How to Care for Your Hardwood Floors

Practice prevention

To reduce the need for more frequent cleanings cut down on the amount of dirt that comes into your home.

Dirt and sand are very abrasive, so make it a habit to take off your shoes at the door to prevent tracking the grime into your home.

Put mats outside and inside exterior doors to help keep dirt to a minimum. To prevent water damage to your hardwood floors set up a “boot removal station” where you can drop your icy and/or wet boots to dry.

Do some cleaning prep

Even if you’re very careful not to track in dirt or sand, life happens, so to prevent the possibility of grinding dirt into the floor with a mop, the floor needs to be swept thoroughly.

Unless it’s been specially designed for use on hardwood floors avoid using a vacuum to pick up the dust.

Instead, either use a mop that’s been sprayed with a dusting agent or use a microfiber duster to remove dirt, dust and pet hair.

But before you break out your cleaning supplies consider the type of hardwood floor you have. Its construction will dictate how you care for your hardwood floors.

Types of hardwood floors


Unfinished wood flooring is a good choice if you want to have a stain added before finishing the floor or if you want to match existing wood flooring.

This type of hardwood flooring in your kitchen is a good option because the final finish will seal the seams between the boards, keeping water from seeping through and warping them.


Prefinished hardwood can be installed more quickly than unfinished and since it’s sealed in the factory you won’t experience odors as you would with unfinished hardwood installations.

Solid hardwood

Just as you’d imagine, solid hardwood flooring is made of solid wood ranging in depth from ⅝ to ¾ inches thick.

Because it’s solid wood it’s possible to sand and refinish this type of flooring many times.

However, it can also be affected by humidity levels so it’s not a good choice for basements.

Engineered hardwood

Engineered hardwood is constructed of a top veneer of real wood that’s been glued to several layers of wood, such as plywood.

However, just because it’s not solid wood that doesn’t mean it’s not strong.

Engineered wood flooring works well in any room, providing a consistent look throughout your home.

Unlike solid hardwood floors, engineered wood floors cannot be refinished more than once or twice, depending on their thickness.

Floor finish


Newer wood floors are coated with urethane, polyacrylic or polyurethane.

These are the easiest type of wood floors to clean; sweep, mop and they’re beautiful again.

Penetrating seal-treated and oil-treated

The seal penetrates the wood and hardens. Unlike easy-care modern woods, this wood will need to be protected using paste or liquid wax.

Lacquered, varnished, shellacked or untreated

Lacquers, shellacs, and varnishes don’t protect the floor from moisture, so floors with these types of finishes also need to be protected using liquid or paste wax.

Unsure of the finish on your floor?

If you rub your finger across the floor and you see a smudge, then you’ve got some kind of penetrating seal such as lacquer.

If you don’t see a smudge it was surface sealed.

Surface-sealed floors


  • ⬥ Use a cleaning product recommended for your surface sealed floors.
  • ⬥ If the cleaner is too expensive or difficult to find mix ¼ cup of mild or PH-neutral soap such as liquid dishwashing soap or Murphy Oil Soap in a bucket of water.


  • ⬥ Use oils, furniture sprays or waxes – you’ll end up with a very slippery surface
  • ⬥ Use straight ammonia, abrasive cleaners or alkaline products as they’ll dull or scratch your floor’s finish.
  • ⬥ Don’t count on just water to clean your floors…it will leave you with floors that look dingy and it won’t shift the dirt so you’ll have a build-up of dirt.

Note: There’s some disagreement as to the use of a vinegar and water solution on hardwood floors. Some say it’s fine, others say the PH in the vinegar will erode the floor over time.

Sweep high-traffic areas daily and mop one to two times per week. Less-trafficked areas can be done once monthly or once per season.

When mopping, use a damp mop only…even sealed wood floors shouldn’t be mopped with a wringing wet mop. Empty the bucket as the water gets dirty, then after mopping the entire floor do it one more time with clean water only to rinse.

Penetrating sealed, oil-treated, lacquered, varnished, shellacked or untreated


Use stripper to remove the old wax such as mineral spirits or other commercial product recommended by the floor manufacturer.

Use liquid wax or paste wax made for wood flooring. (Note: liquid is easier to apply but the coat is thinner than paste wax)


Use one-step, furniture, acrylic or water-based waxes. These types of waxes can turn floors white, make them slick or trap dirt, further damaging your wood floors.


Don’t mop waxed floors. Sweep and vacuum (using a soft bristle brush) regularly.

One to two times per year strip off the old wax and apply a new coat of wax. Spot-wax high traffic areas as necessary between treatments.

How to wax

Remove the dust with a vacuum or floor duster.

Use a floor stripper, following the manufacturer’s instructions, or use mineral spirits, rubbed into the wood and wiped off with a clean, soft cloth.

Note: Keep the room ventilated

Once the floor is dry apply a thin coat of wax. Let it dry, then add a second coat.

Buff the floor

Using either a buffing machine or a cloth buff the floors, following the wood grain.

While it may seem like a lot of work, the truth is that caring for your hardwood floors is a bit like investing…the work you put into keeping them beautiful will eliminate the need for new flooring later on.

Plus, should you decide to sell they are a very desirable feature of any home.