TLC for wood floors — How to protect, clean, and care for hardwood floors

Are you lucky enough to have wood floors in your home? Don’t you love how they bring charm and warmth and character and a sense of solidity to a home? I’m grateful to have had wood floors throughout both our last home and this current one, and taking care of them has always been a labor of love for me. 

People sometimes fret about caring for wood floors, but it’s not complicated. Here are my tips:

Protect Them

• Take your shoes off when you come in the house. Encourage everyone to do this. A shoe tray by the door is a good hint! In cold weather, I keep a basket of “fuzzy socks” by the door, too. And never let anyone walk in heels (or ride roller blades or skates!) on the floor. If you have pets, keep their nails trimmed and filed. 

• Keep floor mats at each door. I like to have one inside and one outside, upping the chances of dirt getting sidetracked before it makes it to the floors. 

• Put floor protectors on the legs of all furniture. When moving furniture, slide floor protectors or moving blankets under the legs of the furniture. 

• Protect from sunlight. Hardwood will age and discolor in the sunlight, so you might want to protect some areas with window coverings and rugs. 

Clean Them

• Sweep. Regularly sweeping debris off of the floor helps prevent scratches and wear. Use a broom, or a cloth or dry mop, or a vacuum with a soft-bristled floor brush attachment. (Don’t run the beater bar attachment on the floor, though, as it can cause damage.) Some experts recommend a microfiber mop or cloth, because it’s nice and soft, but I’ve never had a broom bristle damage a floor. (Here’s the wonderful broom I use.)

• Wipe. When something spills on the floor, wipe it up asap, so it doesn’t stain. 

• Mop. When the floor is dirty, damp mop it with a cleaner suitable for hardwood floors. There are commercial cleaners made especially for hardwood floors, but I like to use Murphy’s Oil Soap and water. Some experts say you should never use water (or Murphy’s oil soap) on a hardwood floor, but I find that as long as I don’t soak it, this combination works well. A combination of vinegar and water (about half a cup of vinegar per gallon of water) is another option. It, too, has its naysayers, though. Apparently, the vinegar dulls some finishes.

I suggest you try whatever solution you prefer on an inconspicuous area first. 

BTW, steam cleaners aren’t a good idea because they put too much water and heat on the wood. 

• Polish. Use a buffing pad to occasionally polish the floor. (I only do this during fall cleaning!) If your floor has a urethane or other glossy finish, don’t use wax. 

Invest in maintenance

To tell the truth, I don’t mind a little wabi-sabi look when it comes to wood floors. Scratches and rubbed, worn spots even contribute to the charm sometimes. If you never have the floors sanded down and refinished, though, you can get some long-term damage that won’t be reparable. And, I have to admit, a beautifully finished wood floor is inspiring!

So, when your hardwood floor has gouges and scratches and other damage that you can’t rub out, consider sanding and refinishing it or—it is a big job!—hiring a pro to do it for you. (Having the wood floors in our entire upstairs refinished is on our home maintenance list for the near future. Can’t want to see the transformation!)

Do you have hardwood floors? What’s your favorite way to care for them? 

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2 thoughts on “TLC for wood floors — How to protect, clean, and care for hardwood floors”

  1. I love our hardwoods and am grateful for the way they have held up for the duration of our 30+ years (and LOTS of traffic and large gatherings) in this house. After tackling the refinishing myself the first time, I hired the work done last year when it was time for a redo. The results were amazing and so much faster than I could have managed as a do-it-yourselfer. Yay for things that last!

    • Hardwoods are so long lasting (when cared for), aren’t they? I’ve also tackled the refinishing myself once. I wouldn’t say it was beyond doable, but I don’t want to do it again! After lots of work, the results were, I suspect, not quite what they’d be if I’d had a pro do them. This time I’m hiring a pro. I’m looking forward to being amazed! 🙂


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