Learn how to clean wood floors with vinegar so you can skip the harsh chemical cleaners.
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hardwood floors with natural light and a potted plant
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If you're wondering how to clean hardwood floors so they look beautiful and retain their shine for years, the key is to clean them often and methodically. After all, floors face the greatest amount of wear and tear in our homes. Think about all the dust, dirt, grime, and debris you bring in from the outside. Allowing your wood floors to get too dirty is not only unclean, but it can also be damaging to the wood itself, which is expensive to repair, refinish, or at the very worst, replace. By cleaning hardwood floors regularly with just a few tools and natural products, you can help them keep their shine for many years. Here's how to clean hardwood floors naturally so you can avoid the harsh chemical cleaners.

How Often to Clean Hardwood Floors

Melissa Witulski, the business operations manager for Merry Maids, suggests quick regular cleanings a couple times per week to keep your floors from getting too dirty. "The best way to clean hardwood floors is to use a microfiber dust mop to remove dust, dirt, and whatever other particles were brought into your home," Witulski says. "The microfiber dust mop will not scratch your floors as some vacuums might."

Once a month (or more often if necessary), wood floors should be mopped to deep-clean the wood and make them shine. Residue from many commercial floor cleaners, however, can make wood floors look dull. To make wood floors shiny without leaving a film, the answer is vinegar.

Considerations Before You Get Started

  • Check if your floor is sealed. Before you begin cleaning your hardwood floors, it's important to know what type of finish has been applied to the flooring. Is the floor sealed with a polyurethane finish? If a drop of water sits on the surface, then the floor is sealed and can be cleaned with a water-based solution. If the drop of water is absorbed quickly, the sealant is worn away or was never applied. If the floor is unsealed, you want to limit the amount of water used for cleaning. "I suggest using a dust mop regularly, so there is never too much buildup. When you need to do a deeper clean, use a damp microfiber cloth (as needed) and dry immediately with a dry microfiber cloth," says Witulski.
  • Clear the clutter. Pick up any clutter and remove small items, such as area rugs, from the floor for faster, easier cleaning.
  • Find the right time. Pick a time when foot traffic will be minimal, like when your family is out of the house.
  • Plan a route. Start at one corner of the room and work toward the door to prevent leaving footsteps on a clean floor.
  • Speed up drying time. Turn on ceiling fans or add a circulating fan to help speed the drying time.

What You'll Need

  • Dry microfiber dust mop
  • Wet microfiber mop
  • Vacuum without beater bar
  • Handheld vacuum
  • Distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar
  • Soft-bristled toothbrush

How to Clean Hardwood Floors

  1. Clear away dirt and debris. Always start your floor cleaning by removing loose dust and soil. You can use a broom or a vacuum without a beater bar (the beater bar can damage hardwood surfaces) to clear away the debris. But the best choice is a microfiber dust mop. The fibers in the mop attract and trap the dirt and you can toss the mop head in the washer so you have a clean mop each time.
  2. Mix up your homemade cleaner. In a large bucket or sink, combine 1 gallon water with 1 cup distilled white vinegar or 1/2 cup cleaning vinegar.
  3. Mop. Dip a clean microfiber mop into the solution and wring the mop until it is just damp and not dripping. You do not want to apply excess water to the floor. Start at the far corner and work your way toward the door until you have cleaned the entire room. Rinse the mop often (wring until just damp!) as the soil is transferred from the floor.
  4. Let dry. Allow the floor to air-dry before walking on it.

How to Clean Cracks in Hardwood Floors

Older wood floors and poorly installed hardwood can have cracks between the boards that trap dirt and dust. The cracks can worsen during periods of low humidity when the wood dries out. Removing the dirt and debris that becomes trapped is easy but a bit time-consuming. Clean in small sections, starting at the far corner of the room and working your way out the door, so you can come back to where you left off if you can't do the entire room at once.

Combine 2 cups warm water and 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar. Dip a soft-bristled toothbrush in the solution and shake until just damp. Gently scrub the cracks and then wipe away the debris with a soft cloth or vacuum it up with a handheld vac or a vacuum with a crevice tool. Dust mop and clean the floor as usual.

Should You Steam Clean Hardwood Floors?

Steam mops are great for cleaning non-porous floors like sheet vinyl, ceramic tile, polished cement, and stone. However, the high temperature and infusion of too much moisture can cause hardwood floors to discolor, warp, and crack over time, especially if the wood is not sealed properly.

If you want to use a steam mop, be sure that your hardwood floors are well-sealed with no worn spots in the finish. Set the mop to the lowest temperature setting and do not create "steam bursts" as you work. Never leave the mop in one spot for too long.

How to Clean Paint Off Hardwood Floors

Paint splatters and drips happen, but most can be removed from hardwood floors with a little elbow grease and the right cleaning products. Water-based paint (acrylic paint) is the easiest to remove, but it's possible to remove oil-based paint too.

What You'll Need

  • Cleaning cloths
  • Hard plastic putty knife or old credit card
  • Small bowl
  • Soft-bristled toothbrush or scrub brush
  • Hairdryer or heat gun
  • Cotton balls
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to two cups of hot water. Wet a cloth with the solution and wring it until it is not dripping. Work in the direction of the wood grain and scrub the paint splatter. As the paint loosens, use a dry rag to wipe it away. If it won't budge, use the edge of an old credit card or a plastic putty knife to gently scrape it away.
  2. Still have paint drips? Move to a stronger cleaning solution of three parts rubbing alcohol and one part lemon juice. Dip a cloth in the mixture, wring it out, and place it over the paint drips. Let it sit for five minutes, then scrub gently with an old toothbrush or gently scrape with a credit card. Wipe away the paint.
  3. If the paint still won't budge, direct a hairdryer set on high toward the paint to soften it and try the cleaning methods again. If the paint is oil-based, you may have to use a store-bought eco-friendly, citrus-based paint remover. Follow the directions on the label.

How to Keep Hardwood Floors Clean for Longer

  • Wipe up spills immediately. Excessive moisture can discolor floors and sticky residue only attracts more dirt.
  • Dust mop daily. A quick mop, especially through high traffic areas, will capture grit and dust that scratches hardwood floor finishes.
  • Dust mop at least weekly to remove loose soil.
  • Avoid using a vacuum with a beater bar that can scratch or dent floors.
  • Place doormats inside and outside entrance doors to catch dirt. Don't forget to clean the mats regularly.