safe around children and pets. Kids and pets tend to be more sensitive to the harsh, irritating chemicals in traditional cleaners than adults. They’re also more likely to find a way to ingest harsh cleaners, which can lead to some expensive medical bills. Natural cleaning products are much safer for them, and make your home a safer, healthier place to be.
Since many natural cleaners can be made at home, it’s often cheaper to use natural cleaners than it is to buy traditional cleaners. And, since many natural cleaners are true multipurpose cleaners, you can end up replacing most or all of your expensive, storebought cleaners and saving a ton of money.
In addition to plain water and vinegar, these are some great all natural cleaners to use on your hardwood floors.
Water, Vinegar, and Essential Oils
This doesn’t differ much from plain water and vinegar, except that it’s going to smell better. Adding essential oils can really improve the experience, at least for you. They won’t make any difference in terms of how effectively you clean the floors, but the ability to make your floor cleaner smell exactly the way you want it to is a big plus.
Just like when you use vinegar and water alone, you want a fairly low amount of vinegar- about one cup per each gallon of water. Then add a few drops of essential oils. Essential oils are highly potent, so you don’t need to use much. Just enough to add aroma. You can decide how strong you want the smell to be.
Using warm water will enhance the smell of the oils and make it easier to mix it all together. Once you have everything mixed in as you like it, moisten a microfiber mop head in the water, vinegar, and essential oil mix, and then wring it out. Just like with plain water and vinegar, you want the mophead to be damp, not wet.
Mop in an “s” shape, making sure to keep the leading edge the same with each movement to avoid spreading the dirt around. Keep a close eye on the mop head; you’ll need to rinse it periodically in clean water, and then moisten it in the mop bucket again.
After finishing one room, it’s a good idea to replace the vinegar, water, and essential oil mixture in the bucket to help keep everything clean. You don’t want to keep moistening your mop head with dirty water. Always make sure that you aren’t applying too much moisture to the floor as you clean, too.
If you look behind you and notice moisture pooling on the floor, or that it isn’t drying like you thought it would, you’ve been using a mophead that’s too wet. Grab a microfiber cloth and go back to dry the areas that are still wet before the moisture absorbs into the wood and warps it.
If you’ve mopped properly, the floor should be completely dry within a minute or two of mopping it. If the floor stays wet longer than that, you’ve used too much water.
Vinegar and Vegetable Oil
This is very different approach from the vinegar-and-water method. For one thing, you aren’t mopping with this mixture, and it’s a bit more labor intense. To clean hardwood floors with vinegar and vegetable oil, you mix equal parts vinegar and vegetable oil in a spray bottle. Give it a good shake before you spray, and shake it again every few minutes to ensure that the oil and vinegar don’t separate.
You’ll then spray a thin layer of the mixture onto the floor, and rub it in with a microfiber cloth. Notice that you aren’t absorbing and removing messes with this cleaner, since you’re rubbing it in and leaving it. The vinegar will act as a disinfectant, since the acid will kill bacteria, and the vegetable oil will act as a conditioner for the wood. That does mean that this can’t replace traditional mopping on its own, but it’s an excellent way to maintain a clean, shiny floor in between deep cleanings.
This is also a great way to clean small spills. First, use a microfiber cloth to clean up whatever liquid has spilled onto the floor and get it as dry as possible. Then spray the vinegar and vegetable oil mixture on the spot where the spill was and rub it in. This will prevent unwanted odors from developing and it will restore the floor’s finish in the event that whatever you spilled had stripped it.
Plant-based liquid soap, water, vinegar
1/8 cup of Plant Based Liquid Soap, 1/8 cup vinegar, and a gallon of water. Mop as you usually would. The vinegar will prevent any soap residue from sticking, and because it’s so diluted in this recipe it’s far less likely to damage your floors.
The reason this works so well even with far less vinegar than other vinegar-based cleaners is that the liquid soap ends up performing a lot of the functions that the vinegar would normally be doing. It’s a little gentler on the floors, and still fairly effective. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oils for a stronger aroma.
Once everything is mixed as you like it, moisten the mophead and wring it out until it’s just damp, not wet. Then, mop in an “s” motion, keeping the leading edge the same throughout the time that you’re mopping to make sure you don’t spread the dirt anywhere.
Keep an eye on the areas you’ve already mopped. If you see moisture taking too long to evaporate, it means that your mophead is too wet. You’ll need to stop what you’re doing immediately, grab a microfiber cloth, and dry up the wet areas before the moisture can absorb into the wood.
You’ll also need to keep an eye out for soap residue. If it’s mixed properly, the vinegar should prevent soap residue from forming, so if you see some residue in the areas you’ve already mopped you may want to go back and clean them again with a mixture that’s just vinegar and water, no soap. This will remove the soap residue quickly. If this happens, try a higher ratio of vinegar to soap in the future.
Or, more accurately, really strong black tea. Take two tea bags, boil them in a gallon of water for a few minutes, and then let it cool a bit. Dip a microfiber cloth into the tea, soak it and wring it out. Then use that cloth to wash the floors.
The dark color and tannic acid in the tea will give you hardwood floors a beautiful shine. Much like vegetable oil and vinegar, this is not a treatment that can replace more traditional mopping- its more of a maintenance cleaning than a deep cleaning.
You can also use this with a microfiber mop instead of a cloth. Dampen the mophead with the tea, and squeeze it until it’s just slightly damp, but not wet. Then, mop in an “s” shaped motion, covering the whole floor and redampening the mophead periodically to make sure that it’s still effective.
Done properly, you should notice better color and shine on your floor immediately. If you’re not seeing that, you may have squeezed your mophead too dry. With this technique, you have to ride a fine line between wet enough to be effective, and so wet that it causes damage. It’s not as difficult as it seems, so don’t worry that it will be too tricky for you.
Hot water, lemon juice, olive oil
With this DIY cleaner, lemon juice essentially performs the same function as vinegar in many of the other cleaners. It’s very acid, so it kills bacteria and helps to dissolve and lift messes. It also leaves behind a pleasant lemon aroma. The hot water helps the lemon juice and olive oil to mix in, but it also helps to clean. Hot water is a better solvent than cold water, so the combination of hot water and lemon juice is a strong cleanser. The olive oil then helps to leave the wood with a great, clean shine.
To make this cleanser, mix one gallon of hot water with half a cup of lemon juice and 3/4 cup of olive oil. You’ll need to stir it regularly to keep the oil mixed in, or if it’s in a spray bottle shake it vigorously periodically. If you’re just using this to spot clean the floors, put it in a spray bottle and shake before you spray each time. Then spray in a thin layer and use a microfiber cloth to wipe it up.
For mopping, mix all the ingredients together in a mop bucket and gently moisten a microfiber mop head. You could also put in a mop with a built-in spray bottle, but that isn’t recommended for this particular cleaner since it has to be stirred or shaken periodically.
Once the mophead is damp, but not wet, mop the floors in an “s” pattern, keeping the leading edge the same the whole time you’re mopping. Be sure to rinse off the mophead in clean water periodically- don’t rinse it off on the mop bucket, or you’ll make your cleaning solution dirty and end up spreading dirt around instead of cleaning it.
Castile soap is a term for all-natural, plant based soaps that traditionally come from the Castile region of Spain and were made with olive oil. While olive oil is still a common ingredient in many modern castile soaps, they are also commonly made with coconut oil, argan oil, or jojoba oil. Castile soaps are extremely effective and versatile cleansers.
Dr. Bronners is the most widely-available brand, and their soaps are excellent for use as everything from bodywash to pet shampoo to household cleaning. Dr Bronners has the added advantage of being organic, and none of their products are tested on animals.
They have a few different scents to choose from, or you can choose unscented. Castile soaps are very effective cleansers, and you really only need 2 drops of soap in two cups of water to make an effective cleaner for your floor, especially since you won’t be rinsing it off.
To clean the floor this way, mix the soap and water in a spray bottle, and spray the part of the floor you want to clean. Then mop it using a microfiber mop head. Mop in an “s” pattern, keeping the leading edge the same throughout the process. Rinse the mophead periodically in clean water. Keep an eye on the areas you’ve already mopped- if you see soap residue on those areas you’ll need to mop them again with a damp microfiber mophead to remove it.
4. How to Deep Clean Hardwood Floors
Many of the cleaning methods we’ve discussed so far are primarily for light cleaning. At best, most of them keep the floors looking good in between major cleanings, and can help to prevent excessive buildup of dirt and grime.
Such cleanings are important, just as with any other part of the house. Regular light cleaning keeps you ahead of the mess and prevents it from becoming a major problem. It also makes the eventual deep-cleaning much easier. It does not, however, replace deep cleaning altogether.
Deep cleaning is the only way to keep your hardwood floors fully clear of dirt, dust, grime, and pet dander. Sweeping can only remove the biggest particles of these, and if you don’t deep clean your hardwood floors periodically you’ll end up with wood that has needs to be completely sanded, stripped, and refinished.
Deep cleaning hardwood
Before you start deep cleaning your hardwood floors, you need to determine if they have a surface finish or a penetrating finish. A surface finish is usually polyurethane, which forms a protective layer over the surface of the wood.
Polyurethane finishes are often considered lower maintenance or more protective, but the reality is that they wear down over time, and eventually the entire floor will need to be stripped and refinished. Penetrating finishes are made from oil that soaks into the wood and then hardens, so it strengthens the wood better. They tend to be more durable, as well, and while they need to be re-oiled periodically they rarely need to be re-finished.
Choose a cleaner that’s best suited to your floor’s finish- vinegar may be a better choice for penetrating finishes, as it can wear away at polyurethane over time. Then, fill a mop bucket with your cleaner of choice, and water if it’s needed.
Always use a microfiber mop on hardwood floors, it’s much gentler on the wood and does a better job of absorbing dirt and grime compared with traditional mops. Before you mop, sweep and then vacuum the floor to get rid of the loose dirt, pet hair, and other debris that might be on it. Skipping this step is guaranteed to result in spreading dirt around the floor instead of cleaning it up. Just as sweeping can’t remove the smallest dirt and dust particles, mopping can’t get rid of the biggest ones. Always make sure that the floor is thoroughly swept and vacuumed before you mop.
Essentially, deep cleaning hardwood is just mopping it. There’s no other way to clean hardwood except sweeping and then mopping. The term “deep cleaning” is a bit misleading, since you aren’t really going deep into the wood when you clean. Bona will work well for this, as will water and vinegar. Every other cleaning method we’ve listed so far is more of a spot treatment or light cleaning to be used in between mopping to keep the floor looking nice.
It’s difficult to determine how often your floors need to be mopped. That’s because it really depends on a lot of factors that are specific to your home. The frequency with which you apply lighter cleanings, the amount of dirt being tracked in, the number of children and pets in the home, and the location of your home all have to be considered. You’re the only one who can determine how often to deep clean your hardwood floors.
5. How to Clean Old Hardwood Floors
Buying an older home has a lot of advantages. They have more character than cookie-cutter suburban houses, they’re often built using more durable materials and construction methods, and they usually have beautiful, old hardwood floors.
Those floors can be intimidating, though. You want to clean them, care for them, and preserve them as much as possible. Original hardwood floors aren’t just beautiful, they add a lot of value to the home, and they can be very expensive to repair or replace.
Unfortunately, it’s often true that they haven’t been cared for properly in a long time. In addition to the dirt, grime, scuff marks, and other normal, day-to-day things that can really mar the appearance of the floor, their protective coatings may have worn off, causing even more damage.
Cleaning and restoring old hardwood floors isn’t terribly difficult, but if it isn’t done properly you can get yourself in a lot of trouble. This is especially true if your floors have already been damaged, since that means they’re more delicate than most hardwood floors already. Here’s what you need to know about old hardwood floors and how to clean them.
Oil-based finishes are slowly coming back into style, but most modern hardwood floors are still mad with polyurethane finishes. These coatings are tough, easy to clean, and require little maintenance. If you’ve got an older home with the original hardwood floors, your floors almost certainly have an oil-based finish, not a polyurethane one.
This is actually an advantage for you. Polyurethane finishes are notoriously difficult to apply properly, and they wear out eventually, which requires the whole floor to be stripped and re-finished. That process is every bit as expensive as you think it is. Trying it yourself is out of the question, too. It’s a huge project, and if you try to apply a new polyurethane finish yourself you’re certain to end up with unattractive streaks, gaps, and feathering in the coating.
Oil-based finishes are very easy to apply and they really just need to be properly maintained- re-oil the floor periodically and you’ll never need to have it stripped and refinished. If your floor is losing its shine or seems discolored in places, it likely needs a reapplication of oil.
You can’t just use any oil, though. You need a specially designed penetrating oil like this one. These oils soak into the wood and then harden, strengthening the structure of the wood itself rather than just forming a protective coating on the outside. They also help to waterproof the wood by filling the pores in it with oil, which prevents them from absorbing water.
Before you can apply the oil to the floor, you need to get it ready for a fresh coat of oil. For some older floors, you may want to sand it lightly before beginning. Use a buffer with a fine grit sanding pad for this. Then carefully sweep and squeegee the floor to remove any dust from the sanding. Vacuum it after sweeping and using the squeegee to be absolutely certain that you’ve removed all the dust. Note that if the wood has already been damaged, sanding is a bad idea- you risk damaging it further, so skip this step.
Next you need to clean the floors with your floor cleaner of choice. Mop the whole floor to make sure all of it is perfectly clean- whatever is on the floor when you apply the oil is going to get sealed in. Then, wait a few hours to ensure that the floor dries completely. You don’t want any moisture left in the wood when you apply the oil, since the oil will seal it in and eventually it will cause damage.
It’s a good idea to use a moisture meter on the floors to test them and make sure they really are completely dry before you apply the oil. This is the only way to know for certain that they have dried properly.
How to apply oil
The best way to apply an oil finish is to use a paint roller. These tools are perfectly designed to apply a thin layer of the oil to the floor as evenly as possible. Work in small sections, apply the oil in a thin coat, and then allow it to dry for about fifteen minutes. If it takes longer to dry than fifteen minutes, you used too much oil. It isn’t really problem, and won’t harm the flooring, it will just take longer to dry.
Once the oil is dry, you may want to use a buffer with a colorfast pad. These pads are tough enough to smooth out the wood grain and drive in the finish, but gentle enough that they won’t strip out the finish. Once that’s done, use a squeegee and rags to remove excess oil from the floor.
Once the excess oil is removed, use a white pad on the buffer to polish the floor and give it an even shine. Then, leave the oil to harden. This usually takes around six hours. Once the oil has hardened, you may want to apply a second coat, especially if it looks like the floors haven’t been re-oiled in a long time.
Cleaning an old hardwood floor
Once you have a good coating of oil on your old hardwood floors, you need to keep them clean. Make sure that you sweep the floor every day to keep dirt, dust, and pet hair from accumulating too much. A soft bristle broom is necessary, because harder bristles may scratch the wood. Always sweep in the direction of the grain of the wood to avoid driving the dirt into the flooring even more.
It’s recommended that you mop your floors at least once a month to keep them as clean as possible. Bona is a great choice for a cleaner when mopping older floors. It’s very gentle on the wood but it will still clean it effectively. Remember that Bona is unscented, so if won’t leave behind any sort of smell when you clean with it. Some people love this, and others really don’t.
You can also use diluted white vinegar in warm water to mop the floors. Be careful, though, if your floors have already suffered a lot of damage. Using water and vinegar on badly damaged hardwood might make things worse. For most hardwood floors, though, vinegar diluted in water is a very effective and safe way to clean them.
In general, you want to mop using as little moisture as possible, to minimize the risk of your flooring absorbing water. This means ringing the mop out thoroughly before using it on the wood. The mop head should be damp, not wet. Once your mophead is at the proper moisture level, mop in an “s” shaped pattern, keeping the leading edge the same throughout the process so that you don’t end up spreading dirt around.
Be careful as you mop to check the areas you’ve already cleaned. If you see moisture pooling there, you’ve used too much moisture in the mop. You’ll need to go back and dry those areas with a microfiber towel before continuing- letting the moisture air dry at that point will give it a chance to be absorbed into the wood.
In between mopping, be sure to clean up spills immediately. Use microfiber cloth or the mop, and get rid of any moisture on the floor. Any liquid spill can potentially stain your floor, so don’t let them sit. As soon as the spill happens, clean it up.
Cleaning hardwood floors doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating. You can easily keep your beautiful wood floors looking shiny and new for years as long as you follow the proper steps and keep them clean.
Hardwood floors have been around for a long time, and that means there are plenty of products and lots of age-old wisdom for keeping the clean without damaging them, so don’t stress too much about damaging them while cleaning them. You’ll cause far more damage by not cleaning them.
The biggest thing to remember when cleaning hardwood is actually not which cleaner to use, but to be sure and use as little moisture as possible on the wood itself. Hardwood floor cleaners are formulated to be as effective as possible in small, relatively dry amounts, which is why so many people swear by them. They clean the floors better than things like all-purpose cleaner simply because all-purpose cleaner isn’t meant to be used in small amounts with little moisture.
For an all-natural route, you’re going to have to use some water because using pure vinegar on the floor is almost guaranteed to cause some problems. In fact, while many people warn that vinegar might erode the protective polyurethane layer on the surface of the wood, we suspect that the bigger danger when cleaning hardwood with vinegar is the amount of water that you have to use. Still, plenty of people use this method to clean their floors and experience no problems at all, so you can certainly do it without damaging the floors.
The older your hardwood floors are, the more gentle you’ll need to be in cleaning them. Old hardwood has already seen a lifetime of wear and tear, and while wood is a very durable material old, worn down wood should be handled with more care. Be sure to keep it properly oiled and clean it regularly.
One of the most important things you can do for any hardwood floor is daily sweeping and regular, light cleaning. Mopping always presents the risk of adding moisture to the wood, and the dirtier the floor gets in between moppings, the more cleaning solution and/or water you’ll have to use when you mop.
Sweeping daily and applying lighter cleaning treatments periodically to keep the floor clean in between monthly moppings will ensure that you can mop with a minimal amount of moisture and still keep your hardwood floors clean. This is crucial to maximizing the lifespan of your hardwood floors.
With proper maintenance and cleaning, your hardwood floors will stay clean and beautiful for decades to come. If this seems like a lot of work, just remember that it’s still much less work than cleaning and maintaining carpet, and hardwood lasts a lot longer than carpet anyway. Hardwood flooring may not be quite as low-maintenance as many people have been led to believe, but it’s still one of the easiest types of flooring to care for.