How to Clean Hardwood Floors

Clean Hardwood FloorsThis is your guide on how to clean hardwood floors to keep them looking spotless. Not all floors are created equal. Even among general categories such as wood, stone or tile, there are vast differences between specific examples. Yellowwood isn’t pine, marble isn’t granite and quarry tile isn’t glazed.

Still, all floors are subjected to dirt and wear, and some basic cleaning techniques apply universally. Check the Floor Cleaning Pyramid for general floor cleaning methods and, when you’ve exhausted those, try the recommendations on how to clean hardwood floors.

The Floor Cleaning Pyramid

Floor Cleaning PyramidRemember the famous Food Guide Pyramid? You’re supposed to choose a lot of the foods depicted at the bottom of the pyramid (fruits, vegetables and grains) and eat the stuff at the top sparingly (sweets and oils). On the Floor Cleaning Pyramid, the broad bottom includes the cleaning methods that apply to all types of floors and that should be used most frequently. Frequency of use declines as you go up the pyramid and the top is reserved for specialized cleaners for different flooring materials. Here are other general guidelines for floor cleaning:

  • Vacuum or sweep up loose dirt frequently.
  • Chase clumps of dust with a dust mop.
  • Wipe up any spills immediately.
  • Clean with a damp mop or cloth (using plain water) weekly or more often. Change the water as soon as it gets cloudy.
  • Go to stronger cleaners only when a damp mop doesn’t do the job.
  • Rinse thoroughly after using any kind of cleaner.

How to clean hardwood floors. The bad news is that you really should get down on your hands and knees. That’s right. And you can’t swab water all over the floor - it must be used sparingly. So get ready to play Cinderella.

When damp mopping won’t do, try one of these general-purpose cleaners:

  • Mix ½ cup of cider vinegar in 3.5 litres of warm water.
  • Brew some tea using 2 tea bags per 1 litre of water. Don’t use instant tea.

Dip a soft cloth or sponge in the solution, wring it out and wipe the floor. Buff with a soft, dry cloth.

The object of caring diligently and cleaning hardwood floors - apart from keeping them looking good - is to avoid having to do a sanding job. It’s a lot of work if you do it yourself. It’s a lot of money if you hire someone to do it. It’s messy. And it removes from your floor not just the old finish but a layer of wood. Each time you sand, you’re working your way toward the foundation.

Determining a wooden floor’s finish will help you determine how to clean hardwood floors. If the floor was installed or last refinished before the mid 1960s, the finish is probably varnish or shellac. These finishes rest on top of the wood, are often waxed, and require a whole-floor sanding before a new finish can be applied. Later finishes may be polyurethane, which penetrates the wood, should not be waxed, and can be touched up by new urethane applied to just the worn places.

You can tell one from the other by scratching the surface with a coin in an inconspicuous place. If the finish flakes, it is probably shellac or varnish. If the finish does not flake, it is probably a polyurethane finish.

To check for wax, put a couple of drops of water on the floor. Wait 10 minutes and check to see whether white spots have appeared under the water. White spots mean the floor has been waxed. If there are no white spots, it hasn’t.

On varnished or shellacked floors, a solvent-based liquid wax for wood works well. It removes dirt and most of the old wax (preventing wax build up) and leaves a thin coating of new wax. You can apply the cleaner with a soft, dry cloth attached to a long-handled wax applicator, but you would do a better job on your hands and knees. You can also use an electric polisher, changing pads frequently. In any case, you must buff afterward with a clean cloth. Never use water-based self-polishing wax on wooden floors.

On urethane-finished floors, rub with a cloth containing a little furniture oil to give them more shine. (Read the label to make sure it doesn’t contain any wax.) Be sure to use very little; too much oil will attract dirt - and turn the floor into a skating rink.

I hope this guide on how to clean hardwood floors brings you cleaning success!

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