How to Clean Your Hardwood Floors

Hardwood flooring is durable, attractive and comes in a myriad of varieties, textures and colors. Many homes in the Silicon Valley including Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills embrace the distinctive look of hardwood. It lends itself to traditional, contemporary, rustic and classic architectural and design styles, working well in living areas, kitchens and bedrooms as well as high traffic hall and entryways. Cleaning and maintaining your hardwood floors is important to preserving its natural beauty.

Installing hardwood is more costly than carpet but also has a greater return on investment, with 54% of house hunters willing to pay more for a home that has gleaming hardwood floors. In addition to its desirability, it is a more allergenic option than its carpet counterpart. Whatever the type of wood, be it standard or exotic, natural or engineered, the finish is the determining factor in how it should be cleaned.

Types of Finishes

Surface finishes

The most popular finishes, urethanes and polyurethanes are applied after installation to create a protective barrier, enhance durability and create a waterproofing effect. Surface finishes come in four types: water based, oil based, acid cured and moisture cured.

Penetrating finishes

Used primarily in homes built before 1970, penetrating finishes use wax, varnish or shellac to color the wood, creating a satin sheen and a barrier against normal wear and tear.

Determining Your Floor’s Finish

  1. Run your hand over the floor. If you can feel the grain of the wood, you’re flooring has a penetrating finish.
  2. Use a touch of paint remover in a discrete spot. If the finish bubbles, it is a surface finish.
  3. Place a drop of water in an out of the way area. If the water beads up and doesn’t soak in, your finish is intact. If the water is absorbed or leaves a dark mark, the finish is worn down. If water forms white spots after 15 minutes, your floors are wax sealed. (Use fine steel wool dampened with wax to remove.)
  4. Using a coin, scrape the surface (again in an inconspicuous area). If the finish flakes, it has been sealed with shellac or varnish.

Keeping Your Floors Clean & Shining

One of the key ways to keep your floors clean is to embrace going shoeless indoors. This will minimize dirt, scuff marks and reduce normal wear and tear. It is definitely a no-no to wear shoes with any type of sharp soles, such as high heels, cleats or cycling shoes.

It is also wise to avoid wet mopping hardwood flooring or using cleaning agents specified for vinyl floors. Both can result in significant harm including dulling the finish, discoloration and damage to the wood.

Overwaxing is also something to avoid. Buffing is a better option to restore gleam.

Normal Maintenance

Break out the vacuum (be sure to turn off interior rotating brushes), dust mop or a soft, synthetic fiber broom to remove dust and debris. A daily cleaning (or weekly at the very least) is recommended to keep dirt at bay and to reduce scratching. This routine maintenance is appropriate for all floor types regardless of finish.

Damp mop with a solution of dishwashing soap or Murphy’s Oil Soap and water for floors with surface finishes. Mop in the direction of the grain. Be sure to change the water as it becomes dirty. The key is to use a damp mop not one that is drenched to avoid oversaturation.

For floors that are treated with wax or shellac, sweeping and vacuuming are key. Never damp mop or use any liquid cleaning products as these can damage the finish. Waxed floors should be buffed and more wax applied at least annually. If your floor is painted, avoid abrasive cleaners, vacuum frequently and damp mop with a soap and water solution, drying immediately.

The American Hardwood Information Center is a great resource for all things hardwood. They have a design gallery as well as professionals that offer installation, repair and maintenance.

Whatever type of hardwood flooring your home has, ensuring it is properly cared for will ensure it retains its gleaming status and will ultimately add to the value of your home.