How to clean hardwood floors – expert advice for keeping flooring looking its best

Cleaning hardwood flooring requires a little more thought than other floor types. These experts share their best advice

A large dining room with wooden furniture and dark wood panelled flooring
(Image credit: Carpetright)

Learning how to clean hardwood floors is a necessity, but not necessarily a joy. If there's one household chore that makes you feel more like Cinderella than any other, it's washing the floors. Keeping your floors clean and shiny can seem like a constant battle, and if there's one type of flooring that keeps us twice as busy, it's hardwood.

Unlike carpets, tiles or laminate flooring, wooden floors seem to accumulate ten times more dust due to their darker coloring and smoother surface texture. Being a natural material, this floor type is also predisposed to scuffing and scratches (some of which are even caused by rigorous cleaning!). 

When it comes to cleaning your hardwood floors, things aren't as simple as you'd like to believe. Whether you have an oiled or lacquered finish, you'll need to be wary of the chemicals you're using on your hardwood floors. Using too much water can also lead to discoloration, or even cause wooden floorboards to swell and warp. 

With so many ways to go wrong it's important to know how to properly clean hardwood floors, especially if you're used to using a standard mop and floor cleaner throughout the rest of your home. (Which isn't how you should be cleaning your hardwood floors, by the way!) Thankfully we've compiled some advice from some flooring experts to demystify all your floor cleaning concerns. 

Is it OK to mop hardwood floors?

Nobody wants to scrub the floor on their hands and knees - there's a reason why the mop was invented, and it continues to be the most convenient way to wash a floor ever since. But although you wouldn't think twice about mopping a tiled floor, there are a few things you ought to consider before mopping wood flooring

'First, I'd suggest using a flat bottomed mop rather than a traditional stringy mop head as it won’t dribble water in the same way, reducing the risk of surface water accumulating,' says David Snazel, hard flooring buyer at Carpetright (opens in new tab)

Wooden flooring in a kitchen

(Image credit: Future)

'Try and wipe up any spills or liquid as soon as they happen. Excessive moisture can cause irreversible damage, especially to engineered hardwood flooring,' he adds. 'When cleaning, use two buckets; one with a safe detergent mix and one with clean water to rinse.’ 

If you're a diligent cleaner there's a risk you could show your hardwood floors too much care and attention since, according to wood flooring and carpentry expert Zoey Dromgoole of Wood Flooring Ireland (opens in new tab), there's a risk of over cleaning. 'If you are consistently mopping your floor, you’re running the risk of warping the surface, ' she explains. 'If your floors are still visibly wet several minutes after cleaning, you’re using way too much water. Less is more.'

Zooey also advises against steam mopping your hardwood floor. 'The sudden changes in temperature and moisture content will warp the floor and fixing this issue can be costly,' she says. 

What products should be used to clean hardwood floors?

A multipurpose floor cleaner isn't the safest option when it comes to washing your hardwood floors. To avoid any flooring mistakes, it's best to invest in a specific hardwood floor cleaner to prevent any discoloration or damage cause by harsh chemicals. 

Zooey recommends purchasing the floor cleaning spray mop kit from Bona available from Amazon (opens in new tab). The mop is specially designed for hardwood floors as it sprays a fine mist to minimize the risk of too much water and the mircofiber cleansing pad prevents scuffs. 

a living room with pale wood flooring

(Image credit: Laura Sumrak. Design: House of Nomad)

'However, you can’t beat the natural, tried and tested methods,' she says. 'Water and vinegar mixed together is a very effective, wood floor friendly way of cleaning your surfaces.' But you should still be cautious of over cleaning, though. 'Consistently using vinegar to clean your floors over a prolonged period can cause your hardwood floors to fade in color due to the acidity of the vinegar.'  

How often should you clean hardwood floors? 

How often you decide to clean your hardwood floors really depends on where in your home they're placed. If they're in more high traffic areas, such as an entryway or hallway floor, you'll want to clean them more often.

'In general, the best practice is to thoroughly clean the floors once a month by wet cleaning,' Zooey says. 'However, you should be vacuuming at least once a week - if not more - if you have pets.' 

wood flooring ideas bathroom

(Image credit: Indigenous)

Are there any products to avoid using on hardwood floors?

With a plethora of floor cleaning products on the market, it's just as important knowing what to avoid using on your hardwood flooring as it is knowing what to use.

According to David, besides general purpose cleaners, you should also never use wax-based cleaners or harsh detergents on hardwood or engineered wood flooring as they can damage the seal. 

'Always check the label of any products you buy to make sure they are safe to use on your wooden floors,' he advises. 'Abrasive materials, such as steel wool, should not be used either as these will scratch the surface.'

Lilith Hudson
Junior writer

Lilith Hudson is the Junior Writer on Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news articles for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration that you need in your home. She discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. Lilith now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London (a degree where she could combine both) and has previously worked at the Saturday Times Magazine, ES Magazine, DJ Mag and The Simple Things Magazine.