Cleaning your hardwood floors with the proper tools and products is essential for both the short-term and long-term protection and maintenance of your hardwood floors. It is important to know what type of finish is on your hardwood floors. This article is going to focus on floors finished with polyurethane, water-based finishes, acid finishes, and pre-finished with aluminum oxide and polyurethane. Floors finished with products such as Woca Oil or NuOil have specialized cleaning products and instructions.
Remove the Dirt and Debris
One of the most important steps you can take to prevent surface scratches is to remove the dirt and debris from the floor. I recommend vacuuming the floors with a soft bristle brush over sweeping with a broom, Swiffer dry cloth, or microfiber, which may sufficiently collect the debris, but then scratch the floor as the debris is dragged across the floor as you continue sweeping. I always tell my clients not to make the same mistake I made one day: I was in a rush and decided to vacuum my floors using the hard floor setting on the vacuum instead of the hardwood floor attachment I usually used. Yes, the hard floor setting stops the beater brush from rotating (the bristles on the beater brush are very stiff and meant to loosen dirt within carpet), but the plastic wheels on the vacuum scratched my floor from the back-and-forth motion! I have heard from my clients that the Dyson Ball and Roomba vacuums do well on hardwood floors, but I have not tested them myself.
Once the dirt and debris have been removed, I recommend cleaning the floors with Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner. I recommend Bona because it is readily available, although Woodwise is another great cleaner. These products have a slight disinfecting quality, but will not strip, dull or leave a waxy residue. These products also have an evaporation element in them, so the liquid is not "sitting" on your floor. This is a very simple spray and wipe with a microfiber towel. A microfiber if fine to use at this point in the cleaning process because the dirt particles have already been removed by the vacuum.
Please be careful not to pick-up the Bona Polisher! The Polisher is meant to be a recoat product. Unfortunately, I have seen many homeowners try to "refresh" their floors with the Polisher, and not knowing how to properly apply this product have left puddles of Polisher on their floor (which dry and cannot be easily removed) or have accidentally picked up the Polisher and have completely changed the sheen of their floors just by "cleaning" them.
What Not to UsE
Just as important as what to clean your hardwood floors with, I want to review what not to use. Let me just say that because you read something on the internet or see it on TV, does not mean that is is good to use on your wood floors! First, no water mopping or steam cleaners. Water warps wood. This is not to say that you can't take a damp (not wet) cloth to pick up a small spill; you just don't want to constantly expose your wood to buckets of water or inject steam into your wood.
Second, do not use vinegar, in any proportion with water, on your wood floor. Vinegar is an acid. The acid will strip the finish off your floor, effectively causing you to go through your finish too quickly. When your finish wears off too quickly, you will have to pay the money to recoat or refinish your floors more frequently.
Finally, do not use any cleaners or polishers with a wax, such as Old English, Murphy's Oil, or Mop-N-Glo. The wax in these cleaners will stay on the floor as a residue, which may not look good itself, plus it may hold debris on your floor (so your cleaning product is making your floor dirtier!). But most importantly, the wax will keep a new coat of finish from adhering. Instead of being able to keep the finish built up on your floors with a periodic recoat, the only option you will have it to do a more expensive and time consuming refinish.
With a little bit of time and knowledge, you will see how easy it is to care for your hardwood floors.