Moving and Relocating

How to Effortlessly Clean Hardwood Floors Without Ruining the Finish

Casting “right” versus “wrong” judgments can often be unfair on the whole, but it seems we can all mainly agree that the decision to suffocate well-made hardwood floors beneath vinyl tiling and wall-to-wall carpeting was a true tragedy. Thankfully, many of these beautiful hardwood floors remained in the same relative condition they were in before the Great Smothering, and at this point, we have largely uncovered and renewed the enjoyment of these charming, creaky keepsakes.

Over the years, however, whether your hardwood floors are brand new construction or from generations past, wear and tear does leave its mark. Furniture, pets, and children can leave scratches and scuffs. We live our lives and spills, stains, and dirt tracks happen. Learning how to clean your hardwood floors effortlessly without ruining the finish is a critical skill to protect your investment and your home’s health—and it’s really not too difficult!


The first thing to keep in mind is outwardly basic, but it never hurts to be reminded of the importance of this point: wood and water don’t mix. Always, if liquids of any kind spill onto your hardwood floors, clean them up immediately. Sop up any drips or puddles with old towels, re-washable rags, or any other absorbent option you have on hand. Be sure that all household members (including children) know the importance of not letting liquids sit on hardwood floors, so that they might fix the problem or find someone who can, as soon as possible to prevent lasting damage.

Although hardwoods are coated in seals to protect from many forms of damage, a liquid spill will still eventually penetrate these layers and harm your flooring. Replacing older hardwood floors is often incredibly expensive, and usually the replacement pieces will be fabricated to mimic the original but will never quite be exactly the same. Homeowner’s insurance can often help in the event of an accident such as a burst pipe, but other situations may not warrant a claim. Replacing any hardwood flooring, new or old, is a time and money investment, so the best practice is to prevent damage as much as possible.


This extends to bringing dirt into and onto your hardwood flooring. For those who have a mudroom option, don’t be shy to enforce using it as a space to remove footwear before entering your home. Cleats and high heels can scratch or scuff flooring, while all footwear tracks in dirt and debris from the day’s journey. As an added bonus, keeping shoes at the door creates a much healthier living space throughout the home; germs and illnesses are less likely to spread, which is especially crucial if there are babies or young children in residence. Even if you are working with a tight space, create a designated area for shoes just inside the front door to protect your floors and your family.

On either side of your exterior doors, it’s a helpful strategy to use doormats. These are also great because they allow for some expression and extra decoration. Doormats should be functional for wiping shoes before entering and upon entering the home, but can also be switched out for seasonal décor, or used to personalize your space with colors, patterns, or fandoms you love.

Even as we take all of these precautions, some dirt and debris are still going to build up. The kitchen is often a major culprit for dirty floors, being both a high-traffic area and a place for food preparation and eating. Still, dust and pet hair can even settle on top of hardwood flooring that is rarely used, and if it’s not periodically taken care of, that sediment can start to build up and ruin the finish of your flooring (as well as become harder to clean in the future), so a little bit of maintenance everywhere is the way to go.


An effortless cleaning schedule starts with as much prevention as possible, and follows up with a light sweeping, dusting, or gentle dry mop on a daily basis. Depending on the material you are using, you may want to add a light dusting agent to help attract and pick up minor dust and debris. Some hardwood floors may only need this once every few days, if they are not used often.

Next, choose one day a week to pass the vacuum over your hardwood floors. This will help pick up any crumbs or other dirt that the mop or broom has not collected throughout the week. Be sure to use a hardwood floor vacuum setting, so you don’t accidentally scratch or scuff your floor with a brush roll. Most vacuums these days have a setting for “bare floor,” which will do the trick.

Up to this point, the focus has been on keeping things dry. Every two weeks, however, it’s a good idea to incorporate a damp mopping. Be very sure that your mop head is tightly wrung out before putting it to your hardwood floor. Think of a very gentle glaze of moisture that you want—one that will evaporate rather quickly. Be careful not to leave any drips or puddles. Use the mop to disperse any accidental spills or bring in some towels if necessary. Ideally, the mophead will be damp to the touch with lukewarm water. If you want to, you can add a little bit of hardwood floor cleaner to your water bucket, to help get a deeper clean.

Today, many newer hardwood floors will recommend exactly which floor cleaner to use, but if specialized information is not available for your specific type of wood flooring, just be sure to use a hardwood floor cleaner, only. Avoid multipurpose or other cleaning solutions. If you are very unsure, you can always test the solution in a smaller area before using it on your whole hardwood floor surface.

Be careful concerning Internet advice about using vinegar as a natural hardwood floor cleaner; depending on the exact finish of your floors, vinegar may actually dull and ruin the seal. For small scratches that need to be resealed, test a spot with a liquid scratch concealer in the same color of your flooring. Utilize your hardwood floor cleaner about once a month otherwise, and your hardwood floors will be beautiful and protected for years and years to come!

Resources— Better Homes & Gardens, Home Depot


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