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Best Way to Clean Hardwood Floors: No Damage; Professional Finish

If hardwood floors are maintained they can last for decades without the need to be sanded back and refinished. Therefore, it’s important to clean them using methods that have been found to work best and don’t damage your hardwood floors. So, here’s exactly how to clean hardwood floors to get a professional finish.

In general, sweep the floor first and then mop it using plain water. Don’t use regular detergents. They slowly remove the finish and cause your hardwood floors to get duller over time. Hardwood floors can be vacuumed but only with the brush extender engaged to avoid scratches.

There are a few rules for cleaning hardwood floors. So, below I’ll explain what these are in more detail, such as what products you shouldn’t use, and what methods of cleaning you shouldn’t use to clean your hardwood floors. And of course, we’ll also cover the best practices for cleaning hardwood floors, provided by flooring experts. 

Common Cleaning Methods To Avoid with Hardwood Floors

One of the most important things to remember, is that it’s important to clean hardwood floors so that they don’t get scratched. If dust and debris sit on a hardwood floor and get walked on it can dent or scratch your hardwood floor. There are various ways that hardwood floors get dirty with dust and debris. It can occur because:

  • It gets tracked in on shoes and bare feet
  • Dust and debris are dropped onto hardwood floors by accident
  • It blows in through a window or a door

To maintain your hardwood floors in the best condition and make them perfectly clean, it’s necessary to:

  • Sweep/vacuum high traffic areas about once every week – or sooner if it needs it
  • Mop high traffic areas about once every 2 weeks – also sooner if it needs it

Best Way to Sweep/Vacuum your Hardwood Floors Prior to Mopping

In general, sweep gently, and use a soft-bristled broom. And do not use a vacuum on the setting used for carpet. Only use it with the hard surface floor setting

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You’ve likely used this before. There is a clip on the head of the vacuum that will raise it up slightly. It does that by extending some brushes on the underside of the vacuum.

It’s important to be gentle with a vacuum. Particularly if it has plastic wheels instead of rubber wheels. Don’t press too hard into the hardwood floors, or be too rough with your vacuum as you’re moving it around. 

If in doubt use any type of indoor broom. Avoid using the stiff brushed brooms designed for outdoor use.

Best Practices for Mopping your Hardwood Floors

The main thing to remember with mopping hardwood floors is not to use any detergents. Also, don’t use any cleaners at all, unless it’s for a specific type of spill. 

This applies to all hardwood floors. An exception is if your hardwood floors have been sealed. If they have, then it’s fine to use a specialist wood floor cleaning product. There’s an easy way to tell if your hardwood floors have been sealed. Follow these steps:

  1. Find an inconspicuous area, and apply a small amount of water to it. About 1 to 2 drops. 
  2. If the water beads on the surface and doesn’t soak in, then your floors have been sealed.
  3. If on the other hand, the water soaks in slowly your floors have NOT been sealed.

Here are some rules to follow when it comes to mopping your hardwood floors:

  • Only use specialist wood floor cleaners on sealed floors; NOT on unsealed floors
  • Don’t let more than a very small amount of water sit on your hardwood floors
  • Don’t use any strong cleaning products
  • Use warm or cold water, never use hot water

In general, you should use a damp mop, rather than a very wet mop. Make sure you ring out the mop thoroughly. If water sits on the surface for more than 5 to 10 minutes it can damage the wood! It can also leave a water stain for quite some time until it fully dries.

How to Mop Hardwood Floors – Specific Mop Techniques

First, start on the perimeter of a section. You can pre-define a section such as half of the area you’re mopping. Or, you can go around the entire perimeter of the room.

  • Always mop in one direction. Avoid, mopping back and forth as this will cause more wear and tear on your floors.

How to Speed Up Drying Time After Mopping

Drying the hardwood floor area straight after mopping helps prevent moisture absorption.

Once your hardwood floors have been mopped they can take 30 minutes to an hour or more to dry. Especially in the wintertime, or during humid weather, such as when it’s been raining a lot.

We want to minimize having wet hardwood floors as much as possible, to avoid it soaking in to the floor and causing damage or staining. So there are a few things you can do to speed up the drying time and avoid them staying wet for too long:

  • Wipe the area with a clean microfiber cloth
  • Turn on a ceiling fan
  • Turn on a fan facing the floors
  • Use warm water instead of cold
  • Have a de-humidifier switched on near the floor

I prefer to go over the area with a microfiber cloth, as this then only leaves a little wetness that can dry off much quicker, and it also means you can start using the floor far quicker too. A combination of the above list will work best.

Here’s a really good video from National Floors where they show some of these techniques in practice:

Additional Best Practices for Using Wax, Polish, & Scratch Fillers on Hardwood Floor

There are also waxes and polishes that are specially formulated for hardwood floors. Over the life of hardwood floors, some of the shine can go away.

Waxes and polishes increase the shine of hardwood floors. They also help protect it from degrading as fast.

However, no matter what you do, dents, scratches, and some degradation of a hardwood floor will occur. This is just part and parcel of general wear and tear of hardwood flooring. Especially if you have pets.

It’s best practice to treat your hardwood floor with wax or polish regularly, as this will avoid having to get it refinished. And ‘regular’ will of course be different for different households, depending on how much traffic the floor gets.

But as a ball park reference, once a year wax or polish is a good consistency to maintain good looking hardwood floors. It should be anything in the 6 to 18 month range.

The main thing with applying waxes and polishes is to apply them WITH the grain of the wood. Provided you do that and follow the manufacturer’s instructions you won’t have any issues with using them on hardwood floors.

QUICK TIP: There are also fillers that can be used to mask scratches and make them much less noticeable. Like this one on Amazon that can be used on both furniture and floor repair.

The above cleaning and maintenance routine should keep your hardwood floors in good condition for many years. However, if you’ve neglected them for quite a while, or they haven’t been taken care of at all for a long time, it’s best to get your hardwood floors refinished if they are in a really bad state.

Thereafter, you can continue to maintain them according to the above instructions and hopefully never have to worry about refinishing again.

Non-Typical Cleaning Products That Work Well on Hardwood Floors

For cleaning floors, there are many different products and methods out there. One in particular that works really well for hardwood floors are dry mops. These are a rectangular-shaped mop, with a disposable cloth placed on the end. These are particularly good for dust and also work well for hardwood floors. They replace the need to use a traditional mop.

I use it for mopping and drying the floor straight after. I simply use it damp for the mopping, and then place a dry microfiber cloth over it and use it for drying off the excess moisture straight after.

This one from Amazon is my favorite, as it works so well on hardwood floors, and you can simply place the cloths in the washing machine and re-use them for next time. I feel these actually work better than a regular mop for hardwood floors.

There are also disposable wet pads that can be used on a dry mop. These work well for many different types of flooring. However, for hardwood floors only use wet pads that are specifically for hardwood floors, like these on Amazon.

They’ve been specifically designed to not have harsh chemicals in them. Which will stop them from degrading your hardwood floors.

Can You Wet Mop Hardwood Floors?

Dry mopping is my favorite way to clean hardwood floors as it avoids excess moisture absorption.

When water interacts with wood it will cause the wood to expand as it soaks up the water. It will also shrink again once the wood dries. Hardwood floors are typically sealed to stop water from soaking into them and changing the shape of the floor. But is it OK to use a wet mop on hardwood floors?

As a general rule, you can wet mop hardwood floors. However, you want to use the least amount of water possible. Ideally, the mop should be damp. Avoid letting more than this amount of water sit on hardwood floors. Also, avoid any cleaners unless your floors are sealed. 

Typically, a hardwood floor only needs to get cleaned once every 2 weeks. And using a wet mop (that is damp, not wet), is fine for cleaning them for this maintenance cleaning schedule.

But, high-traffic areas can need to get mopped sooner than this. It’s always best to sweep or vacuum first before mopping, as this will reduce the number of passes you need to do with a mop, helping protect your hardwood from more moisture than necessary.

The Best Thing To Use To Clean Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors are a special type of flooring material, and unlike other materials, there are a few things not to use on them. This will ensure they aren’t damaged, and will last as long as possible. Here’s the best thing to use to clean hardwood floors:

In general, the best thing to use is water only. However, if your hardwood floors are sealed, you can use a specialist wood cleaner in the water, or specialist ‘spray & wipe’ wood floor cleaners.

Remember, this is how to check if your floors are sealed or unsealed:

Leave a few drops of water in a part of your hardwood floors that no one will really see. Observe it to see if it’s soaking into the wood or beading on top of the wood and not soaking in at all. If it doesn’t soak in, then your floors are sealed. Sealed floors are also very shiny compared to unsealed ones!

Can Dawn Dish Soap Be Used on Hardwood Floors

Dawn dish soap is one of the most well-known dish detergents and is very versatile. Hardwood floors can get a build-up of dirt and grime that is difficult to remove with water alone, so using a bit of detergent can break it down more easily. But, is it OK to use Dawn dish soap on hardwood floors?

As a general rule, don’t use Dawn dish soap on hardwood floors. Dawn dish soap and other similar detergents will strip away a small amount of the finish each time you use them. With unsealed floors, the soap can damage the wood. It’s best to only use plain water.

If your hardwood floors are sealed, a specialist hardwood floor cleaner like this one on Amazon is fine to use. They work really well at cleaning off stubborn dirt without doing any damage.

But on floors that aren’t sealed, it’s best not to use any detergent. Unsealed floors are very absorbent and they will soak up the water with detergent, making it impossible to remove.

And when soap sits on hardwood floors, not only can it can make the floor slippery to walk on, but it can also cause dirt to get trapped and get stuck to the floor more easily. 

Therefore, it’s best not to use soap. And if you need to remove a grease stain and can’t resist using soap, try to wipe up the soap and water mixture as soon as possible after cleaning, so that it has hardly any time to absorb into the wood.