Hardwood floors can be so beautiful. They add character and charm to a home, but if you have kids or pets, hardwood floors can become a test of patience and endurance. I have fought many battles with wood floors of all types over the years. For a long time, I cleaned houses professionally, and believe me I’ve seen all kinds of hardwood issues.
One of the biggest problems with wood floors is commercial cleaning products. They all advertise “streak free shines” and “protection”. Many people use products like these, believing they are protecting their floors from stains, scuffs, and other wear and tear. In reality, what they are doing is coating their floor with very difficult-to-remove wax and chemicals. Over time, floors become cloudy and dull. People grow frustrated because no matter how much they clean, the floors always look streaked, dull, dingy, or show every footprint.
Often, people will try many different products, expecting a new one to undo the damage of the previous one. This only compounds the problems, by adding chemicals and residues from many sources.
Do you have wood floors that never seem to come clean? Have you used commercial products on them routinely? Chances are you have a buildup of residue that needs to be removed. If you are lucky, my recipes and techniques will restore your floor. If the problem has gone on for too long, the floor will have to be stripped and refinished – a very expensive proposition.
Use the advice contained herein at your own risk. Often, cleaning hardwood floors with anything other than the manufacturer’s suggested cleaning products can void your warranty. When in doubt refer to your floor manufacturer’s instructions.
If however, you have an older floor, or a floor not under warranty you may want to spot test to see how these techniques work for you. I will not be held liable for any further mess you make of your floor! This hub is for informational purposes only. What worked for me may not work for you – proceed with caution and always spot-test in an inconspicuous area first!
Stop Using Commercial Wood Floor Cleaning Products
Do you use commercial floor cleaners? If so, STOP. It doesn’t matter what they are or what they say, eventually they all will leave a build-up. If you have hardwood floors, you really do not need to mop the whole floor that often. Run a dust mop over it daily, clean up spills right away if they occur, and then run a damp mop with distilled water only once a week or as needed over the whole floor.
I use a terrycloth mop cover and spritz on plain distilled water. Once a month, you can clean with a homemade wood cleaner that will shine and spruce up the floor without leaving a buildup or residue.
Homemade Wood Cleaner
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp rubbing alcohol (optional – for shine)
- Distilled water
- 5 – 10 drops of essential oil
In a spray bottle combine all ingredients. Water should be distilled to prevent hard water spots and streaks. Essential oils are optional but can be used for fragrance and for extra cleaning. I love clary sage or citrus oils for woodwork. A combination of the two is also very clean smelling and lovely.
Removing Streaks and Buildup from Wood Floors
Do you have stubborn streaks every time you mop? Does your floor appear cloudy and it never seems to get better? Do you worry your floor is ruined? If so, chances are you have used a product that has built up on top of the wood, or heaven forbid, leeched into the clear coat on the floor and left a waxy buildup behind.
I had a friend at one point who used a “mop and shine” type product on her wood floors. What a nightmare. At first, she did it because her floors were dingy and she wanted them to shine again. Initially, it worked, but then the floors started to look dull again, so she continued to use the waxy product. Eventually, it stopped working and left behind a tacky, streaky, filmy residue. Every time she mopped after that the floor was sticky when it dried.
She didn’t have the money to strip and wax the floor professionally and she was distraught, fearing her floors were ruined for good. At this point, she had nothing to lose, so we decided to try anything and everything to save her floor. We did ultimately, but the process took many, many hours and several weeks.
Here is what we did. **Before trying – see the disclaimer above!**
Step One – Loosen the waxy buildup from the wood floor
Spray a small area of the floor with an ammonia-based glass cleaner. Allow it to sit for no more than five minutes and then use a rag to wipe it up. NEVER soak the floor with anything. Spray on evenly and lightly. This will start to loosen the build-up and you’ll see flaky stuff start to appear as you wipe it away.
Step Two – Remove the buildup
Use distilled water in a steam mop (I love my Oreck steam mop) and steam that section of the floor. The steam will not harm the floor and will help further loosen the waxy buildup. Steam mops are ideal for cleaning wood floors – you never have to worry about the buildup and they sanitize while cleaning beautifully.
Repeat steps one and two if necessary if there is excessive buildup.
Step Three – Clean Up and Restore Shine to Wood Floors
In a spray bottle combine ½ cup white vinegar, distilled water (must be distilled to keep from getting hard water spots), and 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol. Shake vigorously, lightly spray the same section of the floor and wipe with a lint-free towel. Allow the floor to dry and see how it looks. If it is still streaky, use the steam mop on it again.
At this point, the floor should be clear when it dries without a lot of streaks and it should no longer feel sticky when it dries. If it does, you may need to repeat the process again. In worst-case scenarios, it may not work fully and you may need to have a professional cleaning service come in.
Maintaining Wood Floors
Once you get the buildup off your floors, never go back to commercial products – even the ones that claim to be natural, etc. because they all leave buildup over time. Mix a fresh batch of wood cleaner or simply use a steam mop for a clean, streak-free shine.
You may find your floors will start to get dingy again, this is due to oils in the feet that work into the floor. Once your floor is thoroughly cleaned, you may want to consider a clear coat, especially if you are barefoot all the time on the floor, or have kids, or pets. This can protect the floor from claw marks, dirt, scuffs, and oil from the skin.
Periodically, a quick rinse with glass cleaner or vinegar/alcohol cleaner can help remove residues and restore shine, but it should be used very sparingly. No matter what you use, you should never, ever soak a wood floor. Damp, lightly wet, but never soaked. This is another reason I love, love, love my steam mop. It cleans and dries very quickly! This ensures water doesn’t soak down into the wood and ruin it.