How To Clean Wood Floors Quickly And Efficiently

by Kara Richards on February 28, 2019

Check out our guide on how to clean hardwood floors to learn how you can do it quickly and without much expense.

In most cases, hardwood floors cost more than most other types of flooring. It takes some skill to install them correctly, or at least it does for real hardwood floors. Laminate and floating floors require skill, but most seem relatively simple and straightforward. Either way, they look great and last for a long time if you take care of them. That means proper cleaning and sealing or resealing.

While writing this, we make a few assumptions. The first assumption is that you know what kind of hardwood floor you have and if it’s real hardwood flooring. The second assumption is that you understand basic safety measures for dealing with cleaners and any tools you may need to use. If you don’t know what kind of hardwood floor you have in your home, find out before trying to clean them.

What Kind of Flooring Do I Have?


Floors commonly referred to as laminate or floating floors make it easy to pick them out of a lineup. They appear shiny, and the edges have a little slope to them. If it is glossy and your home is less than fifteen years old, it is probably a prefinished floor and not a real hardwood floor. There's nothing wrong with that, and you can use most cleaners on the floor.

The only real issue with prefinished or laminate floors is they lack the durability of real hardwood. You can’t refinish a prefinished floor since the part that looks like wood is usually some kind of sealed laminate and sanding ruins it. However, these floors come sealed with a polyacrylic, urethane, or polyurethane finish, and they’ll take some abuse.

If you can’t tell what kind of floor you walk on every day, wet a piece of extra fine steel wool and run it on the floor in an area that you’ll always cover up, anywhere people won’t see your test area. If the surface develops a dull gray film, you have a waxed floor which changes the cleaning methods. If the floor just gets dull looking, then you have a laminate or a hardwood floor that’s sealed.

If the tests so far failed or you’re still unsure, find a worn spot in the floor or pick a corner someplace to test the floor with water. Put a few drops of water on the floor in your chosen area and wait a minute or two. If the floor soaks up the water, then it’s probably wood but needs to be sealed before you clean it.

If the water beads up and stays that way, the seal on the floor is good, and you can continue.

Sometimes it’s next to impossible to figure out exactly what type of flooring you’re trying to clean. In these cases, always choose the gentle cleaning method. Don’t take chances on ruining a floor that can’t be easily patched or patched cheaply. Use a gentle cleaning method and prepare yourself to cope with the extra work required to clean the floor.

Prep the Floor First

You may be the world’s greatest housekeeper, but your floor is never clean. Tiny pieces of grit or even hair increase the chances you’ll damage the floor while cleaning it. How you prep your floor is up to you, but we recommend using a vacuum instead of a broom. A broom just moves dirt around on the floor and only cleans up the big chunks. Use a vacuum set to its bare floor setting to get all the debris off the floor before cleaning. If your vacuum has a rotating brush, remove it before vacuuming the floor or disable it. The bristles on the rotating brushes agitate carpet and help remove deep-seated dirt, but they’re a nightmare for your hardwood floors.

Maintain the Floors to Prevent Constant Deep Cleaning

This article is about cleaning hardwood, but regular low-key cleaning may be all you need to keep your floor clean. Use a quality microfiber mop and a gentle cleanser once a week to clean them, and you may avoid deep cleaning altogether. Another excellent floor maintenance tool is a floor steamer or floor mop. Technically a floor steamer and steam mop belong in the same category.

Microfiber mops and steam mops work better for hardwood floors because they won’t leave excess water on the floor like a traditional mop. Pooling water on the surface damages the floor and weakens any sealer that’s protecting it. This isn’t a big issue with modern prefinished floors, but it’s still better to keep your floor dry to prevent falls or dust collecting in the moisture.

What if I Need Tougher Cleaning Power?

Need Tougher Cleaning Power

If you mop or steam your floors regularly coupled with vacuuming, you won’t need much heavy-duty cleaning. Sometimes bad things happen like spills or floods. Sometimes good things happen like a month-long vacation in the Caribbean. In either case, trash, dirt, water, dust, pet hair, and a host of other things pile up on your floor. Check under your couch to see what we mean.

Most of the time, unless a nearby lake or river floods your home, the buildup on your floor requires little more than a fresh surface sealing. Many cleaners clean and seal hardwood in one step. However, don’t fall for the hype or the wipe it on and forget it marketing schemes. It will take some work. Use a gentle cleaner like this one for good results on almost any wood or prefinished floor.

Any cleaner you find at the local hardware or department store may work, but you need to look for specific things when selecting a product for any floor. Things you want in a good floor cleaning solution include:
● Water-based
● pH-neutral
● Designed for hardwood floors
● Detergent-free
● Non-abrasive

Avoid using alkaline cleaners even if they claim they’re water-based. They may still damage your floors or the finish on it. Never use harsh detergents aimed at grease removal or heavy-duty cleansing. Avoid anything that includes bleach or ammonia. If you need an acidic cleaner, use a water-based solution with vinegar or lemon juice as the acidic part of the mix. Never use furniture polish or cleaner.

Cleaning a Prefinished Modern Hardwood Floor

Cleaning a Prefinished Modern Hardwood Floor

Follow the general rules for selecting a cleaner that we outlined above. Wear soft non-marking shoes like boat shoes to prevent leaving show imprints in the finish. A little trick we like that works for any floor is avoiding tap water. You really don’t know what may lurk in city water or well water. Hard and soft waters perform poorly on hardwood floors.

Buy a few gallons of distilled water to use in your cleaning solution. You’ll find that many of the streaks or water stains you’ve failed to avoid in the past don’t show up anymore. That’s because distilled water is neither hard nor soft and free of any contaminants. Use it when cleaning windows or any shiny surfaces around your home. You’ll love the results.

Unless you plan to use the microfiber mop or steam mop, the next part is simple. Mix a little cleaning solution with distilled water based on the cleaner’s instructions. Start mopping and try to keep excess water to a minimum. Even distilled water left on a finished floor may stain the protective coating or cause it to loosen. Continually wring the mop out and dry the floor as you clean.

Cleaning Old or Real Wood Floors

Cleaning Old or Real Wood Floors

Test the floor to make sure the finish still forces water to bead up. If water fails to bead up, the floor needs a new seal and should not be subjected to cleaning. That aside, use the distilled water tip for cleaning these floors as well. Wear non-marking shoes or go barefoot to avoid leaving imprints on the floor while cleaning it.

You should note that some older hardwood floors do not have a sealer on them. They may be varnished coated in a similar finish. These floors will fail the water bead test, but you can clean them. They don’t have a shiny surface and water will bead up than spread out on them anywhere you put it. Clean them using the method below even if they fail the water bead test.

Spot clean any areas you feel mopping won’t clean well enough but don’t use a harsh cleaner. If you need to remove grease or other tough stains, try mineral spirits. Test the mineral spirits in an area you won’t regularly see just in case it’s too harsh for the varnish. Once you’ve cleaned all the tough spots, move on to cleaning the entire floor.

Just like prefinished floors, merely mix your cleaning solution with distilled water and start mopping. Continually wring out your mop and mop over the floor to keep water from pooling and possibly damaging the finish. If the floor is varnished and not sealed, this part is critical while floors sealed with urethane or polyurethane offer more forgiveness.


Cleaning hardwood or prefinished floors seems daunting, and people that sell cleaning solutions promote this notion. You know by now from reading this article that it’s much simpler than you think. If you follow a few basic tips and perform the tests, you’ll have your floors looking like a professional cleaned them.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: