Indoor hardwood floors are almost always finished because unfinished wood stains easily and is difficult to clean. If you happen to have unfinished wood floors, see the guide How to Clean Unfinished Wood. For everyone else, the most important thing to know is that leaving liquid sitting on your wood floor for any length of time could cause it to swell or crack. Follow the steps below.
Choosing a Mop
Do not use a bucket of water and a string mop; that method will deposit much more water on the floor than is needed and could damage the wood (again, the most dangerous enemy of a hardwood floor is water or liquid of any kind that is allowed to soak in). If you must use a string mop, lightly wet it under a sink faucet and wring it out thoroughly.
If you have a choice, microfiber push mops work well. Even better are the ones with washable pads so that the mop itself can be cleaned regularly too. For larger floors, several of the washable pads can be kept on hand to swap out so the entire floor gets cleaned with a clean mop head rather than just the first section. Look for these in the cleaning aisle of your local supermarket. There are a variety of options, many of which come with a built-in sprayer that will allow you to deposit mop water on the floor only as needed.
Another great option, though more expensive, is a steam mop. Steam mops are a great choice for wood because they expose the wood to a very small amount of moisture. For increased cleaning power, the cleaners below (vinegar or tea) can be added to the steam tank.
You Will Need:
- A broom or vacuum
- A mop
- Water, preferably distilled
- White vinegar or black tea
Steps to Clean the Floor:
- Begin by sweeping or vacuuming the floor. It is important to do this first as the dirt particles or other debris could scratch the floor when mopping. Also you don’t want to remove as much dirt as possible before mopping or you run the risk of spreading it around. Try to always sweep or vacuum with the grain of the wood so that if any of the dirt causes scratches, it will be much less noticeable.
- For most general cleaning, a damp mop using plain water will suffice as the go-to method. If you have hard water or have noticed any cloudiness or water marks after mopping in the past, use distilled water instead.
- There are times when a plain water mopping won’t be enough, such as when you have lots of grime or footprints on the floor. In this case, use a mixture of one part white vinegar in three parts water. You can either spray the mop head with this mixture, spray the floor as you mop, or put it in the mop sprayer if you have one. White vinegar is a mild disinfectant that kills 99% of bacteria, as well as cuts through grease and oils. Wood is acidic, which is another reason vinegar is a good choice for cleaning it. If needed, a stronger vinegar solution can be used (equal parts water and vinegar).
- If you don’t like the smell of vinegar or just want a different option, use black tea. The tannins in the tea can brighten wood and the acidic pH is not only ideal for wood, but also can help to cut through oily footprints and grime. Dilute the tea in two parts water for the initial cleaning, then increase the amount of tea if needed.
- If you use vinegar or tea to mop the floor, you may want to go over it again quickly with plain water to remove the residue left behind. This is especially true for stronger concentrations of vinegar/tea mixtures. Any residue on the floor could attract dirt and possibly leave it feeling sticky.
- After mopping, wipe the floor down with a towel to soak up the remaining moisture. Allowing it to dry on the floor can lead to water damage or, if not using distilled water, can lead to water spots from the mineral content in the water.
Many commercial wood floor cleaners or polishes contain oils or other chemicals that deposit a film on the floor often in hopes of adding shine. These products can quickly build up on the floor, leading to an increase in visible footprints and grime. The vinegar mixture or tea mentioned above may be enough to cut through the buildup so it can be removed with the mop.
If the buildup is heavy, it would be best to clean it by hand with a few cloths, otherwise frequent rinsing of the mop head will be needed as it gathers the residue. Work in small sections and polish the area dry with a towel when one section is finished; the towel will remove even more residue that may have been missed.
If the vinegar or tea are not strong enough to remove the residue, another option that many site users have reported having success with is alcohol – either denatured or isopropyl alcohol diluted in two parts water (1 part alcohol to 2 parts water). This can be done by mopping or by hand. Either way, work in small sections and dry the area afterward. Alcohol should not be used as an everyday cleaner because over time it can damage the finish. Use this method only as a last resort to remove buildup from commercial cleaners.
For severe residue buildup, it may take several attempts to fully remove it all. Gently using a plastic scraper can help if needed; a credit card (that you don’t mind messing up) can work if you don’t have a plastic scraper on hand. Always go with the grain of the wood.
There are many stains that can soak deep into the wood. If the stain is organic (things like coffee, blood, or pet urine), try using an enzyme cleaner for hard floors, such as Nature’s Miracle Hard Floor Cleaner Dual Action Stain and Odor Remover. Follow the instructions on the label, then mop the area with plain water afterward to rinse. For non-organic stains, try the tips below.
- Dye: Rub with a cloth dampened with a 1:3 solution of bleach and water. Do not soak the area.
- Liquor: Rub with a cloth dampened with warm water and detergent; alternate rubbing with a cloth dampened with denatured alcohol.
- Grease: After causing the grease to congeal by applying a bag of frozen peas, scrape it off with a knife. Remove any residue by putting a rag on it and carefully ironing the rag.
- Crayon marks: If mineral spirits doesn’t do the trick, try applying tooth paste and rubbing with a dry cloth.
- Nail polish: Detergent solution, scouring powder, water, and a plastic mesh pad.
- Ink: If warm water and detergent doesn’t work, try a commercial ink remover.
- Lipstick: Detergent and warm water; use light pressure with a plastic scouring pad if it’s a tough stain.
- Scuffs: Use a pencil eraser on them. If stubborn, rub gently with 000 fine steel wool and the type of liquid wax usually used on the floor.
After removing any stain, rinse the area thoroughly with a damp cloth, dry completely, and, if the floor finish has been removed in that area, recoat with appropriate finish or wax.
It’s recommended a professional floor finisher be called to handle rust stains, dark spots, or stains that cover an extensive area. Sometimes the best response to a stain is to refinish spot or the entire floor.
- A high percentage of grime found on floors is carried in from outside on shoes. So a good way to limit the amount of cleaning you need to do is limit the amount of grunge that finds its way to the floor. Use area rugs, throw rugs, and runners over high traffic areas. You might also consider adopting the Asian habit of having people remove their shoes before stepping inside. Of course, the considerate host provides slippers and an area by the door where shoes are stashed.
- If you want to use a commercial cleaner/polish that adds residue to the floor, only do so every 2 or 3 cleanings to prevent buildup.
- If your floor has lost its shine and using a commercial cleaner/polish is the only thing that brings back the shine, have the floors buffed. You can rent a buffer from some major hardware stores, invest in one you can keep, or hire a professional.
- Joey Green’s Cleaning Magic by Joey Green