How to Care for Solid Hardwood Floors Repair and Cleaning Tips

Photo Credit: Artur84
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Living with Natural Hardwood Floors

Solid hardwood floors repay a little care with a lifetime of value. When you first glimpse a solid hardwood floor, you sense richness, warmth and natural beauty. Gradually, you get to know its distinct personality — visual harmonies, the traces of history in the forest and in your home.

Take a closer look.

Appreciate the color and pattern of the floor’s strips, planks or parquetry.

Read the grain: Is it bold-textured oak? Subdued maple or cherry?

Check the condition of the underlying wood and the finish that protects it. Are there signs of neglect to erase (it’s not difficult), or do you see a well-tended surface that needs just a light touch to maintain it?

Nature’s diversity lets you create dramatic looks with unique textures, colors, patterns and styles of solid hardwood flooring.

Protect Your Solid Investment

Solid hardwood floors are among the easiest to keep clean. Protect their warmth and character with simple, everyday cleaning techniques.

It’s important to know how to prevent damage to your solid hardwood floors.


DIRT and GRIT : Dirt, grit and sand are your hardwood floor’s worst enemies.

They act like sandpaper on the finish, causing scratches, dents and dulling. Place floor mats at entrances to trap dirt and prevent damage.

WATER AND OTHER SPILLS : Standing water can warp a poorly finished hardwood floor and can damage the finish. Simply wipe up all spills as they happen.

HARD CLEANERS : Avoid oil soaps. They can build up and create problems when it’s time to put a maintenance coat on the floor. Instead, neutral pH cleaners made specifically for wood floors are recommended.

FURNITURE : Lift the furniture to move it — avoid dragging. Felt contacts under the legs will help prevent scratches.

DENTS : Vacuum with a brush attachment — don’t use vacuums with beater bars.

SUN : Direct sun can discolor your hardwood floor. Close curtains and blinds or add sheer drapes to protect from the sun’s intense UV rays.

Regular Care

SWEEP : Brooms with fine, exploded ends trap dust and grit effectively.

VACUUM : Canister vacuums with special bare floor attachments are the surest way to get rid of all the dirt and dust.

DUST MOP : Use a good dust mop — one with a 12- to 18- inch cotton head —- and a special dust mop treatment. Spray the treatment onto the mop head 12 to 24 hours before dust mopping.

Oak and maple are the most popular hardwoods used in flooring. Ash, beech,birch, cherry, hickory and walnut are other favorites for floors and decorative accents.

Does Your New Hardwood Floor Look Old?

Perhaps your hardwood floors were installed just a few years ago, but you haven’t taken care of them and now they look old. What can you do? Before you do anything, check the condition of the finish and the wood to see whether they need special cleaning or more involved repair.

What condition is your floor in?

Follow these steps to evaluate the condition of your hardwood floor and its finish.

Finish Condition: Has the finish been worn off or is it just dirty? See if the finish is dull, chipped, scraped or gouged. To test if the finish has worn off, begin in a high-traffic area and pour one to two tablespoons of water onto the floor. If the water soaks in immediately and leaves a darkened spot, the finish is worn and water can damage the wood. If the water soaks in after a few minutes and darkens the wood only slightly, the finish is partially worn. If the water beads on top, the surface is properly sealed. Repeat this test in low- and medium-traffic areas.

Wood Condition: It the finish is worn, the wood may have been damaged. Are there stains, burns, cuts, gouges, holes, cracks or warped boards? If the wood is damaged, repair or replacement may be required before you deep clean your floor or apply a maintenance coat.

What type of finish does your floor have?

The same care and maintenance techniques are used for all finishes in good condition, but when it comes to removing stains or restoring the finish, methods differ. If you don’t know what kind of finish your floor has, ask your contractor or Realtor, or try these simple tests:

Surface Finishes: (pre-finished floors, polyurethane, water-based urethane and catalyzed)

Nearly all floors installed today have surface finishes, mostly polyurethane. They are often glossy and may look like a layer of clear plastic on top of the wood. A small amount of paint remover in an inconspicuous area of the floor will cause the surface finish to bubble (unless it is a water-based urethane, in which case there will be no reaction). Surface finishes shield floors from harm by forming a protective layer on top of the wood.

Penetrating Seals: (acrylics, oils and waxes)

Oils and waxes usually have a satin or matte finish. If you can feel the wood grain when you run your hand across the surface, it’s most likely a penetrating seal. Paint remover will have no effect on a penetrating seal, but wax stripper or ammonia will soften and whiten the surface. Oils and waxes penetrate the surface of the floor protecting the wood from within.

When Your Hardwood Floor Needs Extra Care

Your hardwood floor will eventually need extra care. It’s here that much controversy exists.

Damp Mopping

Some professionals recommend that you damp mop your hardwood floor and others cringe at the suggestion. Just remember, if your floor’s finish is in good shape and mopping is done correctly, the water won’t penetrate even the oil and wax finishes. You’re cleaning the finish, not the wood, so don’t use water if the finish is in poor shape.

Damp Mopping: This is the fastest and best way to deep-clean solid hardwood floors. Depending on how much use your floor gets, you may have to mop it as often as once a week. Use a neutral pH wood cleaner and water, or manufacturer recommended products. Wet the mop and wring so it’s about half-dry. Wet the floor with the mop. Dip the mop into clean water, wring it as dry as you can and mop over the floor again.

Heavy-Duty Mopping: If floors are property sealed, the little extra water and cleaner required will not injure your hardwood floor, but use common sense.

Vinegar: Often prescribed to clean hardwood floors — does nothing for removing grease and soil.

Maintenance Coat

If you can’t restore your solid hardwood floor’s luster with deep cleaning or by simply buffing, you may want to apply a maintenance coat. Waxing is an easy way to restore your hardwood floor’s natural beauty.

Though a controversial treatment for surface finishes, floor polish or wax can give you a good-looking floor in a matter of minutes. If you don’t want to apply a wax to your surface finish, consult a professional.

Pros: Wax can be easily cleaned, buffed and rewaxed to make it look like its original condition. Wear and tear will be on the wax, not the finish. It is easily stripped and reapplied.

Cons: Waxing may limit some refinishing and re-coating options down the road. If not properly stripped, the wax can cause adhesion problems when re-coating the surface.

Only wax a surface finish if the original finish is in poor shape and you don’t plan to refinish your floor in the near future.

Removing Stains In Waxed Floors

No matter how careful you are a stain can still occur.

Water Stains: Rub the spot with No. 2 steel wood and rewax. For more serious water stains, lightly sand with fine sandpaper, clean the spot with No. 1 or 00 steel wool and mineral spirits or floor cleaner then refinish and wax.

Cigarette Burns: If not severe, the burn can be removed by rubbing with steel wool moistened with soap and water.

Heel and Caster Marks: Rub vigorously with fine steel wool and floor cleaner. Wipe dry and polish.

Ink Stains and Other Dark Spots: Use No. 2 steel wool and floor cleaner to clean the spot and surrounding area. Thoroughly wash the affected area. If the spot remains, sand with fine sandpaper, re-wax and polish. Stubborn stains may require that you replace the affected area.

Chewing Gum and Wax Deposits: Ice until the deposit is brittle and crumbles off. Pour floor cleaner around the stain so the fluid soaks under and loosens it.

Alcohol Spots: Rub the spot with liquid or paste wax.

Repairing Wax Finishes: Rub fine steel wood in a puddle of reconditioner or paint thinner and clean as you go. Apply wax and buff.

Always start cleaning at the edge of a stain and work toward the center so it won’t spread.

Removing stains and repairing surface finishes.

Use steel wood or sand paper to remove one or two complete layers of finish along the entire length of the board where damage has occurred. Remove all dust. Apply the same type of finish that was removed, being careful not to build additional layers on top of adjoining boards.

Squeaks: When the air in your home becomes extremely dry, your floor will lose moisture and contract. Conversely, when humidity is high, your floor will absorb moisture and expand slightly. As humidity stabilizes, hardwoods regain their original dimensions. Air conditioning in summer and humidifying in winter will keep your home’s humidity comfortable for you and your floor. Prolonged cycles of shrinking and swelling of your hardwood floor may result in squeaks. They can be easily corrected.

Silencing Squeaks: Apply liquid wax, powdered soap, talcum powder or powdered graphite between floor boards that are rubbing together. If that doesn’t stop the squeak, drive two-inch finishing nails through pilot holes on both edges of the board then hide the hole with matching color putty or wax.

If you need to refinish or replace your hardwood floor, consult a professional for best results.

Photo Credit: Artur84 |

The Author:

The Hardwood Manufacturers Association

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16 Responses to How to Care for Solid Hardwood Floors Repair and Cleaning Tips

  1. Ashley Reed says:

    I didn’t even think about my vacuum doing damage to the floors, I’m going to check what kind I have. I think I’ll try to sweep the hardwood floors most of the time. I’ve had carpet in my house for so long, that I don’t even remember how to properly care for the flooring.

  2. Phillius Thomas says:

    I didn’t know the type of wood would change how you could treat it. I thought you just needed to know the glaze type. Also, it says water will warp a poorly finished floor. Does that mean if the floor is properly finished, you don’t need to worry as much about the water?

  3. Austin says:

    I’ll bet those floors make for a great time sliding around in socks! Looks great!

  4. Andrea L. says:

    Great tips. I’ve always resorted to vacuum cleaning when it comes to hard wood flooring but some areas on our floor especially with high foot traffic look older than the rest. I don’t have any choice but to refurbish it.

  5. Deanna R. Jones says:

    These seem like some pretty good tips to take care of your hardwood floors. I wish that I knew a few of these tips sooner. My old hardwood floor is practically destroyed, so I have to install a new wooden floor. I didn’t realize that dirt and grit can cause serious damage to your floors. That would be one reason why my floors aren’t in tip top shape anymore. I also use water to clean my wood floors, so I suppose I should find a wood floor cleaning solution once I get my new floor installed. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Mary Alice says:

    Squeaky, old, beautiful wooden floors are a delight to me. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a house almost 200 years old with original wooden floors that squeaked if a leaf fell on them.
    Another than character plus, you always know where everybody is at all times and no sneaking in late for anybody.

  7. Maggie says:

    Why are there so many ( too many) conflicting opinions on 1) vinegar 2) waxing surface floors and 3) water.

    I’ve spent several hours on the computer trying to find a simple answer: How do I make my surface floors shiny again.
    Some say vinegar will clean, others say it will dull. Even Martha Stewart herself bellyflopped on this one.
    If the floor is old school wood wax, if it’s new (past 20 years) then leave them alone – dust mop only.
    Seriously? What if they’re dull like mine are now.
    Can you please tell me how to get the shine back?
    Thank you

    • Christine says:

      There are so many conflicting opinions because floor finishes vary greatly. You should floor may not have a glossy finish—I would contact a flooring professional in your area and ask them their recommendation

  8. meysam says:

    How do I maintain my hardwood flooring?

  9. Davey Hiltz says:

    I really like the natural feel of wood floors. We’re thinking of putting them through most of our new house, but we might not be able to afford it. Sure they’re nice, but they’re a bit more expensive than carpet. Plus, we like a nice landing if we fall. We’ll see what we can compromise on to get the quality we’re looking for.

  10. Al-Jo says:

    I have hardwood floors throughout my home and I love it! Every 2 or 3 days I dry mop, and every week or so, I use a damp, not wet mop to clean and maintain my floors. It gets tiresome and tedious, but I use this as a form of exercise :) If you want to maintain beautiful hardwood floors, you HAVE to take care of them properly. This is a good article listing good tips.

  11. All floors Inc. says:

    Caring for and maintaining a bathroom floor should not be a tedious work, it can be simple and basic as spot cleaning weekly and doing a major scrub two or three times a year. One does need to make sure that the bathroom floor is free of standing water to protect it from rot and wraps. Keeping rugs and a steamer on hand can really protect the integrity of the floor.

  12. Frances Lopez says:

    I had wooden floors put 1 yr ago. I notice a black spot, when I returned from my trip, it shows to be spreading. What can I do to repair this before it causes more damage?

  13. David Lee says:

    Floor maintenance is little difficult. Polishing to an extent make it more beautiful. It always have different look from all other sort of flooring. Different type of decorative concrete coating are available.

  14. Lukas says:

    I do not understand this kind of people who makes hardwood floors at home, just because you see how it is hard to repair it. My suggestion would be to make such a kind of floors. Just because it helps to save time, it hasn’t any problems. So think about it

  15. I agree – it’s important to check and assess the condition of your floor before making any major maintenance jobs on it. It would save time, effort, and budget, and will also prevent the floor from getting any unnecessary maintenance work.

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