What is the best way to clean my hardwood floors you ask? The answer may sound perplexing… There is NO one best way to clean your hardwood floors. What’s best for your floor depends on how old your floors are and what type of finish is on your hardwood floors. If you don’t know what type of finish is on your floor, do your best to find out.

WHAT KIND OF FINISH IS MY HARDWOOD FLOORS?

To tell the difference in a pinch, just rub your finger across the floor. Be sure to do this on a clean floor. If no smudge appears, the floor is surface sealed. If you do create a smudge, the floor has been treated with a penetrating seal, oil finish, shellac, varnish or lacquer, and then waxed. Consider when your floors were installed as well. If you have a newer wood floor, it is likely surface sealed. For more on determining your hardwood floor finish, refer to this blog on common floor finishes.

PROTECT HARDWOOD FLOORS FROM DIRT AND GRIME
Use floor mats near your entry doors. You can reduce hardwood floor cleaning time and wear by adding mats at your entrances. Position mats both outside and inside exterior doors to lessen tracked-in dirt. Tiny particles, like dirt, can act like sandpaper and scratch your wood. By placing a floor mat at each entryway and encouraging family members and guests to wipe their feet, the majority of dirt and grime will remain on the mat.
In snowy or rainy weather, include a boot or shoe removal area to avoid damage from water and de-icers. Prevent marks by using floor protectors under furniture and by using rugs in play areas to ensure children’s toys don’t scratch the floor.

SWEEP FOR DAY TO DAY HARDWOOD FLOOR CLEANING
It might seem a little old-fashioned but the best way to clean your hardwood floor from day-to-day wear is sweeping with a high quality broom or using a microfiber cloth. If sweeping isn’t enough or those edges and corners need some attention, pull out the vacuum. Be sure to vacuum without the beater bar rotating which can scratch your hardwood floor finish.

USE APPROPRIATE CLEANING PRODUCTS
When possible, use cleaning products recommended by the flooring manufacturer. In some cases failure to follow the recommendations can result in voiding your warranties. If the floors were finished on-site, talk with the installer for product recommendations. If neither is known, use a generic hardwood floor cleaner which can be purchased at a retail flooring store. Always test the cleaner first in some obscure corner, such as closet or pantry to make sure you are using the right product.
Never use anything with wax or petroleum-based products in it, unless you know for sure that your floor is a wax finish (this is no longer very common). Wax and oil will actually hold onto the dirt, and then when you step on it, it will scratch the surface. Also, if you use a wax or oil, it can eliminate the ability to buff and coat your floor–a full refinish could be required, because the finish won’t adhere and will peel off.

Some hardwood flooring manufacturers now offer their own brand of hardwood floor cleaner. Flooring brands like Armstrong, BellaWood, Shaw and Bruce offer their own hardwood floor cleaners. Other hardwood flooring manufacturers and installers often recommend the following products: Bona, Method, Libman, Blanchon, EcoMist, Dr. Bronner Sals Suds or Wood Wash. Dust and dirt on your mop head acts like sandpaper and should be avoided. Be sure to use a mop with a removable mop head or microfiber mop for easy cleaning.

CLEAN UP SPILLS AND STAINS QUICKLY
Wipe up any spills immediately, using a soft, dry or slightly damp cloth. Start at the edges of the spill and work toward the center. Allowing spills to remain on hardwood floors could damage the finish, as well as the wood. Be sure that the floor is dry after clean up.

BE CAUTIOUS WHEN DEEP CLEANING HARDWOOD FLOORS
When your hardwood floors need a more thorough cleaning, don’t grab a bucket of water and wet mop it! Use a damp mop on the floor and be sure to use a well-wrung mop. Do not over-wet the floor – this can change the moisture levels and, over time, cause a floor to expand, resulting in cupping.

HARDWOOD FLOORS ARE A SMART INVESTMENT
Remember, every wood floor is an investment, and you want do everything possible to ensure your investment lasts for decades. Luckily, to keep wood flooring looking its beautiful best for longer, you simply need to give it a little regular care and maintenance.

Special thanks to the Hardwood Distributors Association and the American Hardwood Information Center for providing information used in this blog.