How To Clean Wood Floors

Protect your home’s value by learning how to clean wood floors safely, so their shine lasts for years to come.

The first thing you need to know about how to clean wood floors is that you can’t just treat them like tile flooring. While both are prone to scratches, wood also absorbs moisture. Too much moisture makes them swell, and too little leads to cracks. Both are expensive to fix.

You also don’t want to treat wood flooring like carpeting. With carpets, poor cleaning habits lead to excessive dust and stains, but you can fix those with a thorough vacuuming and shampooing. On the other hand, neglecting wood floors damages their surface, and improper cleaning can ruin them for good. (Related: How to Steam Clean Carpeting.)

So, read on for the right way to clean wood floors and protect them against damage, plus a thrifty homemade wood floor cleaning spray that removes grime while preserving their shine.

How To Clean Wood Floors

Woman demonstrating how to clean wood floors with a dry microfiber mop

These days, people use the term “wood flooring” to describe hardwood cut from trees as well as engineered wood floors and laminate wood floors. The good news is the steps below outline how to clean wood floors of all three types.

1. Dry Mop Regularly to Control Dust

Dust, pet hair, dirt, and food debris are all abrasive. If you want to keep your flooring shiny and avoid costly refinishing, make a habit of using a dry dust mop several times each week. This task isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Even if you have a house filled with kids and pets, all you need to do is run a dust-catching mop across high-traffic areas and poke it into the corners to pick up debris. (I use this dust mop, which has a long handle that also lets me reach under furniture.)

2. Damp Mop at Least Once a Week

Too much water is bad for wood floors, but you do need to wet mop weekly. Kick the bucket habit, though — that’s far more water than you need.

The best way to mop a wood floor is with a good microfiber mop and a spray bottle, so you can control the amount of moisture hitting your floor. Just spritz the mess and wipe it by hand with a microfiber cloth.

Try it with the DIY Wood Floor Cleaning Spray below or use your favorite wood floor-cleaning product.

3. Vacuum as Needed

You may not need to vacuum your wood floors weekly, depending on how many people or pets live in your home, and whether you live in a dusty area. Most of us with wood flooring could benefit from weekly vacuuming, though.

To protect your wood floors, use a vacuum that has a specific option for hard floors. This setting turns off the beater bar (also known as a roller bar), which fluffs carpet fibers. Since this brush spins hundreds of times per minute, its bristles will eventually wear down your flooring’s protective finish — especially if something gets caught in it.

Most of the time, you just need to clean the main areas of the floor and under furniture if it’s convenient. If you have area rugs, remember to switch your vacuum back to the carpet setting to clean them.

4. Deep Clean Them Seasonally

After a few months of regular maintenance, you’ll probably want to give your wood floors a deeper cleaning. This effort involves moving the furniture to dust or vacuum beneath it and mopping that area, too.

Two other things you’ll want to tackle while deep cleaning your wood floors: grime around the baseboards, and buildup in the corners. For both, use the crevice attachment on your vacuum cleaner to remove dirt. Then use an old toothbrush and the Homemade Wood Floor Cleaning Spray below to get rid of the gunk.

How To Get Rid of Marks on Wood Floors

You probably already know you should go shoeless in your home, and make sure every piece of furniture has a felt pad on the bottom to protect your wood floors. (I use this set, which has a variety of sizes and shapes.) But, you’re still bound to find other kinds of stains and marks on your wood floors, so here are quick ways to clean them.

Scuff marks on wood floors come up quickly when you rub them with a tennis ball. If you have a lot of scuffs on wood floors to remove, cut an X in the top of the ball and stick it on the end of a broom or mop, so you don’t have to bend over to clean them. (Related: Recommended Cleaning Products and Tools.)

Greasy marks on wood floors are easy to clean with the pink eraser on the end of a pencil. Just rub them away. For more stubborn greasy marks, treat them like sticky messes and use the method below.

Glue or adhesive tape residue on wood floors needs a little oil to help dissolve the bond. Olive, vegetable, or even coconut oil will work. Rub on a tiny amount and let it sit for a few minutes, then go over the area with a damp microfiber cloth. Spray the area with floor cleaner and wipe it again, so you don’t leave a greasy film.

Water stains cause white marks on wood floors when moisture gets trapped between the wood and its protective finish. Your goal is to remove that moisture without damaging your wood floor’s finish. Using one or both of the methods below will fix it.

  1. The oil-based solution: Spread a thick layer of full-fat mayonnaise over the spot and leave it in place overnight. The oils in the mayo will soak into the wood and displace the moisture. Wipe the mess away with paper towels then use a spritz of floor cleaner and a microfiber cloth to get rid of the rest.
  2. The heat-based solution: For this, you’ll need a clothes iron and a clean towel or an old t-shirt. Spread the fabric over the water spot and run the warm iron (no steam!) over it for 10-15 seconds. Lift the cloth to check your progress and repeat as needed.

Nail polish and paint spills on wood floors need a two-step approach. First, sprinkle sugar or cornmeal on top of the liquid to absorb it and wipe that away with a paper towel. Then use rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol to remove any residue. (Related: How to Clean Dried Nail Polish Stains.)

Pet stains on wood floors should be cleaned immediately with a paper towel, then spray the area with a 1:4 vinegar-water solution to get rid of the odor, so your pet doesn’t think it’s their new potty spot.

Homemade Wood Floor Cleaning Spray

Remember, you should always vacuum or dust-mop wood floors before mopping, or you’ll create a layer of mud that turns into dust once it dries.

You will need:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup plain 70% rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
  • Mild liquid dish soap
  • 5 drops pet-safe essential oil (optional)

NOTE: Do not use Castile soap in this recipe, since it is oil-based and may leave a haze.

To prepare: Combine the water, white vinegar, and rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. Add three (3) drops of liquid dish soap. You can also add essential oil if you can’t stand the other ingredients’ smell. Gently swirl to combine.

To use: Spray a 3’x3′ area then use a microfiber mop to remove the solution. Change mop pads once they start to look dirty, so you don’t leave streaks. Repeat until you’ve finished cleaning your wood floor, then sit back and enjoy the shine.

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12 Comments

  1. Lily de Grey says:

    You’re awesome, Katie. Thanks for posting this informative, comprehensive article. My dog has really scratched my hardwood floors, so we decided to replace an area in our home where it was the worst. I wish I would have seen your article before we did that; maybe we could have cleaned them! Your do-it-yourself cleaning solution seems like it would really clean my floors! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Castile can leave behind a film.

  2. Great advice. Thank you. When you say “drops of dish soap”, how do you define a drop since dish doesn’t drip like an essential oil? Is it a squirt or the smallest drop you can achieve? Thanks for your help.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      We’re looking for a very tiny amount here, just enough to help dissolve the bond between grime and the floor’s surface — too much, and the soap will leave streaks. I’d say 1/16th of a teaspoon, but most people don’t have a tiny measuring spoon like that.

  3. Katie Berry says:

    The alcohol in this recipe is largely diluted by the water, but you should go with whatever solution you’re comfortable with.

  4. Katie Berry says:

    Hey, Kim — I’m very clear that people should dust mop their wood floors daily.

    1. Do you have a housekeeper. I’m lucky to clean the floors every two weeks.

    2. Katie Berry says:

      I wish I did have a housekeeper! I have two pets and a college student living at home, though, so if I don’t stay on top of the floors I’ll wind up seeing tumbleweeds roll across the living room. One thing that helps, though — well, two, actually — are my cleaning robots.

  5. Bonnie Raville Hutchins says:

    A broom and dustpan are used instead, kinder to the floor! Need it done quickly in between sweeping? That’s what dust mops are for!

  6. What could you use if you dont have alcohol

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Mary,
      You can skip the alcohol if you’re out. Without it, the mixture won’t dry as fast, so you might want to go over your floor with a dry towel to prevent streaks.

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