how to clean hardwood floors Ask a House Cleaner

How to Clean Hardwood Floors @SavvyCleaner

How to Clean Hardwood Floors

@SavvyCleaner by Angela Brown

reader response Ask a House Cleaner

Is there a secret to cleaning hardwood floors?

Yes, the secret is to cleaning hardwood floors is to be gentle. There are several types of hardwood floors, and cleaning them will be about the same process. You will become more confident with your cleaning methods the more you mop. And you will know by looking at a floor what chemicals if any, are safe to use on it.

As a trained house cleaner, your clients expect you to know what types of chemicals are safe to use on their hardwoods.

Hardwood floors are magnets to hair, dust, pet fur, cobwebs, crumbs, and they leave water spots and shoe prints. What will be different from floor to floor, is the finish or veneer.

Here are some different types of wood flooring. I want you to be able to identify the various types of hardwood floors. But rather than focusing on the type of wood, I want you to focus on the type of finish.


The finish or the coating on the wood will determine what you use, and how you clean it. As a courtesy, always ask your client on the initial walk through if they have a preference for cleaning the hardwood floors. Most people in my experience have no idea how to care for their hardwoods and will default to your expertise.

Some clients will ask you what you use on hardwood floors to see if you know what you’re doing – and your answer should always be:

“It depends on the finish of the hardwood, but most of the time, unless there’s a special request I’ll use Vinegar and Water.”

Hardwood floors are a choice for many home owners because they are resilient. Hardwoods are great for high traffic areas. Hardwoods don’t catch and hold allergens like carpet does. And when it’s clean, it looks fancy. Unlike tile flooring, when you drop a glass dish, it may not break. It may ding the hardwoods, but your glass items may not break.

So how do you clean them?

Hardwood Floors - you will need

Gloss or no gloss?

Client’s may ask you if you wax floors – the answer is no. This would fall under deep cleaning and not something you want to mess with. Hardwood flooring companies now use different types of top coating that protect the floor. The new coating also makes the hardwoods last longer and easier to clean.

They also pre-treat Pergo and faux wood with a finish that eliminates the need to wax. So stay away from waxing if you can help it.

Damage Alert: If you wax a pre-treated floor, you could ruin it and your insurance would have to replace it. (Think $10,000 to $60,000)

There are different types of gloss or veneer coatings on floors that you can see just by the shine.

high gloss hardwood floor

High Gloss Floor

Mild finish hardwood floors

Medium Gloss Floor

dull finish hardwood floors

Dull Finish Floor

A really safe bet for all three of these hardwood floors is this: dry mop for hardwood floors

Use a dry mop and sweep the room, shaking the excess dirt in a single spot. Most of the time the client will own a dry mop – use theirs, don’t carry one with you.

Combination tool for hardwood floorsUse a vacuum to vacuum up the pile of dirt. Use a vacuum hose combination tool to clean all the edges of the room and the baseboards. Clean around and under all the furniture. And if you can reach under the furniture with the wand, DO NOT MOVE THE FURNITURE. It can scuff or scratch the floor and you don’t want to be responsible for that.

If you have to move the furniture, move one side, then go move the other. Avoid scooting furniture across the hardwood floor unless you are positive they have padded feet.

If you don’t have access to a dry mop, a vacuum will do just fine. Make sure it is on the “low” or “hardwood” setting. Some older vacuums have a special hand held attachment for hardwood floors. I hate those, but if that’s what the customer has, then use the hand held attachment.

NOTE: The vacuum probably wasn’t designed to be rolled over hardwood floors. So if you are using a vacuum with a hardwood floor attachment, lift and carry the vacuum rather roll it. You don’t want to scratch the floors.

Be safe, rather than sorry. You don’t want to ruin a hardwood floor. …and this is another reason we carry a liability insurance policy.


What kind of mop should I use on a hardwood floor?

self wringing string mop for hardwoods

Use a damp self-wringing, string mop. Mop the entire hardwood floor going with the grain of the wood.

The solution for your mop is a bucket of HOT water, with 1 cup of white cleaning vinegar.

On the high gloss floor, do not use any soap or sudsy water, it will leave a film on the high gloss. On a medium gloss and dull finish floor, you can add three to five drops of dawn dish soap in the vinegar water to help remove water spots, shoe prints, and dog slobber. The vinegar will dissolve the dish soap so no further rinsing is necessary.

Dip your mop inside the HOT water/vinegar solution and wring the mop out as tight as you can. The object is to dampen the mop, not to soak the floors. You want as little water as possible on the floor. Water can seep between the floor boards causing eventual warping. You don’t want that.

This solution should also prevent streaking. When the floor dries if there is streaking, you’ve used too much water, or your water is not hot enough.

I do carry my mop with me to the client’s house – this way I know I’ve got a good one to use. I buy these at Walmart or Target for $10.99 – $12.99 depending on the market you live in.

I like the string mop for the reason that I can clean the floors and baseboards at the same time with my hot water/vinegar combination.

ANOTHER PRODUCT I RECOMMEND: The Hoover FloorMate SteamScrub Pro. After mopping with the above method for 24 years, my husband bought me a steam mop designed for hardwood floors to use in my own house. (My entire bottom floor is hardwood. I was skeptical but gave it a try and fell in love with it so much I take it with me to work every day. I’m not trying to sell you one, but I’ve added an Amazon affiliate link if you did want one – that shows you the exact one I have. (This might be my new favorite toy.)

With 4 levels of steam it is safe for hardwood floors and tile. There is a built in scrubbing attachment for tile and grout that cleans while it steams.

And for those 5,000+ square foot homes that are all hardwood and tile, this gizmo is all you need. The handle is also very durable. And the cord is super long. Yay!
Here’s a video of me using the new steam mop and you’ll notice that even before I had moved four or five feet away, the first part mopped was already drying. The steam stays on the floors for seconds not minutes.

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