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How to Gently Clean Your Hardwood Floors

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Your hardwood floors are a prized part of your home’s charm, and a major selling point, so it’s important to get them looking their best before listing your home for sale. Hardwood floors are most commonly made of oak, maple, walnut, or hickory.

Since hardwood floors are made of natural wood and require special treatment, it’s important to know what to do — and what not to do — before deep cleaning this type of flooring.

Clean floors convey value to buyers when they walk through your home. A clean floor also shows the home has been cared for and well maintained. A dirty floor may cause buyers to wonder what else may not be maintained in the home.

Dingy floors that have been worn down over time can still be made more appealing, at least enough to sell your home. Buyers who are looking to make major changes in the home may not mind dingy floors so much, especially if the floor is dated in style. It’s still important to make them as clean as possible and present them well with a deep cleaning that’s tailored to your specific flooring type.

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If you’re thinking about selling your house, partner with a top real estate agent early in the process. A proven agent will have the experience to know what to fix and what not to fix — and what to replace and what can just be cleaned. It takes two minutes to match you with the highest-performing agents in your market.

How is deep cleaning different from regular cleaning?

Deep cleaning is different from regular cleaning in that it’s more intensive and is not done as often. Regular cleaning is done about once a week for the average household. Deep cleaning, by contrast, is done less frequently — only a few times a year at most.

Regular cleaning includes wiping down surfaces, dusting, tidying up clutter, and clearing debris from floors to give the home a fresh appearance and feel. Deep cleaning goes beyond in order to get rid of grime, dirt, and scum in the home and focuses on sanitizing and disinfecting to keep people from getting sick. Deep cleaning often takes longer because it involves a lot of detail work, but has longer staying power and more noticeable results.

To provide you with expert advice, we consulted with Scott Johnston, owner of Carpet Care of Carolinas in Raleigh, North Carolina. Carpet Care of the Carolinas began in 1970. Johnston, who has been involved in the family business his entire life, knows all about how to clean hardwood floors thanks to years of experience.

In this post, Johnston explains how to pay special attention to hardwood floors to keep them from warping, discoloring, or ruining the urethane coating atop the floor itself. Floors that have been too enthusiastically scrubbed or neglected may require professional services to restore them beyond what the home DIYer can accomplish.

Before you pull out the cleaning tools, make sure you know how to give your hardwood flooring the special treatment it deserves to shine for years to come. “Identify what type of floor you’re dealing with first,” said Johnston. “It’s a good idea to research and find out what type of floor you have because you can’t treat all floors the same, there are so many types of materials now.”

What you’ll need for deep cleaning hardwood floors

Before you begin cleaning your hardwood floors, gather the materials you’ll need for an easier cleaning session. Tools and products you’ll need to deep clean your hardwood floor include:

Steps for deep cleaning hardwood floors

Johnston recommends starting with the easiest steps first and building on these as needed. “Less is best when trying to clean flooring,” he said. “People destroy their floors because they are too aggressive and use too strong of chemicals.”

Use dry methods

Step 1: Sweep up loose dirt and dust with a broom or vacuum.

Step 2: Use a microfiber dust mop to get smaller particles off the floor.

Introduce water only

Step 1: Clean off the microfiber or use a new one and wet the microfiber. Lightly work the microfiber over the floor to loosen any caked-in dirt or dust.

Step 2: Repeat if needed with a wet microfiber cloth.

Add cleaners as needed

Step 1: For more stubborn buildup, use a cleaner made specifically for your flooring’s finish.

Step 2: Do not get too aggressive when scrubbing!

Step 3: Use water again to keep buildup from the cleaner from sticking to the floor.

Johnston doesn’t recommend much more than this for homeowners to keep their hardwood floors clean. “If you’re going through the steps above, a little muscle and a soft pad are what you want to use,” he says. “If you have a good finish, it’s impossible for dirt to get into or under the finish, it’s made to keep everything on top of the finish.”

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When to use a professional floor cleaner for hardwood floors

Some hardwood floors need the attention of a professional. If the floor’s finish is fully or partially removed — whether it’s from chemicals, too much scrubbing, big dents, or any other reason — it’s beyond the care of most homeowners. “Once things get into the wood, there are no great home remedies,” Johnston says.

Dents or gouges that haven’t broken the finish and are smaller, less than a quarter-inch wide and two inches or less — can be repaired with a wood floor putty, which comes in a variety of colors. “It’s a little tricky but you could repair these smaller gouges yourself,” he says.

How to tackle extra tough stains on hardwood floors

Got a tough stain on your hardwood? Pet stains are the most common issue for homeowners. “For any kind of pet urine, use water to get rid of as much of the problem as you can,” says Johnston. “Go through the steps above with water, then sanitize the area with a cleaner like Bona as a last step.” Unfortunately, most stains that have had time to dry have likely seeped into the wood.

The biggest mistake people make when cleaning hardwood floors

Being too aggressive in cleaning is the biggest mistake people make when cleaning hardwood floors. This can create exposed wood, which then creates more damage that requires professional intervention. “You can’t buff the finish on hardwoods like you can with tiles or ceramics because that’s not how the surface is made,” says Johnston.

Beyond being too aggressive when cleaning floors, using the wrong cleaner is another common mistake people make when cleaning hardwood floors. “Using the same cleaner on your hardwood as you do for tiles is a mistake,” Johnston warns.

Additionally, using chemicals with bleach, chlorines, and soaps are all big no-nos on hardwood. Bleaches and chlorines can discolor the wood, and soap will build up scum on top of the urethane coating and become cloudy and look dirty or filmy.

For floors that need a professional’s touch, Johnston says there are alternatives to sanding and restaining. His company offers a sandless system that removes the finish only, then they reapply a water-based urethane. “It doesn’t take the place of sanding but it helps with freshening up when there’s no reason to remove an eighth of an inch of the floor to completely refinish them,” Johnston explains.

How to keep your hardwood floors protected day to day

Once you’ve cleaned your hardwood floors well following Johnston’s advice, you’ll want to keep them looking good from day to day. Luckily Johnston doesn’t recommend daily cleaning, especially for lower-traffic rooms. “If you have a room you’re never in, like a dining room, you don’t need to clean daily or even weekly,” he says. “For a main hallway or kitchen, it’s a good idea to go over it with a dry mop daily, then with a wet mop and no cleaning solution once or twice a week.”

You should not use cleaning products on your floors every time you clean, only when you do a deeper clean bi-monthly at most.

When it comes to hardwood the key is patience

Johnston cautions that most people ruin their hardwood floors by scrubbing too hard and causing problems. “Don’t start out super aggressive, work your way towards it as needed — less is best!”

Cleaning the floors of your home — both a deep cleaning and regular cleaning — shows potential buyers that you value your home from top to bottom and have taken good care of it.

A top real estate agent will have additional home preparation recommendations to help you get your house in top condition before listing it. Find a top agent with Homelight’s Agent Match tool to make sure you partner with an experienced agent who knows the value of a clean, cared-for hardwood floor, and more.

Curious what your home might be worth? Try HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator to see a real-world ballpark home value estimate in less than two minutes.

Header Image Source: (Asier Gil / Unsplash)