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How to clean wooden floors the right way

Learn how to clean wooden floors the right way, no matter the finish, with our pro tips.

Updated

There’s nothing like the look and feel of a quality wood floor. You might think figuring out how to clean wooden floors is going to be tricky, or require lots of different specialist products. We’ve got good news for you: the vast majority of wooden floors require some basic maintenance and a little TLC.

Follow our tips and learn the best way to clean a wooden floor – and keep it clean.

Cleaning wooden floors: 3 tips for regularly maintenance

Although robust by nature, wooden floors are also sensitive and can easily be damaged if exposed to intense cleaning routines. It’s important to keep your wooden floors free from dust and debris as, over time, grime can build up and lead to dull, scruffy surfaces.

1. Once a day: sweep or vacuum high traffic areas

How concerned are you about disinfecting while cleaning?

A simple old-school broom and dustpan will do the job nicely. If you’re using a vacuum, make sure to use a setting specifically designed for hard flooring (the rotating bristles that do such a great job at cleaning carpets can scratch or damage wooden flooring).

2. Once a week: run a damp mop over heavily trafficked areas

The mop should be damp and not soaking wet to make sure any water residue dries quickly so as not to damage the wood. If the room doesn’t get a lot of air, you might want to use a soft microfibre cloth afterwards to make sure your floor is dry.

3. Clean stains immediately

Try to clean up any spills right away – they’ll only attract more dirt and become even harder to clean as time goes by. For more, jump into our handy guide on how to remove stains from wood.

Sealed or unsealed? Figuring out the best way to clean a wooden floor

What’s best for your floors depends how old they are and what type of finish is on them.

But determining what kind of wooden floor you have can be tricky if you didn’t oversee its installation. In general, most modern wooden floors are ‘surface sealed’; this means a resin or coating – usually polyurethane or polyacrylic – has been applied that helps them to last longer and makes them more resistant to spills and scratches.

Older wooden floors have sometimes simply been lacquered or varnished, which means the surface isn’t completely sealed and can wear over time, so you should use water sparingly.

Top tip: How do you figure out if your floor is sealed or unsealed? Simply spill a tiny bit of water into an inconspicuous area. If the water forms beads and sits on the surface then chances are your floor is surface sealed.

How to clean sealed wooden floors

As well as following our general maintenance tips above, here's what else you should do to clean your sealed wooden floor:

  1. Create a water solution using an appropriate floor cleaner like Cif Floor Expert Living Room Cleaner (always read the label to ensure that you are using your chosen product safely and correctly).

  2. Never use a bleach-based product, or a furniture wax or spray, as these could stain the wood.

  3. Mop the floor using the solution, going with the grain. For particularly stubborn areas, dip a cloth in a neat floor cleaning solution and work the area at close quarters.

  4. Then go over the entire surface again with clean water in order to rinse, ensuring that no excess water or solution is left.

  5. Finally, leave the floor to dry naturally or use a microfibre cloth.

How to clean hardwood floors

It may be a bit counterintuitive, but ‘unfinished’ hardwood floors are rarely that: all hardwood floors need to be protected in some way. The term is applied to raw wood that has been turned into planks for flooring.

Buying the planks ‘unfinished’ allows you to lay them down and apply your own stains, oils, waxes or any other coatings you want but, crucially, they are almost always finished in some way once installed (even if you don't go for the ultra-protective ‘surface seal’ option).

If you’ve had unfinished hardwood floors installed, your supplier or the manufacturer should be able to tell you how they were finished and what you should – and shouldn’t – use to clean them.

If you don’t know much about when your floors were installed and by whom, follow these tips:

  • Mop the surface, but using as little water as possible – as a rule of thumb, the mop should be damp but entirely wrung out before being applied to the flooring.

  • Particularly dirty areas can still be treated, but apply a neutral spray before working on it with a cloth. A little bit of washing up liquid mixed with some warm water would work well.

  • There should be no need to dry the surface if you use the right amount of water (very little), but if you are unsure, use a dry cloth to do so, following the grain.

If you’re lucky enough to have a beautiful original parquet floor, it may need some extra care and attention. Find out all about cleaning parquet flooring.

How to clean laminate wooden floors

Laminate floors have become increasingly popular in many homes. Made from compressed wood composite (e.g. sawdust), they are often finished to such a high standard as to make them indistinguishable from solid hardwood.

They usually also come with a clear protective layer, making them quite easy to clean and maintain – regularly vacuuming and bi-weekly damp clean should keep them in tip top shape.

However, it’s important to remember that they aren’t real wood the whole way through, so you should never use abrasive products like steel wool on them and also avoid things like hot steam mops, which can dissolve the adhesives used or cause your floor to warp.

What not to use on wooden floors

Harsh detergents or ‘quick fix’ products

You shouldn’t need any harsh cleaning products when cleaning wooden floors. In fact, if your floors are new you may even risk voiding your warranty if you use an unsuitable product.

Oils, waxes or furniture sprays

As most wooden floors are actually coated in some way, the oil and wax won’t properly seep in and you’ll be left with a grimy (and lethally slippy) finish. The only time you might apply these is if you’ve sanded down a hardwood floor to fill in gaps between wooden floorboards or to change the colour of them.

Shoes

Okay, this isn’t always doable but, where you can, try to remove your shoes as soon as you get home. Not only will it cut down on how often you need to clean your floor, tiny debris like stones or tracked-in dirt can actually scratch the surface of the wood. Not to mention it's more hygienic. Accidentally scuffed up your floor? Read our tips for how to get scratches out of wood.

Originally published