Cleaning and maintaining your hardwood floors

There are a lot of myths, confusions and misconceptions about how to clean and maintain hardwood floors. But the one thing that’s clear to everyone: regular cleaning and maintenance are essential to the long-term health of your floors.

All the dirt, grime and other wear and tear from our daily lives can take a toll on wood floors. Implementing a regular cleaning schedule is the key to maintaining their integrity long-term, but it can be hard to pick out which products to use, whether to do a dry or wet clean, and how often to deep clean them.

Here are some key suggestions for how to keep your wood floors clean and looking like new.

Regular cleaning

Hardwood floors don’t hide debris as well as carpets do, which can be aggravating for homeowners who feel like they can’t keep up. However, with the right tools, keeping up with the dust, dirt and hair can be as doable as it is important.

Without regular cleaning, dirt can become ground into the wood by foot traffic, scratching the surface. With a dry microfiber or dust mop, clean dirt and hair daily from your hardwood floors. You can use a broom and dustpan, too, but those can push the dirt around rather than actually picking it up. If using a microfiber cloth, try to lift it as little as possible so the dirt stays on the pad. Wash the pad in the laundry regularly to keep dirt from getting embedded in the pad, too.

Once a week, vacuum or mop the floors to get any of the stubborn dirt and to ensure a thorough cleaning. However, this doesn’t mean a standard mop-and-water job — too much water can do more harm than good on hardwood. Instead, if you choose to mop, go with a light mist of a hardwood floor cleaner and a gentle mop job. We recommend Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner and Glista Cleaner. You can use a concentrate version to get the best value. Don’t worry about using a wax or oil-based cleaner, either — they can often leave a residue behind that can make your floors looking grimy, stick to dirt, harm the finish and aren’t necessary at all.

If you choose to vacuum, make sure your vacuum doesn’t have a beater bar, as that can damage your floors as well. Opt instead for a brush attachment, and try to choose a vacuum that is either in backpack form or has soft wheels that won’t damage your floors. 

Whichever option you choose, don’t let it be a steam mop! Steam mopping can damage your floors and your finish, and isn’t necessary for a good cleaning. 

Occasional cleaning

Even with regular sweeping and mopping, hardwood floors can need a thorough deep clean once in a while. Oil, grime and dust can build up over time, but a limited wet cleaning can help remove them.

Deep clean your floors with a well-wrung wet cloth, making sure you wipe up any excess water immediately. One safe solution to clean floors is vinegar mixed with water, about ½ cup to 1 cup for every gallon of water. This combination shouldn’t damage your finish at all, but if you’re worried, test it in an inconspicuous area first. Wring your mop nearly dry as you go.

If you have any scuffs or dark marks on the surface of your floors, you may also be able to gently use wax and steel wool if you have a soft oil-based finish. Otherwise, you can choose a buff and recoat job to take care of surface-level scratches, which is a much shorter and simpler job than a full sanding and refinishing job.


Common wisdom says prevention is the best medicine, and this is definitely true for hardwood floors. Of course, any homeowner will have to expect some damage with time. It’s not about preventing all damage — it’s about preventing excessive damage and extending the life of the floor.

Try creating a shoe-free space on your hardwood floors, and if there is a door directly to the outside, strategically place some mats to collect dirt and water as people come inside. Trim your pets’ nails to avoid excessive scratching. Try to have people remove their shoes before walking on the hardwood, and sweep up big deposits of mud or dirt as they occur. In snowy or rainy weather, have a boot-removal area with a rag for quickly wiping up errant puddles.

Make sure all your furniture on your hardwood floors has felt pads on it. Furniture is a major culprit in scratching floors, with couches and tables being moved and leaving deep scores in the finish, sometimes even into the wood. Felt pads on the legs of your furniture will add years to your floors. Replace them often, about every six months, and always carry your furniture from place to place rather than pushing it. 

If you have area rugs, don’t use the sticking pads on the back side— those can eventually damage the finish and wear off on the floor. It’s better to use felt pads on rugs as well. If you’re planning to leave your home for a little while as well, consider picking up the rug so the area normally underneath can age in the sunlight the same way as the rest of the floor.

Finally, make sure you control the humidity in your rooms with hardwood floors. Wood naturally absorbs the water in the air and can shrink or swell, leading to cracks or gaps in floors where the humidity fluctuates wildly. To limit the damage to walls and floors, try to keep your indoor humidity to 50 percent or so.

Maintenance options

Eventually, your hardwood floors will get scratched — even with the best prevention, it’s almost inevitable. But you have a variety of maintenance options that can extend the life of your floor, and with planning, a good floor can last a century.

Recoating is a normal part of maintenance and can be done in a day. Depending on the level of wear and tear, this can be done every two to five years, and includes stripping down the current finish and recoating it. This process can fill in light scratches and wear and leave your floors looking bright and new.

Sanding and refinishing is a much more involved process, and that takes multiple days and sometimes requires you to be out of your home. It will help correct deep damage and would allow you to choose another color and finish, if you want to change it. This typically doesn’t have to happen nearly as often as recoating, depending on the level of damage to the floor. Hardwood floors are an investment, both in time and money, but with proper care can add greatly to the value of your home.