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How To Clean Unfinished Wood Floors

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As unfortunate as it is, all floors get dirty. Between foot traffic, gravity, animals, and accidental spills, floors take the brunt of most household dirt and grime. Some flooring can be a little more difficult to clean because they absorb moisture. Because of this, properly learning how to clean unfinished wood floors can help save them from damage.

How To Clean Unfinished Wood Floors

The easiest way to clean a floor is to use a mop along with a bucket of water with some sort of detergent added to it. Spreading the soapy water around, using the mop to clean the floors, and then using the mop again to soak up as much of the water as possible is the standard method. This leaves a lot of water on the floor for long periods of time.

Unfinished wood floors have a tendency to absorb moisture very quickly. With the mop and water method described above, that amount of liquid will definitely soak into the wood flooring. The natural wood fibers of the hardwood can warp when too much moisture is absorbed.

First the wood planks will swell from the added moisture. As it dries, the original shape can be lost, warping in unpredictable ways and creating an uneven floor. In the best case scenario, once the water source is removed and the wood has dried, it may not warp and just lay flat. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

Kitchen with unfinished wood floors

Daily Cleaning for Unfinished Wood Floors

Keeping your floors clean on a daily basis will help in the long run to keep grimy buildup and scratches at bay. Dirt always finds a way to get inside, so even the best household rules cannot keep floors clean forever.

Dust Mop

The easiest way to clean unfinished hardwood floors on a daily basis is with a dust mop. These cleaning tools are designed to to be light but effective. A dust mop will take care of daily dust buildup and light amounts of dirt, but any type of significant deposits will need to be taken care of with something a little stronger.

Vacuum

Many vacuums come with a hardwood setting where the beater bar either does not spin, or it is raised up to not make contact with the floor. While this can be effective, you need to be sure that the wheels and other parts of the vacuum that come in contact with the floor will not leave scratches or other marks.

Look for vacuums that are specifically designed for hard flooring. These often do not have wheels, or the wheels are made from a material that is meant to avoid scratching. Be sure to test your vacuum, whether it is supposed to be for wood floors or not, in an inconspicuous area before attempting to clean the entire floor.

Soft-Bristled Broom

Stiff brooms made from natural or even man-made materials are very effective at cleaning dirt from floors, but they can end up dragging hard substances like rocks or broken glass across the hardwood and leaving scratches. Brooms with softer materials in their bristles are still efficient when cleaning on a daily basis.

When using a broom to clean an unfinished hardwood floor, be sure to use gentle strokes instead of pushing down into the flooring. This will not only help keep you from damaging the floor, but will also extend the longevity of your broom. When the bristles get bent, they can be more troublesome.

Mop cleaning an unfinished wood floor

Mopping Unfinished Wood Floors

While daily cleaning with a dry tool will keep your floors clean for the most part, you will eventually need to clean them a little more thoroughly to pick up anything more than daily dust. With whatever method or cleaning materials you choose to use, the main thing to remember is to use as little water on the floor as possible.

Choosing a Mop

There are a lot of mops that are available for use on hardwood floors, but we want to mainly focus on the process of cleaning. The main questions to ask yourself when selecting a mop to clean wood floors are:

  • Is the mop able to clean when it is only damp, as opposed to being saturated?
  • Is the mop head material safe for hardwood floors?
  • Is the mop easy to use?

In general, microfiber mops are very well suited for unfinished wood floors. They are made from a polyester material with a fine weave that is gentle on flooring and helps pick up dirt particles.

Choosing a Cleaning Solution

There are many products on the market aimed at cleaning wood floors, but we find that a simple solution of vinegar and water works very well, especially when it comes to unfinished hardwood. To clean wood with vinegar, mix about ½ cup of vinegar per gallon of hot water in a bucket and get to work!

The smell of vinegar can be fairly strong when the solution is first mixed and during cleaning, but as the floor dries the smell will fade quickly. You may consider adding a few drops of essential oil to the mix to make the scent more favorable. 

If the vinegar and water solution is not strong enough for areas of the house that may have more greasy buildup, consider adding a few drops of gentle dish soap to the mixture. This will add to the grease fighting capabilities of the cleaner.

Living room with wood flooring

Cleaning Wood Floors With a Mop

  1. Fill one bucket with cleaning solution, and another with hot, clean water.
  2. Dip the mop head in the cleaning solution and saturate it.
  3. Wring as much water out of the mop head as possible.
  4. Open the windows to help with drying and to possibly diffuse any vinegar scent.
  5. Starting from the far corner of the room, gently move the mop back and forth over the floorboards, following the direction of the grain.
  6. Rinse the mop head often in the clean water, and re-saturate it with cleaning solution.
  7. Remember to wring the mop head out! You do not want to leave pools of liquid on the unfinished hardwood.
  8. After cleaning a small section of the floor, go back over it with a clean, dry cloth or towel to dry up as much liquid as you can.
  9. Clean and dry in overlapping rows until you reach the near side of the room so you do not have to walk over the floor.
  10. Allow the floor to finish air drying. Turn on fans if necessary to speed up the process.

Cleaning Stains from Unfinished Wood Floors

Even with all the precautions we take and regular cleaning, stains can still appear on unfinished wood floors. When this happens, generally you will need to use harsher chemicals.

Using Trisodium Phosphate

Trisodium Phosphate is the general go-to chemical for cleaning unfinished hardwood floor stains. When you use it, be sure to follow the safety precautions that you see on the label, especially paying attention to gloves and goggles. Remove any furniture from the room. You also want to keep TSP from contacting non-wood surfaces like carpeting or laminate flooring.

  1. Carefully mix ¼ cup of trisodium phosphate per gallon of water. 
  2. Use a sponge to clean up stains with the solution, wringing it out so it is only damp, not soaking. 
  3. Try not to extend past the edges of the stain
  4. Rinse the floor with a separate sponge that is damp with clean water.
  5. Dry with a clean cloth.

Conclusion

Cleaning unfinished wood floors does not have to be difficult, as long as you do not saturate the floor with water or other liquids. Do your best to keep up with daily cleaning, as this will help spread out the number of times that you may need to mop or even use a chemical cleaner to remove stains.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.