How to clean hardwood floors like an Olympian

Your handy guide to cleaning hardwood floors at the gold-medal level

Key tips to remember

  • You don’t need the latest in fancy equipment
  • Get in the habit of sweeping and vacuuming often
  • Use dust-mopping and wet-mopping to your advantage
  • Carefully consider your cleaning solutions
  • Quickly remove stains, scratches and spills
Maintenance and Repairs

Refinishing hardwood floors can be an expensive and time-consuming process, but if yours are still in pretty good shape, whether they’re actual hardwood or a manufactured imitation, there’s good news. Maintaining the finish on hardwood floors of either type begins with regular cleaning, and once you establish a few simple habits that work well for both and get your clean routine into place, keeping your floors in great shape for years to come will be second nature. The time you put into keeping your floors clean is an investment that can last a lifetime.

Supplies

You won’t need a lot of fancy equipment like robots or horsehair-and-waxed-beechwood brooms to keep your hardwood floors in great shape. There’s a wide range of inexpensive brooms and angle brooms to choose from, as well as mops, flat mops, dust mops, dust pans, vacuums, microfiber towels and various other cleaning products that are sure to help you keep your floors clean with minimum cash infusion. 

Grab a simple broom, a cheap mop, a bucket with a mop-squeezing attachment and a little dish soap. Your grocery store has everything you need. Avoid the temptation to spend much, and first take inventory at home because you might have most of what you need on hand already.

Sweeping & vacuuming  

Sweeping hardwood floors is the bedrock task of good floor maintenance and the one you’re likely to spend the most time on, as it’s done more often than all the other tasks. Hair, dirt, dust, bugs, crumbs and other unmentionables tend to accumulate faster than most of us would like to admit, so sweeping helps keep this junk at bay. 

How often to clean depends on how much foot traffic you have, but sweeping at least once a week is a great habit to get into, as is cleaning up any spills or messes as they occur. This way you’ll omit the threat of buildup or damage to your floor’s finish. Vacuuming hardwood floors is another easy option for picking up all that loose material that tends to accumulate. Most come with a floor-brush attachment (not a beater bar or brush roll), which should be hardwood floor-friendly and won’t cause scratches. Some vacuums even have a setting for hard floors and come with softer, rubber wheels.

Mopping (with liquids)

Your next step on this journey to cleaner floors involves the use of liquid cleaning solutions as simple as soap and water, or more complex and chemical-laden, if you prefer, along with the humble mop. As with the broom, mop technology has expanded over centuries. As a result, there are all sorts of fancy mops you can buy. There’s even a movie about a fancy mop that stars Jennifer Lawrence. 

Anyway, the point is that despite what the culture tells you or tries to sell you, you don’t really need a fancy mop. Mopping hardwood floors is easily accomplished with a regular mop, a bucket with the classic squeegee attachment that allows you to wring it out, and some hot, soapy water. If you want to add some sort of cleaning solution, it’s up to you, but this is not a requirement for getting most hardwood floors clean. 

After choosing the mop model that appeals to you most, dunk it in the bucket with the soapy water and wring out the mop so that it’s still damp but no longer dripping wet. After mopping a large section of a room, dunk it in the soapy water again, wring it out and repeat. Don’t leave any puddles of standing water anywhere on your floors. Use fans to accelerate the drying process.

Dust-mopping

Aside from sweeping, vacuuming or the more involved task of wet-mopping, in some situations you may also consider using a dust mop. This is typically a simpler process that allows a quick clean and/or a quick shine for your floors when you’re in a hurry; it won’t give you quite as deep a cleaning as a real once-over with a wet mop. 

Dust mops are lightweight and fast floor-cleaning tools that don’t require a bucket of liquids or additional cleaning solutions. They often include disposable wipes that are moist and pre-treated with cleaning chemicals, which you can throw out as they become coated in dirt, hair and grime. Other dust mops forego the disposable wipes and feature dry, microfiber heads that attract dust; these can be detached from the mop handle and machine washed.

Cleaning solution considerations

If you think you need something stronger than what we’ve already described for your floors, you can start looking at wood floor polish. The first step here is to see what your flooring manufacturer recommends, if possible. Otherwise, many cleaning solutions made specifically for hardwood floors are available, containing active ingredients like citric acid, surfactants, solvents, chelators and oxidizers. Some contain harsh chemicals that you may wish to avoid. Greenguard Gold Certified products are safe for use in homes with children and pets. 

If you’d rather make your own, don’t use vinegar or baking soda, which can damage flooring. One DIY option is to use a few tea bags to brew a boiling bucket of floor tea. Yes, you read that right. Floor tea uses the tannic acid from the tea leaves to create a nice shine and can even bring back a little color to lighter floors that have lost their luster. Use a soft, damp towel to apply, and rest easily knowing that you’ve skipped all those dodgy chemicals while saving money.

Removing stains & scratches

After you finish a thorough cleaning, if you need to repair scratches on hardwood floors, begin by treating any visible stains. Consider whether you have a hard finish like urethane, as the stain can be spot treated and wiped or scrubbed with a simple cleaning solution. If the stain has penetrated deeper, you likely have a softer oiled finish. This is common in older homes and means that stain removal will require more work, involving sanding, staining and refinishing. You may need to rub out the area with steel wool. If this isn’t enough to remove the stain, you may need to try bleach and vinegar, letting it soak in for an hour or so before rinsing it with a damp cloth. If you have divots and gouges, you can fill these in with fine steel wool and floor wax. Oil-based stains may respond well to dish soap. 

Moving on to treat scratches, you can buy stain sticks that attempt to color-match the scratched area. They’re often imperfect matches, but they can make a difference. Liquid scratch concealers are also an option, one that may also be an imperfect color match, but one that self-seals following application. After color matching with a stain stick or scratch concealer, you may want to consider applying a finish coating. Polishing and waxing a new finish can help build up layers of scratch and stain defense.

Quick tips for ongoing hardwood floor protection

  • Depending on foot traffic, sweep and vacuum at least weekly; mop at least monthly.
  • Get in the habit of leaving your shoes at the door, whether you have a mud room or not.
  • Install shoe-cleaning mats with strong bristles outside every entryway.
  • Add rugs to high-traffic areas to protect the floors.
  • Use furniture pads, sliders or protectors under each leg to minimize damages.
  • Fill scratches with a similarly colored crayon, heat with a blow dryer and buff with a cloth.
  • Consider a hardwood floor scratch repair kit or touch-up kit for quick fixes.
  • Go easy on the waxing. Sometimes a simple buff and polish is all you need.
  • Go after sticky spills immediately; time is your enemy in hardwood finish preservation.
  • Add new finish every 3-5 years, and refinish once every decade.
  • Leave the heavy equipment to the professionals. It’s too easy to damage your floors.
  • Steam cleaning isn’t for hardwoods. It’s best for linoleum, vinyl or tile.

Now that you have a plan for cleaning hardwood floors, you might be interested in our tips and tricks for a magical spring cleaning or maybe a few simple changes to make your spring cleaning more sustainable. While you’re at it, brush up on some home maintenance tasks you shouldn’t forget to do. Our blog is packed with plenty of other articles on how to get the most out of your home. Thanks for stopping by!


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.
 

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