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Best Way to Clean Hardwood Floors


If you peruse the various answer forums online you'll find some disagreement as to the best way to clean hardwood floors. Some people swear by vinegar, others tell you to use only warm water. We'll explain the possible methods in a moment, but first let's take a look at how to keep those wood floors clean and how to avoid damage.

Our number one recommendation is to use rugs. You don't have to cover the whole floor with area rugs, but strategically placing rugs at entrances to the room will save a lot of wear and tear on hardwood floors, and keep them cleaner longer. A good door mat catches pieces or dirt and sand and other debris that might otherwise scratch the surface of the floor.

Important note: Do not use rubber-backed mats on your floor. These can trap moisture and damage the wood surface. Use a rugs that can breathe and allow moisture beneath them to dry through them. Shake them out regularly as well.

Another consideration is pets. If you want your wood floors to continue looking beautiful, you might consider doing something about those nails. Trimming your dog's or cat's nails will help prevent scratches, but probably not stop them completely. For indoor cats, you can buy nail covers. These plastic nibs, sold online or at a pet store, are glued in place and last for a month or more, preventing any scratches.

Routine Cleaning

For light cleaning you can sweep the floors. You can also use a vacuum cleaner, which might pull out some of the debris between the boards. Beyond that, a quick cleaning with a damp mop (water only) can be enough if the floor isn't too dirty.

Deep Cleaning

Unfortunately there may not be one best way to clean hardwood floors, since they come in different types. If you know where the floor was purchased or have any of the original paperwork, call the vendor or manufacturer to get their recommendations. Other wise you will have to guess and try one of the following.

Plain white vinegar is used by many people with good results. Some lay it down full strength with a mop, but a cup mixed in a gallon of warm water will work fine. Vinegar will not degrade a polyurethane finish. It also won't leave a residue. The smell goes away quickly after cleaning, and this is one of the few cleaners that is entirely safe for pets and small children.

Murphy Oil Soap is also used by many people, and there are a few varieties to choose from. Some authorities recommend against oil soaps, saying they will dull the finish over time. You can test this or any other cleaner in a small area behind a couch or in a corner before applying it to the whole floor. If you see any discoloring, hold off on the cleaning; the floor may need refinishing.

Other hardwood floor cleaners can be tested similarly, to see if they work before you try to clean the whole floor. You are looking for cleaners that do not discolor the floor and which do not leave a residue. If they all give you trouble, use a water-dampened cloth or mop for now and get professional advice.


- Don't use ammonia cleaners, which can dull and damage the wood.

- Use a damp rag for cleaning spills--and get them quickly.

- If the floor has a urethane finish, don't use wax.

- Damp is best; getting the floor too wet can cause permanent damage.

If you find that it's difficult to clean those hardwood floors and return them to their original shine, it might be time for a minor or major work. "Screening" is grinding down the surface to allow a new coat of polyurethane to be applied, which can make a floor look brand new. Sanding and refinishing is only required if the floor is severely damaged. Ask a professional about your options.

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