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How to Clean Hardwood Floors after Removing Old Carpet

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So you have decided to restore the original hardwood floors that have been in hibernation under your carpet. Breathing life into your hardwood floors is going to be a big task and there are steps that you will need to follow. Below you will find a few tips and tricks on how to clean hardwood floors after removing carpet that will make the process of restoring your hardwood floor an easier task.

Woman cleaning her hardwood floors

Start By Pulling Up the Carpet

Even though you are probably eager and excited to finally see your hardwood floors underneath, please push down your excitement and take this step slow. You don’t want to cause any damage to your floor by ripping up the carpet hard and fast. Once the carpet is up, it is not going to be very pretty.

Materials Needed

In order to remove the carpet, you’ll need a few tools:

  • utility knife and pry bar
  • tape, trash bags, and pliers
  • dust mask

​Slow and Steady

Start in the corners, pulling the carpet off of the tack strips that are located along the edges. Sometimes you’ll need your pry bar to pull the carpet off of the nails that hold it down.

Pull the carpet up slowly, not making any sudden moves. Chances are, the carpet will probably get stuck at places on the flooring. If possible, have an Exacto knife or utility knife on hand, and see if you can use it gently to remove the carpet where it gets stuck.

You’ll actually be more effective by moving slowly. Carpet is often times held onto the floor by a combination or carpet tacks and glue. The slower you go, the more carpet you’ll get to separate from the glue. It’s also safer to go slow

Careful of Carpet Tacks

Speaking of tacks, be careful! Carpet tacks are, in essence, little nails pointing directly up and into the carpet. The tack strips are generally located around the very edges of where the carpet meets the walls.

Be very careful because these tacks really hurt if you dig your fingers into them.

​Remove Carpet

More than likely, you’ll have to use your knife to cut the carpet into strips as you pull it off the floor. Its easiest to pull a section off of the tack strips, and then cut the carpet into long, thin strips.

At this point, you’ll want to roll it up, replicating how the carpet comes when its brand new. Carefully carry the carpet out to where you’ll be discarding it. There might be a residual carpet tack that stayed with the carpet, so be careful.

Don’t pull the carpet up too fast. Similar to working with engineered hardwood, the top layer of your newly exposed hardwood flooring is very fragile.

Keep the dust mask on for this process. While it might seem like the bulk of the dust creation is gone, you’re still in close proximity to the source of all the dust (the carpet).

Remove All of the Leftover Residue

Before you can begin to deep clean hardwood floors, you will need to remove the stubborn adhesive that was left behind. You might also still have some remnants of your carpet tacks and staples still on the ground that need removing. 

At this stage, please be mindful of the methods you use. ​

Remove Adhesive, Staples, and Dust

Once the carpet is removed, there will be more than likely be large clumps of adhesive, staples and dust left on the ground.  The room might look pretty roughed up, looking like it belongs in an abandoned house.

You will need to pull up the leftover staples one by one and then sweep up as much of the dust that you can. The more you can remove at this stage, the easier your life will be down the road.

​Be careful with anything you pull up off the floor at this point. This is your future hardwood flooring you’re dealing with, so you want to be very careful. Minimize the amount of holes, scuffs, and blemishes you create while removing things.

If you do scuff or damage some of the wood, you can always come back with a wood filler designed for staining and fill in the holes.

​Commercial & Natural Products

When you begin to tackle the leftover adhesive residue, there are many commercial floor cleaning products out there that can handle the sticky mess. If you prefer a more natural cleaning approach, then there are great options you can choose from.

In general, you can use similar methods to what you would ​use to clean old hardwood flooring. The goal is to get everything up off of your floors so that you’re working with a blank, flat surface.

​Be very careful using water on your wood floors! Water, if left on too long, will cause your floors to crack, warp, or buckle. If you do elect to use water, use it sparingly and make sure you don’t leave any prolonged moisture on the wood.

A few of the natural methods you can use for removing adhesive are peanut butter or dry ice.

Using Peanut Butter

For the peanut butter method, smear some on the adhesive areas and let it sit for a few minutes. The natural oils in it will break down the adhesive and make it easy to pull up.

Using Dry Ice

For the dry ice method, use gloves and place a half pound piece on a tin cookie sheet that covers the entire adhesive strip. After a minute the dry ice will make the adhesive harden and crack, making this a quick and effective way tackle adhesive troubles.

If there is leftover adhesive gunk, then you can use some water and dish soap to lightly scrub it up. Be careful to blot the areas dry and clean up any water that is left or pools.

Tougher Solutions

Sometimes, commercial and natural products aren’t enough to sufficiently remove everything off of your old hardwood flooring. When this happens, you’ll need some other options that tackle the problem better:

  • Putty Knife: If you have an area of your flooring that isn’t coming up with chemicals, try a putty knife (preferably a dull one). Gently run over the area with the knife. If needed you can gently tap the top of the putty knife with a hammer.
  • Paint Scrapper: If your floor has a general “film” or “residue” that is widespread, and not isolated to a certain area, you might need to use a tool like a paint scrapper to remove it. Be very gentle, as you don’t want to take off anything besides the residue. If you go too hard, you’ll take off valuable chunks of your hardwood flooring.

It is really important to take your time and be careful when using the methods. Even when you think you’re being careful, it is really easy to pull up parts of your flooring, leaving you with an uneven hardwood floor. Be very very careful and go very slowly when dealing with tougher remnants.

Cleaning the Hardwood Floor

​This is where you really get into the details of how to clean hardwood floors after removing carpet. It is actually quite simple if you’ve completely gotten rid of the carpet, debris, and residue.

Now comes the moment you have been working diligently towards, when you can deep clean your hardwood floors to see the beautiful wood emerge. Before starting, though, you need to determine ​what kind of condition the hardwood floor’s finish is in (if there is any). 

​Evaluate Your Floor’s Finish

More than likely, your old hardwood floor had a finish such as polyurethane on it at some point. The finish is there to protect the wood while also making it shine, and make it easier to clean.

If the finish is still in good condition, then it will be able to endure a wider range of cleaning methods from just giving it a good sweep to vacuuming it.

However, in many cases, the finish will be gone, or not in good shape. You’ll need to be much more careful when cleaning an unfinished wood floor.

To test the state of your finish, pour a few drops of water onto several areas of your hardwood flooring. If the water beads, and stays beaded for several minutes, then your finish is fine. However, the wood flooring absorbs the water, then your finish is not up to snuff.

If you have a finish that is in good standing, then you can use a water-based cleaning method. If your finish is not in good standing, avoid putting any water on the flooring.

Cleaning Methods for Finished Floors

Two of the more popular methods to clean your wood floors are with water and dish soap or water and vinegar. Similar to using vinegar to clean carpets, this is a safe, effective, and homemade cleaner. 

It is wise to choose a corner to test before you dive in. This extra step allows you to make sure the floor looks and responds well.

​Water and Dish Soap

We’ve found using water and dish soap to clean to be the preferred option, in the end. This is because the finished product tends to be a brighter looking wood floor.

​Water and Vinegar

On the other hand, vinegar and water is a good and effective way to cut through the built up dirt and grime that has been collecting for years under your carpet. Just the same as vinegar works wonders in cleaning carpets, it can cut through the grime on your flooring. 

If you are not sure how to clean hardwood floors with vinegar (or if you are wary about it), it is pretty simple. To dilute the acidity of the vinegar, you will need to mix it with water.

For large jobs you can use 1/2 cup of vinegar per gallon of water. Or, if you are needing a small amount, then mix 3 teaspoons of vinegar per 16 ounces of water. Feel free to add a few drops of essential oils such as orange, lemon or lavender to give your wood floors a bright look and clean smell.

Various people claim that vinegar will leave your floors looking dull. While that can be true, dull floors can be quickly restored using coconut oil.

Cleaning Methods for Unfinished Floors

You have to be careful when cleaning unfinished hardwood flooring. Chemicals can stain and damage your wood permanently. Liquid and water can cause permanent warping damage.

One safe method is to use vinegar and water, drying the floor by towel as soon as you’re done cleaning it. Mix 1 cup of vinegar per gallon of water, and wash the floors with a mop.

You’ll probably want to make several passes, and dry it with towels immediately after you’re done.

For a deeper clean, use mineral spirits. You can use a cloth to rub it in, and then wipe the excess up with a towel. This method produces a wonderful shine to your floors but does take awhile.

Yet another way to clean unfinished flooring is with Murphy’s Oil​ ​. ​I​​​nstead of using a microfiber cloth, you’re going to want to use a tile floor and grout mop for this one. ​​Go ahead and​ watch this video to see how to proceed with this method:

Finish​ with Coconut Oil

There are hundreds of uses for coconut oil. If your cleaning efforts resulted in a dull looking hardwood floor, try applying coconut oil to brighten it up. When you add coconut oil to wood, it brings the wood back to life by rehydrating and shining it.

To use this method, put some unmelted coconut oil on a rag and rub it onto the wood. Make sure you cover the area well and let it sit for about fifteen minutes. After that time, get a new rag and begin to buff out the wood.

Move your rag in small and quick circles to pick up and redistribute any excess oils left on the surface.


At this point, you’ve eliminated carpet and restored your existing hardwood flooring. And, you know how to clean hardwood floors after removing carpet.

Hardwood is a beautiful style of flooring, and can raise the value of your house while simultaneously providing a lot of enjoyment. Unlike tile flooring, hardwood brings in beautiful elements of nature right into your home.  

Review of Steps

  • ​Remove old carpet carefully
  • ​Remove carpet residue/debris
  • ​Clean newly exposed flooring
  • ​Brighten the finish

Now that you have gorgeous hardwood floors, here are a few quick tips to keeping them clean. First, try to limit water based products and cleaners. If you do use a mop with water on it, opt to keep the mop damp instead of soaking wet. Also make sure to dry any wet areas quickly.

The best way to cut down on having to mop is to sweep your hardwood floors daily and hand wipe up any messes. Try a stick vacuum for hardwood floors if you don’t want to sweep. Either way, daily small cleaning efforts will cut down on needing to heavy clean constantly.

Lauren Moldvay is a freelance writer from Virginia and the mother of one (not always) sweet little girl. She specializes in trying to help others find easier ways to clean, manage the home and save money with DIY projects.