How to Clean Wood Floors
Most wood floors today are sealed with polyurethane, which is a durable plastic-like coating. It needs little care beyond occasional damp mopping and regular vacuuming to remove grit, which can cause scratches. Keeping floors as free of dust as possible is the most important protection you can give them. Dust, dirt, and even crumbs can grind into the floors when you walk on them and will quickly ruin a finish. Here are three things you can do to protect your floors:
- Place mats both outside and inside exterior doors to lessen tracked in dirt. This will reduce the amount of dust and dirt on your floors and remarkably extend the life of the finish. Remember to clean the mats regularly.
- Mop up spills quickly and don’t let them stand. Place throw rugs in areas where spills are likely to happen (at the kitchen sink and in front of the refrigerator, for example).
- Avoid putting furniture directly on wood floors for it will easily cause scratches. Put rugs under furniture and felt slides under chairs
To care for today’s polyurethane finishes, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to clean and care for your wood floors. If you don’t know who your finish manufacturer is, most authorities agree that you can take good care of your polyurethane-finished floors if you use a mild soap or detergent. Use one with a neutral or near-neutral pH, that leaves no residue, oil or film behind on the floor. Never allow the floor to be more than barely damp. Avoid ammonia, cleaners that contain ammonia, and other strongly alkaline cleaners. They will dull or damage the finish. Never use abrasive cleaners as they will scratch the finish and destroy the shine.
Don’t use sprays designed for dusting and cleaning wood furniture, or any cleaning products that contain silicone oil or other oils on polyurethane floors. Furniture products will produce a dangerous slipperiness, and silicone oil interferes with refinishing. You may prefer to choose a product that advertises itself as designed for wood and is “neutral” or “mild,” and use it according to product instructions.
For polyurethane-type finishes, white vinegar is an inexpensive cleaning solution many people use. A common dilution is a quarter of a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water. Some experts say that over time this mildly acidic solution will cause dulling of the shine on your finish, but the common-sense point of view is the floor is going to grow dull over the years from several causes – including air temperature and sunlight –long before the occasional wipe-down with diluted white vinegar in water produces any harm. The problem with vinegar is it doesn’t clean. Vinegar, an acid, does nothing to remove grease and dirt. You may as well use plain water and avoid the salad dressing smell. Over time your floors are going to get quite dirty if you never use anything but a little white vinegar and water on them.
You can use plain water on a barely damp mop to clean your polyurethane finished floors. But if you stick to plain water alone, soon your floors will become unquestionably dirty no matter how often you vacuum and dust. Still, just plain water isn’t a bad thing for interim cleaning now and then. Just go over the floor with a well-wrung damp mop or cloth occasionally. When you are finished, rub the floor with a towel or buffing pad on a stick, if necessary, to bring up the shine and remove streaks.
How to Wash a Urethane Floor
Dirt, oil, and grime build up over time and aren’t entirely removed by a weekly dust mopping. For the occasional thorough cleaning, you need to damp mop. Be careful not to allow water to stand on the floor.
Outside of hard use areas, you will need to do a thorough washing of urethane finished hardwood floors only once or twice a year. Entryways, halls and other high traffic areas may need washing more often depending on traffic level. Kitchens will need washing at least once a week.
First, vacuum or dust the floor thoroughly. Then add a little neutral floor cleaner or neutral or mild soap or detergent to a bucket of warm water – enough to produce a few bubbles and a slightly slippery feel to the water. Depending on how dirty the floors are, use a little more or a little less of the cleaner, but never use a strong or strongly alkaline one. Never use anything that contains ammonia. Avoid big suds, which would make the floor too hard to rinse, dull it and in the long run, and possibly even damage the finish. If you choose to use a specialty product for cleaning polyurethane finished floors, follow the product instructions; some are not supposed to be diluted or rinsed.
Apply the floor-washing solution to your mop or cloth, not directly to the floor, and carefully wring out your mop or cloth so that it is only slightly damp. Pressing down firmly, make several strokes back and forth in the direction of the grain of the wood. Rinse your mop in the wash water when it becomes soiled and wring it well. Repeat until the entire floor had been washed. Be sure to wipe up water drops or spills immediately. If your solution becomes soiled as you mop, make a fresh bucket of washing solution. Or use a second bucket of plain water for rinsing out their mop or sponge before reinserting it in the wash water solution. This keeps the wash water cleaner longer.
Rinse the floor thoroughly. You can rinse small areas as you go along using a separate bucket of plain lukewarm water and a different mop for rinsing. Or first, wash the entire floor then rinse the whole floor. The technique for rinsing is the same as for washing. Use a barely damp well-rung mop, move your mop back and forth in the direction of the grain of the wood, rinse the mop off as it gets soiled and wring it and change the water as it gets dirty (if you can’t see the bottom of the bucket due to dirt, change the water). If you use a neutral floor cleaner, you don’t need to buff the floor, but buffing does further clean and dry the floor.
Steam Mops on Wood Floors
I love the way my hardwood floors look after I steam mop them – they absolutely gleam! Fortunately, I have a Ladybug, a professional-grade steam vapor cleaner, which produces a very low-moisture steam. I use it several times a year. I keep the mop head of the Ladybug moving and don’t let it stay more than a few seconds in any one place. Plus, I have a good polyurethane coat on my floors. All these factors give me confidence that I am not damaging my hardwood floors when I steam them.
Unfortunately, both the National Wood Floor Association (NWFA) and the Wood Floor Covering Association (WFCA) discourage the practice of using steam mops on wood floors, even those that claim they are made especially for wood floors. These steam mops give you specific directions to determine if it is safe to use their product on your wood floors. It involves placing a drop of water on your floor in an inconspicuous place. If the drop beads up and sits on the surface of the wood, the wood is likely to be sealed. If it is absorbed into the wood and leaves a spot, the floors are not sealed, or the sealant has worn out (not likely in an inconspicuous place which by nature would not be well traveled). Consumer Reports magazine tested steam mops and determined all left residual moisture, which is not ideal, although some more than others. Be familiar with your wood floor’s warranty and don’t use anything that will void its protection.
Microfiber Mops and Hardwood Floors
If you don’t keep up with cleaning your hardwood floors, it gets harder and harder to clean them. The best thing about microfiber mops on wood floors is microfiber makes it so easy to clean wood floors, even if they’ve been neglected a bit. Microfiber is safe on all finished wood surfaces, microfiber mops pick up dirt and dust better than sponge and string mops, and the mops themselves are lightweight and easy to use. They are great at both dry dusting and damp mopping.
- Aslett, Grant. The Guide to Easy Wood Floor Care and Maintenance. Marsh Creek Press, 1993.
- Mendelson, Cheryl. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Scribner, 1999.
- Aquires, Kathleen. Real Simple Cleaning. Time Inc. Home Entertainment, 2007
- National Wood Flooring Association
- Real Simple: How to Clean Hardwood Floors
- Lewitin, Joseph. The Spruce: Can I Steam Clean My Hardwood Flooring?
- Cleaning Wood Floors with Microfiber Mops
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