How many times have you wondered whether you’re cleaning your hardwood floors properly? When you buy an old house (with old floors) they don’t come with instructional manuals on how to clean and maintain them. The label on the bottle you find at the grocery says it’s for wood, so it must be the proper product – right? Surprisingly, these labels are often incorrect and you’re throwing away money on a product that may be harming your floors.
The following instructions apply to polyurethane finished floors— meaning not waxed—which account for most floors today. To check if you have waxed floors, simply put a drop of mineral spirits in an inconspicuous spot and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Wipe up with a white rag and if you see any discoloration or the rag feels waxy, you have wax and not a polyurethane finish.
I want you to do one thing for me. Go through your cleaning supplies and throw out every product that you have for wood floors.
All you need for maintenance is white vinegar, warm water, and a sponge mop. Mix one half cup of vinegar to one gallon of warm water. After thoroughly sweeping, squeeze as much water out of the mop as you can before starting on the floor. Too much water is your floor’s number one enemy. If you see puddles while mopping, you have too much solution in your mop. Dry the puddles quickly with a towel and continue after squeezing out the mop again.
Some of you might not enjoy the smell of vinegar as much as I do, but that’s alright. Bona makes a fantastic cleaner that leaves no residue and is available at most hardware stores. Just follow the directions on the package and you’ll be fine.
I would also like to mention two quick tricks: when using spray cleaners on other surfaces in your home, it’s best to spray the rag and not the surface in order to avoid over-spray on the floor, and for scuffs on the floor, rub them with a tennis ball and they will disappear.
The last thing that I want to touch on is restoration. NEVER buy or use anything that is a “restorer” or guarantees to “add shine to your floor.” If your floor has that lived-on look with some scratches and maybe a dull spot or two, contact your local hardwood flooring refinisher to get a clean and coat. It’s much cheaper than a full sanding and will eliminate most of your issues for years. Be aware that deep gouges and dents will still show through, but the floor will look much newer.
Tristan is a professional craftsman, furniture maker and amateur beer brewer who is currently restoring his mid-century house.