How to Deep Clean Hardwood Floors

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Learning how to deep clean hardwood floors can be a multiple step task. However, when you take these steps to clean your floor, you are also taking steps to extend the life and beauty of your hardwood floors.

​Unlike tile or laminate flooring, hardwood is both naturally beautiful and incredibly delicate. A lot of care must be put into how you clean hardwood, and depending on how it is finished, you’ll have to follow several steps to clean your floors in a safe manner. 

Sealed vs Unsealed Hardwood Floors

Hardwood floors typically have some kind of finish on them. This finish is typically a polyurethane or polycrylic, and it is what protects your flooring from liquid, stains, and dents.

Before you begin cleaning you will want to know ​if your floors are sealed. Most interior floors are sealed (or “finished”), but if you’re pulling up old carpet and discover flooring, they might not be. Knowing whether your floors are finished will dictate what kind of base cleaner that you can use without causing any damage to your floors.

​A simple test to determine if your floors are finished is to pour a tiny amount of water onto them. If the water beads up, chances are you have finished, sealed flooring. 

Sealed floors and engineered hardwood floors are stain and water resistant. This makes cleaning simple and allows you to not have to worry as much about what you put on them.

Types of Hardwood Flooring Seals

​Polyurethane, polycrylic: Strong finish that is water and stain resistant. The longest lasting and best type of finishing for your flooring available. 

Varnish, shellac: While a finish, it isn’t as strong of one. Will resist stains and liquid but must be treated with more care.

Penetrating seal, tung oil: Not meant to be used indoors, very rare to find on interior flooring. Be very careful in cleaning.

If you are wanting to know how to clean hand scraped hardwood floors, then you’re in luck: they can be cleaned the same as sealed floors. Cleaning hand scraped floors can take a little more work since they have more texture and con-caved areas for dirt to hide in.

Treated floors are still susceptible to water damage. While they can handle some water or cleaners, you really want to make sure you don’t leave excess water on the surface. Untreated floors are very susceptible to water, you can still use it to clean but you will need to take extra steps for drying.

We will dive further into what cleaners are best for your type of wood floor below so that you can learn how to deep clean hardwood floors without damaging them at all.

deep clean hardwood flooring

How to Deep Clean Hardwood Floors

​Deep cleaning your hardwood flooring is a several step process. Before you can get into the “deep, thorough clean”, you need to start by ensuring all of the dust, debris, and dander are off the floors. 

For long term care, its best that you routinely sweep and/or vacuum your hardwood flooring. This will keep things from getting ground into the floor, which can permanently damage it.

Lets review sweeping and vacuuming first, and then move into the deep clean.

​1. Start by Sweeping Your Floors

​The best thing you can do for your floors to start with is to sweep them. This is the first step in how to clean dirty hardwood floors. Try to start a daily sweeping routine to maintain clean floors if possible

Dirt and debris can be the worst enemy your floor has. This is because over time, the particles can be rubbed into your floor, rubbing in and scratching away the finish.

If you can’t find time to sweep your floors everyday, then try to aim for the high traffic areas. This will cut down on dirt buildup. Entryways and hallways are usually the worst areas that gather dirt and debris.

Instead of sweeping, you can opt to use a dust mop. A dust mop doesn’t simple push dirt around, it captures it and hold on until you remove the pad to clean or shake it off. Dust mops come in a variety of widths so you can find the one that fits your home for easy and quick cleaning.

mop for engineered flooring

​Daily sweeping is also the best way to clean dark hardwood floors. When your wood floors are very dark, dirt will show up very easy. Using a broom or dust mop on your floor daily with help knock out the debris that is tracked in.

Use area rugs to help trap dirt and keep your daily sweeping to a minimum. A small rug on the inside of a doorway is the first defense against dirt. It is also a great spot to encourage storing shoes. This will help keep dirt from being brought further into the home.

A runner in the hallway areas or large area rugs in living spaces can help protect your floors as well. Its really easy to clean area rugs, and they will trap a lot of the dirt and debris that otherwise would get ground into your hardwood floors.

2. Vacuum Your Floors

​Another great way to deep clean hardwood floors is to use a vacuum. However, you don’t want to break out your everyday vacuum on your hardwood floors because the rotating bristles can damage your floor. The brush roller, designed to help agitate dirt and debris on carpet, can rip up and scratch your hardwood flooring. 

Instead, you have several options:

  1. ​Use a hardwood floor attachment or the hose attachment ​on your regular vacuum.
  2. Use a vacuum that has been designed for hardwood floors, and either has not brush roller, or an adjustable brush roller.
  3. Use a vacuum designed for laminate floors, which will have strong suction and the same characteristics as hardwood flooring.

When you vacuum your floors, you are able to get up more dirt and dander than using a broom or dust mop. This is a great step you can take once a week to ensure your floors stay clean.

Vacuuming is also the best way to clean dog hair off hardwood floors. It easily pulls hair out of any cracks and can reach corners better than a broom to pick up any that has gathered.

stick vacuum hardwood floors

If you don’t want to use an attachment then there are floor vacuums available. These vacuums have bristles that won’t touch the floor or have incorporated a brush off switch that stops the bristles from rotating.

While many people think of deep cleaning as penetrating the surface, the best cleaning you can do for your wood floors is above the surface by removing dirt and debris.

3. Mop Your Sealed Floors

​You shouldn’t need to mop your floors very often. If you can take care of removing dirt on a daily or weekly basis, then your floors should keep a nice clean shine.

It is good to mop your floors about once every two weeks. Mopping helps restore shine and certain cleaners can help deter dust from sticking to the floor. Here are our general tips for mopping:

  • ​Less is more: The less water you use, the more your floor will love you. Water has a very real and large potential to damage even sealed wood floors.
  • Don’t slosh: When you mop, don’t slosh water all over the floor. Wring out your mop head so that it is damp.
  • Dry quickly: After you have mopped, use a dry towel or rag to clean up any puddles left behind.
soapy water hardwood floors

4. Use a Cleaning Agent On Your Floors

​After mopping, its time to break out a cleaner for the deep clean and shine that you’re looking for. It is vital you pick the correct cleaner, though. Certain cleaners can ruin a finish or make your floor sticky due to the chemicals reacting with the finish type.


For surface sealed floors you will want to avoid:

  •  Any strong chemicals such as ammonia​.
  • ​Any sort of​ abrasive cleaner (think steel wool) – an abrasive could potentially scratch the finish.
  • ​Anything alkaline based – this will dull your floor​.
  • ​Vinegar – while vinegar works great on unfinished flooring, it will dull your finished flooring, removing that shine that you love.


​Here are a few great ways you can clean your finished floors while avoiding any dangers

  • A cleaner that is specifically recommended by the floor’s manufacturer. This is a lot easier to determine if you were the one to have the hardwood floors installed.
  • ​Water ​mixed with a ​several teaspoons of Dawn. This gentle, soap based cleaner won’t damage your floors, and should be applied with a mop. You’ll usually want to do this multiple times, drying in between. 
  • ​Steam clean hardwood floors. This method of cleaning uses steamed up water to penetrate into the cracks and hard to reach spots on your floor to clean dirt, grime and sanitize all at once.

Steam cleaning sounds great, but you ​have to be 100% certain you’re doing it on sealed floors, since it is a concentrated use of water than can potentially damage and warp your flooring.

5. Tackle Stains and Marks on Your Floor

If you need help figuring out how to deep clean hardwood floors when they have stains, marks or spills then there are a few safe tricks you can use to bypass a full floor cleaning.

  • ​Any sticky items like gum can be removed with a plastic bag full of ice. Just set the ice on the gum until it becomes brittle. Then you can carefully remove it with a plastic scraper.
  • ​Scuff marks can be rubbed out with a tennis ball. You can cut the ball to fit over the handle of a broom or long stick to save you from bending over. After sweeping, simply use the tennis ball to buff out the marks.
  • ​Nail polish or paint can be wiped up using rubbing alcohol. Alcohol is a neutral ph balanced product so it won’t bring any harm to your floor. Just don’t soak the floor, use a cloth to rub the alcohol onto the stain.
  • If you come across any sticky residue, then rubbing them gently with olive oil or vegetable oil will take care of it. Place a few drops of oil on the residue, let it sit and then wipe it away with a microfiber cloth.
  • ​Deep scratches can be worked on with baking soda. ​Just sprinkle a little bit onto a damp rag and rub onto the scratch. Start gently and work up to a harder rub if the scratch doesn’t come up immediately. 

You may need to repeat one more time to get it all up. Then follow up by cleaning the area with a damp cloth.

For pet accidents and stains, the quicker you are able to clean them the better. You can opt for a 1:4 vinegar to water solution to quickly clean it. It wouldn’t hurt to follow up with a rubbing alcohol or cheap vodka treatment.

Keep in mind vinegar is not great for finished flooring, so use this method sparingly. Clean it up quickly by rinsing with water.

pets hardwood floors

This will ensure the area is sanitized, since animal urine and poop can contain high amounts of bacteria that can harm us of we come into contact with it. Take care in the future to clean your pet’s paws before letting them back in the house to minimize dirt and debris. 

Using gentle, natural floor cleaners on hard stains and spills will save you from having to strip and refinish your flooring. Use these tips to know how to clean old hardwood floors without sanding. That way you can continue to enjoy your floor and take care of them with ease.

How to Clean Your Unsealed Wood Floors

Unsealed wood floors add another layer of complexity to the cleaning process, but nothing so hard that it cannot be handled by a few modifications. More care is needed than when you are cleaning sealed wood flooring, but the same general principles still apply.

Using a Vinegar Solution to Clean Unfinished Hardwood Floors

If you have heard of the wonders of vinegar in the household and you are wondering how to clean hardwood floors with vinegar, then here is how. Vinegar can potentially dull your hardwood floor because of its alkaline properties, but it is a natural, cost effective product that is very safe for home use.

Vinegar is a great cleaner, and when diluted with water it helps cut through dirt and grime on your floors. The general vinegar/water solution to use on hardwood floors is 1/2 a cup of vinegar per 1 gallon of water. Hot water is recommended.

One of the issues that people have with using vinegar as a household cleaner is the smell it can leave afterward, but simply adding some essential oils to the water and vinegar mix will brighten the smell of your floors. Odorless vinegar is available as well, but may not be as effective as part of a cleaning solution.

You can also add a few drops of Dawn to make a double duty cleaner. The two cleaning agents will not react with each other, and both help cut through grease and grime in different ways.

How Long Should It Take To Clean Your Home?

What is the size of your home in square feet?

What type of flooring do you have?

When mopping, go in the direction of the floorboards. While we try to avoid streaks as much as possible, they do occur; mopping with the grain with long strokes will help reduce the visible streaks.

As with all water-based cleaning solutions on hardwood floors, only use a damp mop (or rag), and dry immediately after cleaning.

Murphy Oil Soap for Hardwood Floors

You can also use Murphy Original Formula Oil Soap for when you need to clean unfinished hardwood floors. Despite the word oil in the name, this is a natural based soap that does not contain any oil.

Be sure to dilute Murphy Oil Soap before cleaning your floors. The recommended proportions are 1 tbsp Murphy’s per half gallon of water. Since you are mopping unsealed floors, it is very important to make sure your mop is only damp by wringing it out as much as possible after saturating it.

After you mop, follow behind with a dry towel or two to wipe your floor. You can also use ceiling fans to circulate the air in the room. This will help your floors to dry faster.

Using Murphy Oil Soap consistently can create a bit of buildup on your floors. To help reduce this, it may be worth it to go back over the hardwood rinsing with a clean, damp mop.

They also make a specialized hardwood floor cleaner, Murphy Squirt & Mop, but Murphy Original Formula is more cost effective for large floors when you understand how to dilute it yourself. For spot cleaning and cleaning up after spills, Murphy Squirt & Mop is a great product, since you only need to follow it up with a mop that is damp with water.

Using Chemicals to Remove Stains from Unfinished Hardwood

While we try to avoid using dangerous chemicals in the house, sometimes standard cleaning chemicals may be your option when it comes to more difficult stains in unfinished hardwood. The two main chemicals that are effective in this scenario are Trisodium Phosphate and Mineral Spirits.

Trisodium Phosphate and Hardwood

Also known as TSP, trisodium phosphate is a powerful cleaning agent that can give you an effective deep cleans for unfinished hardwood floors. Also used for prepping wood for staining, TSP can remove stubborn gunk and mildew from almost all types of wood. Pay attention to the safety measures described below – it is still a caustic chemical.

The basic concept of cleaning with TSP is very simple. Dilute 1/4 cup trisodium phosphate with 1 gallon of warm water, soak a sponge in that to spot clean stains and troublesome wood areas, then rinse. Unfortunately, this chemical can be dangerous, so precautions must be taken.

Trisodium Phosphate Precautions

  • Wear rubber gloves and goggles.
  • Remove any nearby furniture or anything on the floor.
  • Cover nearby flooring, including laminate, carpet, or tile.
  • Cover areas like moulding or fireplaces that cannot be moved.
  • Keep children, pets, and roomates away from the area until it is fully dried.
  • Only mix the solution with a wooden stirring stick (like you can find at a painter’s supply). Metal or plastic can melt or corrode.

To clean with TSP, use two buckets: one with the TSP solution, and another with clean, warm water. You also want to use two sponges: one for cleaning, and one for rinsing. For stains or mildew that are deep in the wood, you can use a scrub brush, but understand that it may leave scratches or clear off large areas of finish.

Start by saturating the cleaning sponge or brush with the solution, then wringing or shaking it out so it is just damp. The more liquid you use, the longer it will take to rinse and dry.

For simple marks, carefully wipe the sponge on the affected area, just enough to remove the stain or buildup you are aiming for.

When cleaning deeper hardwood stains, feel free to get at it with the scrubbing brush. Understand that any stain or finish may need to be refreshed if you end up going too hard on the surface.

After cleaning, take the second sponge, saturate and wring it out in fresh water. Rinse and / or wipe up any residual chemicals that are still on the surface. Be sure to rinse the sponge out often in this process to avoid just spreading the TSP around.

Perform these two steps in small sections if using TSP on a large area, only about two foot square or so. Repeat until the area you want to deep clean is complete, and allow to dry completely before the room is used again.

Mineral Spirits and Hardwood

Mineral Spirits are commonly available at your local hardware store, and sometimes can be found under the simple title of “paint thinner.” Be sure to check the packaging though, some paint thinners are based on acetone, which we don’t want to use in this situation.

The great thing about mineral spirits is that it won’t damage your wood at all, and has almost no effect on clear wood finish. It easily cuts through any buildup from grime or cleaning products that may leave residue on your hardwood floors. There are some dangers using mineral spirits, so pay attention.

The cleaning process is extremely simple – put some mineral spirits on a lint-free cloth, then clean the area necessary. Follow up with a wipe from a clean (also lint-free) cloth.

For cleaning very small areas under 6 inches square, you could probably get away without taking many precautions, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Latex and vinyl gloves will break down with this chemical, so look for nitrile gloves to protect your hands.

Mineral spirits emit fairly toxic fumes. Be sure your work area is well ventilated, or consider using a ventilator mask. Since it is flammable as well, be sure to dispose of any rags you use appropriately.

Extend the Life of Your Hardwood Floors

When you follow these steps on how to deep clean hardwood floors then you will be able to keep your floors looking clean and shiny. If you dedicate the time to your hardwood floors then they will pay you back by lasting a lifetime.

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.