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How to clean hardwood floors with vinegar

Woman bent down on hardwood floors cleaning with a yellow cloth.
(Image credit: Getty)

Wondering how to make your hardwood floors sparkle? Learning how to clean hardwood floors with vinegar is a clever hack that's cost-effective and will make your surfaces shine. 

Hardwood flooring is an investment purchase, so you want to make sure you are maintaining the look and feel of them, so they wear well with age. Frequent footfall causes dust and grime to build up quickly, making it all the more important to factor in regular cleaning to prevent any long-term damage.

Our winning cleaning hack is the natural solution of white vinegar. This cupboard essential is affordable and simple to use, so will help clean dirt off hardwood floors with ease. It's also the perfect antidote for adding a glow to floorboards - a feat that can be difficult to achieve. Before using any treatments or cleaning methods, it's always best to remove dust as best as possible, so it's worth checking out the best vacuum cleaners (opens in new tab) that will help get the job done. 

How to clean hardwood floors with vinegar

What the expert says...

Bailey Carson, the Home Expert at Angi (opens in new tab), says that "vinegar should only be used to restore shine to your hardwood floors – not to clean them. It’s really important you only use it when it’s been heavily diluted, you’ve tested on a small area and you’re sure your floors have finished surfaces. Consult a local floor cleaning pro if you’re not sure what kind of floors you have or to discuss what cleaners will work best for you."

Before you start cleaning hardwood floors with vinegar, there are a few things to take into consideration. 

The first thing to know is to never to apply the vinegar neat. Vinegar is an acid and it can strip, dull and even damage the surface of your wood floor if it's used without being diluted. That's why we recommend using it in a solution with olive oil, which will nourish the wood and help keep its shine.

As Bailey Carson recommended, you should always test any new cleaning solution on a small, inconspicuous area of flooring to ensure it doesn't cause an adverse reaction. 

Bailey has also noted the importance of "staying away away from heavily water-based cleaners, highly alkaline or acidic solutions and anything that contains high levels of oil or petroleum." 

"Hardwood floors with surface finishes can handle these cleaners well but test a small area of the floor before you begin to avoid major damage. To prevent warping and keep moisture from ruining the floors, use a microfiber or steam mop made specifically for cleaning hardwood floors and allow plenty of time to dry. You can even set up a fan or dehumidifier to make sure no water seeps into the wood."

1. Vacuum the floor

It's wise to vacuum beforehand, so that you're optimizing just how well the vinegar formula can work – after all, you want your effort to be worth it. 

2. Prepare your vinegar solution

Measure out two parts olive oil and two parts vinegar, and use a funnel to decant into a spray bottle. 

Why olive oil? Well, aside from being delicious in salad dressings, it will 'condition' your wooden floorboards. Once applies, it soaks into the timber, preventing it from becoming dry and brittle and deepening both the color and the definition of the wood grain.

The spray will make it easier to apply the solution, and ensure you don't apply too much to one spot. We love these oh-so-stylish amber glass designs from Sally's Organics, which are lead and BPA free, and come with UV protection so the contents won't degrade.

Buy now: Empty Amber Glass Spray Bottles with Labels, $19.98, Sally's Organics at Amazon (opens in new tab)

3. Apply the oil and vinegar solution

Spray your vinegar and oil mix over the floor in small amounts, making sure to lightly cover the surface area. Don't drench it, as you could warp the wood. 

If you don't like the smell of the liquid, you could reduce the amount of vinegar slightly, and add a drop or two of essential oil to mask the scent. Just keep it to a couple of drops at most – we like to use a lemon or peppermint oil for freshness. 

4. Buff the floors

Now comes the elbow grease! Using a microfiber mop or cloth, buff the mixture into  the floor to make sure it soaks into the wood and lifts any dirt from within. The acetic acid in the vinegar should get to work, so you won't need to scrub too hard. 

We recommend microfiber cloths in particular because they are most effective at lifting any moisture, so the timber will be quicker to dry. If you notice any wood stain lifting as you buff, stop immediately. That's why you should always test a patch first.

5. Leave the floor to dry

There is no need to wash the mixture off, as adding more moisture to the mix would again risk warping the floor. Instead, leave the wood to air dry for at least a couple of hours. 

If you wanted to speed up the drying process, you could use one of our best dehumidifiers to draw water from the air. 

How often should you use vinegar to clean hardwood floors?

To be on the safe side, we'd recommend deep cleaning with vinegar and oil quarterly through the year at most, then keeping on top of dust with a vacuum more regularly.

Not every hardwood floor will need the same level of cleaning. The frequency of fast and deep cleans will depend largely on your lifestyle, such as how busy your home is and how often you can factor in chores. 

With this in mind, the general rule of thumb is that flooring is kept in its best condition when cleaned little and often. Dust that sits on the surface can eventually cause long-term damage, so it's important to get rid of this regularly. Then, you can use vinegar to add shine after deep cleaning. 

Bailey Carson, Home Expert at Angi (opens in new tab), advises that, "Deep cleaning your floors every week can make the hardwood warp or fade over time. Instead, vacuum and dust at least once a week and before deep cleaning with vinegar, which should happen no more than once every two months. Keep the beater bar turned off when vacuuming and try to find one with multiple attachments."

Tips for keeping hardwood floors cleaner for longer

 Invest in a floor mat: Preventing mud from spreading past the door will result in less daily cleaning.

• Wipe up spills immediately: Pools of liquid can quickly cause damage to hardwood floors, so it's important to wipe up any spills as soon as they occur.

• Take your shoes off at the door: A shoes-off policy is one of the easiest ways to stop dirt from making its way into your home, let alone the endless germs attached to your outdoor gear. 

• Place felt pads on furniture legs: Adding plush felt pads to the bottom of furniture will prevent the weight from impacting hardwood floors, as well as making it less likely to scratch when moving around. 

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Holly is the Features Editor at Top Ten Reviews where she focuses 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. 

With contributions from