Tuesday, March 16, 2021

How to clean hardwood floors without damaging them

Cleaning hardwood floors is a delicate act. Our gut instinct may be to douse a dirty floor with soap and water, but Brandon Pleshek, a third-generation professional janitor of @cleanthatup, says that can do more harm than good. While engineered wood can withstand more aggressive chemicals than solid hardwood panels, it’s always best to be gentle.  Pleshek recommends solutions with a neutral pH base that won’t leave a soapy residue, which could damage the wood’s finish.

Excess moisture can also warp hardwood, according to Sarah McAllister, CEO and founder of Go Clean Co. “Wood never sleeps, so the humidity levels in your home can affect your flooring, too,” she says. If it’s too dry, your boards can lift, and if it’s too wet, it can strip the finish.

From pesky stains to the proper vacuum technique, here’s everything you need to know about cleaning and maintaining hardwood floors.

Quick tip: Microfiber flat mops are the most effective in absorbing dirt from hardwood floors.

What you need

  • Vacuum
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 10 cups water
  • Store-bought neutral base cleaner, such as Zep or Bona
  • Spray bottle or bucket
  • Microfiber flat mop

How to clean hardwood floors

  1. Start by vacuuming. The dry cleaning step is integral, but consider ditching your broom, which can kick up all the dust and hair. Instead, use the brush extension on your vacuum since it’s soft and won’t scratch the floors, says Pleshek. Another option is a canister vacuum, which sucks up dirt more powerfully on hardwood floors.
  2. Mix up the cleaning solution. Pleshek says white vinegar is acceptable to use in a homemade cleaning solution, as long as there’s enough water to dilute its strong acidity. If you go the homemade path, Pleshek’s ratio is 1 cup white vinegar to 10 cups water. The pH neutral base will not leave any damaging residue. Store-bought cleaners are also effective – as long as they’re also pH neutral. Pleshek advises against popular wood cleaners since they leave residue and attract dirt. If you do use them, only use a cap full and dilute with a generous amount of water.
  3. Apply the cleaning solution. The best way to reduce extra moisture is to mist the solution directly onto the floor with a spray bottle or spritz it onto a microfiber flat mop, says Pleshek. If you prefer to put the cleaner in a bucket, you can dip your mop in it, but remember “the less moisture, the better,” so lightly plunge it in so you don’t get the hardwood too wet.
  4. Mop in sections. If you’re cleaning in a 10-by-10 area, Pleshek recommends starting in one corner and cleaning in five-foot sections. Spray the solution as you go to avoid any drying before you get to mopping the floorboards.
  5. Replace the mop heads and water as you go. It’s important that your flat mop always stays clean. If you’re tidying a high traffic room, rinse the mop head in the sink or switch it out for a new one as dirt builds. If you’re using a bucket for your solution, McAllister says to replace it with a new mixture three to four times, depending on how dirty it is. Otherwise, “it’s kind of like washing your face with a dirty face cloth,” she says.

Cleaning different types of stains

Stains come in various consistencies and can damage wood floors in a range of ways – that’s why it’s crucial to clean them with stain-specific treatments.

How to remove stains from wood floors

  • Water stains: To get rid of water stains, apply a small amount of baking soda on the surface of a stain (large portions can dry out the wood). According to Pleshek, baking soda can pull the moisture out of the wood. “You don’t want to scrub the baking soda in though. Let it sit there for a couple hours.”
  • Markers: Rubbing alcohol is the go-to for these stains, but make sure to “dilute it 50/50 with water and never apply it straight to the wood floor,” Pleshek says. Put it on a microfiber towel, then gently dab the area.
  • Pet urine: McAllister says enzyme-based cleaners will kill bacteria and reduce odor. Her go-to solution for cleaning is a teaspoon of powder Tide and a gallon of hot water. You can use a tiny sample of this mixture to wipe a pet stain, then rinse.
  • Gum and slime: In most cases you can scrape up gum and slime with a plastic butter knife, but if it’s sticky, Pleshek suggests waiting for it to dry so you can peel it up more easily.
  • Oil and grease: For this one, you can use the same homemade vinegar mixture as above with the addition of one or two teaspoons of Dawn dish soap, which Pleshek says will act as a degreaser. After misting it on the floor and wiping with a towel, rinse it with warm water to get rid of any soap residue.

How often should you clean hardwood floors?

The general rule for maintaining hardwood floors is to clean them at least once a week, but high traffic rooms may need more than that. According to Pleshek, you should clean areas like the kitchen and family room three to four times a week, especially if you have pets and kids.

Deep cleaning – which involves getting on your hands and knees and scrubbing with microfiber towels and your solution of choice – should be done every four to six weeks.

Insider‘s takeaway

While it definitely requires extra attention to detail, cleaning hardwood floors is fairly simple. It’s crucial to avoid aggressive chemicals and use pH neutral solutions, be it store-bought or homemade. When it comes to applying the solution to the floor “less is more,” Pleshek says. Frequently vacuuming and mopping will make the process less laborious when it’s time for a deep clean.

This article was written by Antonia DeBianchi from Business Insider and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.