How to clean hardwood floors

Woman wearing headphones showing how to clean hardwood floors with a vacuum.
(Image credit: Getty)

Floors endure a lot of wear and tear, from daily footfall to scuffs and spills. They also take up a lot of space in a home, so learning how to clean hardwood floors will keep your interior looking as good as new. 

Although some may think hardwood floors are difficult to clean and care for, luckily, the advice is quite simple. Most are finished with a polyurethane coating, which adds durability and peace of mind when spillages occur. For those that aren't, you'll have to avoid harsh chemicals and excessive water so your hardwood floors stay in tip-top condition. Other methods include using one of the best steam mops. However, a mop and bucket can be all that you need. 

We spoke to Declan Christie, Founder of Luxury Flooring & Furnishings, who has provided plenty of advice on how to clean hardwood floors properly so they stay sanitary and look great. 

How often you should clean hardwood floors

Between quick sweeps and deep cleans, it's easy to fit hardwood floor cleaning into your normal routine. A regular dry mop or sweep with a broom will be key to keeping your floors looking tidy and preventing debris from getting stuck to your feet. Depending on how busy your household is or whether you have pets, this should be completed every few days—if not more often in areas such as the kitchen. 

Only you will know how often your home starts to look grimy for thorough cleans or targeted stain removal. But the general consensus is to mop with a wet cleaning solution once a week to keep germs at bay.

What type of wood floors do you have?

There are a few different types of wood or wood-like floors on the market, so it's important to know which type you have before cleaning. The material hugely impacts which chemicals you can use and whether you can use much liquid without causing long-term damage. 

• Solid hardwood flooring: This choice is made from a solid piece of hardwood (oak, teak, maple, ash, walnut), cut straight from a tree trunk, and made into a plank. It's available in different stains and can be laid in strips or planks. 

• Engineered wood flooring: This looks almost identical to solid hardwood flooring, but is made from a high-quality plywood core with a thin layer of hardwood on top. This top layer can be re-sanded or refinished over time. 

• Laminate wood flooring: This option doesn't contain any real wood and is instead a life-like image of wood placed on a base of fibreboard and covered in resin. 

How to clean hardwood floors

What the expert says...

Declan Christie, Founder of Luxury Flooring & Furnishings, says, "Solid wood flooring is susceptible to heat, so if boiling water is directly applied, it can expand the wood and cause issues with your floorboards cracking and becoming uneven. Humidity can also damage wood, so we wouldn't recommend using steam cleaners on anything other than vinyl floors."

There are many off-the-shelf products available to help you clean hardwood floors. However, we love natural methods that allow you to clean effectively and at a low cost. Declan advises using a "mix of water, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and essential oils" alongside "a mop or a sponge, as these work best to clean away dirt without scratching or damaging your floor." 

1. Get rid of loose dirt

Clear away dirt and debris using a dustpan and brush or a dry microfiber mop. The solution below will result in a much more effective clean. 

2. Fill your bucket

“Fill your bucket with the appropriate levels of water to your coverage area, then add 50ml of white vinegar, a great natural dirt stripper, 1 cup of rubbing alcohol as a disinfectant, and a couple of drops of your favorite essential oils, which will make your floor smell fantastic! (we recommend peppermint for that fresh scent)", Declan says.

3. Wash the floors

Using a mop or a soft sponge, gently wash the floors. Dip the clean mop into the solution and wring it out to avoid saturating the surface with water. Rinse the mop often so dirt isn't transferred back onto the floor. 

4. Wait for your floor to dry

Leave to dry! Allow to air dry before moving any furniture or walking on the floor.

How to remove stains from hardwood floors

Accidental spillages can leave us panicking and quickly looking for a way of avoiding an unsightly stain. However, when approaching stains on hardwood floors, it's best to first take a moment to consider your flooring's finish. Check if the stain has penetrated the boards, in which case you have a soft finish that hasn't been treated, stained, or sealed. In this case, the following advice will be for you. 

Alternatively, if the stain sits on the surface, you most likely have a hard finish with a urethane sealant. Using chemicals or harsh tools will cause further damage to this type of flooring, so it's important to only use a soft, clean cloth and homemade remedies such as baking soda. You may also need to contend with refinishing it afterward. 

There are also a few key things not to do when cleaning stains from hardwood floors. Scrubbing pads such as steel wool act like sandpaper, so they will strip the smooth finish of your floorboards. We only recommend using this if you're planning on refinishing the wood. Otherwise, it's an easy way to cause further damage. Another general rule of thumb when cleaning hardwood is to never saturate it with water, as it's porous. Instead, make sure mops and cloths are wrung out so they're damp, and always mop up liquid spills quickly. 

How to remove stains with baking soda

Baking soda is a great option for removing stains such as food or hair dye. Not only is it super affordable, but it can also be used for many different cleaning purposes around the home - so it's always handy to have stored in the cupboard. 

1. Mix the baking soda and vinegar

Your first step is to mix the baking soda with white vinegar. The two ingredients should form a paste. 

2. Apply to stain 

Spread the baking soda and vinegar mixture over the stain, and then use a soft sponge to carefully scrub at the stain. 

3. Wipe away mixture

Once you've finished gently scrubbing, carefully wipe away the mixture with a damp cloth. You may find that you'll want to repeat, if necessary, until the stain has disappeared. 

How to remove stains with dish detergent 

Another useful tool for removing stains is dish detergent, and it's even better that you already have it at home. This method is particularly beneficial for oil-based stains, so if you've fallen victim to nail polish or food spillage, try this out. 

1. Create a mixture

First, mix in a medium-sized bucket with dish detergent and warm water.

2. Apply to the stain  

Dip a clean microfiber cloth into the solution, then rub at the stain. Repeat until the stain has gone.  

3. Wipe clean  

To remove the solution from the hardwood floors, carefully dry them with a clean cloth, making sure any soapy residue is thoroughly removed. 

How to protect hardwood floors

Cleaning and protecting hardwood floors go hand in hand. Using sealants and treatments to protect hardwood floors is just as important as regular vacuuming and mopping, as it will help prolong their longevity. 

Protective finishes will make a floor last longer by sealing against liquid - vital for those prone to spills. Without this, hardwood floors will warp and will require replacing. Your choice of coating will depend on the level of protection you're looking for and the style of flooring you want to achieve. 

• Oil: This will bring out the wood's natural grain and bring life back to old floorboards. Some types also provide a hard-wearing finish that is water and stain-resistant, so they are useful for busy households. 

• Stain: These are great for changing the aesthetic of your floors, as they can quickly alter the color of the wood. You can consider opting for a clean coat on top to add more protection to a stain. 

• Varnish: Floor varnish can withstand mopping, making it a good choice in high-traffic zones such as a kitchen or bathroom. They also come in clear or colored varieties, so you can pick a look that works for your interior. 

How to remove scuff marks from hardwood floors

Dirt and grime aren't the only things you need to consider when caring for hardwood floors—they can also be prone to scuffing, which will leave your boards looking less than brand new. The occasional scuff from heavy shoes or moving furniture is tricky to avoid, so it's important to know the best route for removing it. 

The best way to reduce the likelihood of scuffing your floors is to remove shoes at the door and use mats in high-traffic areas. Padded feet are also readily available to place on the bottom of chairs and table legs, allowing you to reshuffle a room without the worry of damaging your wooden floors. However, if you're looking to mend a scuff in your home, these simple steps should help. 

1. Apply the cleaning solution

Sprinkle baking soda onto a damp cloth (top tip: a microfiber cloth will reduce your chances of scratching the floor even further).

2. Rub to loosen the mark 

Using the cloth and baking soda, begin to gently wipe the mark until it starts to disappear. 

3. Rinse away 

When you have removed the scuff, simply clean off any baking soda residue with a new damp cloth. 

Tips for preventing scratches on hardwood floors

Prevention is always better than a cure, so you should take steps around your home to protect it from scratches and scuffs. Just like avoiding bringing muddy shoes onto the cream carpet, a little consideration of better protecting your floors in your daily routine will go a long way.  

Not only are scratches irritating to look at (especially when the light hits), but they can also cause your floors to dull quickly. Hardwood floors are costly, so damage that makes them look worn and lackluster will result in you replacing them well before the natural end of their lifespan. Taking a few cautions will prolong your floorboards' appearance and make your home look well-cared for. 

• Increase your rugs! Placing area rugs in busy areas will keep your floors protected. 

• Never drag furniture across the floor. If you can't lift it alone, always wait for an extra pair of hands to help you. 

• Remove your shoes at the door. Heavy outdoor boots or high heels are most likely to scuff a surface, so avoid wearing them around the home.

• Create dedicated play areas for children. Many kid's toys have plastic bases or wheels, so create a spot for playtime on a rug or carpet.

• Keep your pet's toenails trimmed - not only if this benefits their health but also your floor! 

Tips for keeping hardwood floors clean

Although there are many easy ways to clean hardwood floors, everyone wants to reduce the time spent on chores, right? 

There are many steps you can take to prevent dirt from accumulating on hardwood floors so your home looks shiny and spans for longer. These range from everyday habits that you might need to train yourself to learn to quick wins that will catch dirt before it tracks into the house. 

• Remove shoes before entering: This will prevent mud and grime from spreading around your home, making wooden floors more sanitary. 

• Add a doormat: These are great additions to front and back doors, as they collect large bits of dirt from shoes and pets' paws. 

• Invest in an area rug: A large rug is a clever way to protect hardwood flooring. It will improve the surface's longevity and be especially efficient when placed under dining areas to catch crumbs. 

• Wipe up spills quickly: Acting fast will be the best way to avoid long-term damage to hardwood floors. A microfiber cloth will easily soak up any standing liquid so that it doesn't soak into the floorboards, leading to warping. 

Holly Cockburn
Former Features Editor

Holly is the former Features Editor at Top Ten Reviews where she focused on creating informative, how-to advice. She has a degree in English Literature and previously worked as a copywriter at Howdens, specializing in kitchens and trend-led interiors. When she’s not reading or writing, you can find her exploring the best London bars and brunch spots, or planning the next budget-friendly city break.