How to Clean Hardwood Floors So They Look Good as New
These expert-endorsed tips for how to clean hardwood floors will extend the life of floors and keep them looking gorgeous for years to come
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
A handy guide to cleaning hardwood floors
Year after year, hardwood floors remain one of the most popular flooring options, and for good reason. Not only does this type of flooring increase your home’s value, but it’s also versatile, gorgeous, sustainable and capable of lasting more than a hundred years if taken care of properly.
But there’s a downside: Hardwood floors can look dirty and scuffed up if you don’t clean them regularly. And because wood is natural and porous, if you fail to learn how to clean hardwood floors correctly—there are several cleaning products to never use on hardwood floors, after all—you can easily damage them and shorten their lifespan.
The good news? Just like cleaning baseboards and cleaning carpets, knowing how to clean hardwood floors the right way is actually quite simple. Bonus: You probably already have all the supplies you need. In our handy, step-by-step guide to cleaning hardwood floors, Alicia Sokolowski, a cleaning expert with more than 15 years of experience as the president and co-CEO of AspenClean, offers up her professional knowledge, which you can easily incorporate into your cleaning schedule.
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.
How to clean hardwood floors
According to Sokolowski, learning how to clean hardwood floors is easy and takes very little time. “Hardwood floors can be cleaned as fast and easily as any other surface in your household,” she says. “The important thing is to know how and what products to use for the best results.”
Keep in mind, consistency is key when it comes to cleaning wood floors. “The best thing you can do for your hardwood floors to stay in their best shape possible is to build a regular cleaning routine.”
How often you should clean your hardwood floors depends on a variety of factors, like the amount of foot traffic in the area, whether you have a pet and even what the weather is like outside. When there’s rain or snow, for example, floors tend to get dirty faster.
While you don’t have to deep-clean floors daily, Sokolowski notes that giving them a “quick sweep with a broomstick” once a day will help prevent dirt and dust from settling. Using a fast house-cleaning product like a vacuum cleaner made for hardwood will also get the job done.
As for mopping or wet-cleaning hardwood floors, let your lifestyle dictate the frequency. She recommends doing this weekly for high-traffic areas and biweekly for less-busy parts of the home or pet-free households. “If you happen to be a pet owner, we recommend cleaning your floors at least twice a week,” she says.
The best way to clean hardwood floors varies, so make sure you know what type you have. You may need a different method for cleaning vinyl or laminate floors that look like wood than you do for cleaning hardwood floors.
“It is very important to treat your floor according to the material it is made from, as the cleaning requirements might differ from material to material,” Sokolowski says. The most important thing is to always follow the recommendations from the manufacturer. “They know their wood the best and often offer the most helpful advice on how to care for your hardwood floor to [make it] last forever,” Sokolowski says.
If you don’t follow the instructions or if you use the wrong cleaner, you can “severely damage your floors to the point where refinishing is required,” she says. “You are better off investing in the right hardwood floor cleaner now than spending a lot of money and resources later to fix the damages.”
Yevgen Romanenko/Getty Images
Supplies for cleaning hardwood floors
Understanding how to clean hardwood floors the right way starts with knowing which supplies to use. Luckily, you likely have most of them in your supply closet already.
While you can purchase a store-bought cleaner, Sokolowski points out that the best way to clean wood floors is by making a homemade cleaning solution using mild dish soap (like Dawn) and water. She adds that, should you want to avoid buying floor cleaner or mixing a DIY solution, the best thing for your hardwood floors is as simple as it sounds: water.
She also suggests staying away from harsh chemicals, instead sticking to formulas that are pH neutral and recommended by your flooring manufacturer. “We definitely do not recommend using ammonia or products that mostly consist of ammonia,” she says, noting you’ll also want to skip “highly acidic products, oils in large amounts or any other cleaning products that were not specifically developed for the type of floor you have. If you have pets, make sure you use a pet-friendly cleaner.
Gather your supplies:
- Store-bought cleaning solution
- Microfiber mop: For best results, Sokolowski suggests using a microfiber floor mop, which is hypoallergenic and safe for those suffering from allergies or asthma. “It is also lint-free and nonabrasive, leaving nothing behind, and will not scratch delicate surfaces,” she says.
- Microfiber wipes or cleaning cloths
- Mild dish soap
- Small cleaning brush or toothbrush
- Spray bottle
- Wet/dry vacuum
Step 1: Sweep or vacuum the floor
Sokolowski recommends sweeping or vacuuming your hardwood floors daily. This helps get rid of any built-up dust or debris, which can scratch the floors or turn into mud, penetrating them even further. Don’t overlook hard-to-reach areas, like underneath the bed or couch and near the baseboards. And speaking of those dusty baseboards: They can be a (literal) pain in the neck to clean, so consider investing in the Baseboard Buddy to simplify the process and save your achy neck and back.
Step 2: Wash the floor with a damp mop
Once all the dust and debris have been swept away or vacuumed up, it’s time to mop. Be sure to use an appropriate floor cleaner and one of the best mops for hardwood floors or a vacuum-mop combo.
And don’t overdo it. Sokolowski stresses the golden rule of cleaning hardwood floors: Less is more when it comes to cleaning solution and water. “You can either spray a section of the floor then mop it, or spray the mop until it’s damp and mop the floor,” she says. But avoid oversaturating the floor with water, which could lead to potential water damage or unnecessary staining.
Remember, you want to mop twice a week if you have pets, once a week for high-traffic areas and biweekly for less-busy spots.
Step 3: Go over the floor with a dry mop
After mopping with water or cleaning solution, give your floors extra shine by going over them again with a dry mop, says Sokolowski. Sure, there are things you should never clean with a Swiffer, but hardwood floors certainly aren’t one of them. And if you want that extra wow factor—say, if you’re hosting houseguests—this step is a must.
Step 4: Use microfiber wipes to absorb any liquid
After you finish, make sure there is no liquid remaining on the floor. “Whether you are using a specific cleaner or only water, make sure you use a high-absorbing cloth, such as a microfiber cloth, to wipe up the moisture,” says Sokolowski. Why microfiber? It’s made of very fine fibers that trap debris instead of spreading it around.
Are your floors free of any remaining liquid? You’re done! See, learning how to clean hardwood floors wasn’t so hard, was it? But keep reading for ways to remove stains (hey, they happen) and keep your floors looking good as new.
How to remove stains from hardwood floors
Removing fresh stains from your hardwood floors will extend their life and make regular cleanings easier. Two things to look out for in particular: hair spray and furniture polish. Both can cloud your floor’s finish. That said, you can also remove water stains from wood.
On the plus side, removing stains from hardwood isn’t as tough as it sounds. “Fresh stains are often easily removable with water and a quick wipe,” Sokolowski says. Here, too, less is more when it comes to how much cleaning solution or water to use. For stubborn stains, use mild soap, like Dawn or AspenClean unscented dish soap, and gently brush the stain with a toothbrush.
Gather your supplies:
How to keep hardwood floors looking new
According to Sokolowski, there are only two secrets to keeping hardwood floors looking new: regular maintenance and following the manufacturer’s cleaning guidelines. Keep the tips below in mind, and your hardwood floors will continue to shine.
- Vacuum or sweep every day. This will get rid of debris that can damage your floors and help you avoid spending time and money on wood floor scratch repair.
- Mop high-traffic areas—like the foyer, kitchen, bedroom and living room—once a week. Mop less-used areas on a biweekly basis.
- If you have pets, clean your floors more often. Twice-a-week cleanings will lift dirt and hair, lessening the likelihood that the debris will scuff your floors.
- Clean spills immediately.
- Use felt pads to prevent scratches. Even if you don’t rearrange your furniture often, constant use will still cause scratches on a wood floor. Put furniture pads on all the legs of your furniture to keep your wood floors looking new. As an added benefit, adding pads makes moving your furniture much easier.
- Use doormats to keep dirt and mud off the floor. Get a 4- to 6-foot-long “walk-off ” mat for outside the front door. The longer the mat that leads up to the door, the more opportunity guests have to rub dirt and moisture off their shoes as they walk in—even if they don’t stop to wipe them.
- Avoid saturating hardwood floors with water. Not only will water ruin the finish, but it also can penetrate deep into the wood and stain it. Close windows when you’re expecting rain. Put trays under potted plants and, of course, immediately wipe up any water you see.
- Invest in area rugs. Walking across an area several times a day eventually wears down a wood floor’s finish. Nice-looking throw rugs are the easiest way to reduce wear. But make sure they don’t have a vinyl or rubber backing. This traps humidity, which can ruin your floor’s finish and stain or damage the wood.
- Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of AspenClean