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How to Clean Dirty Wooden Floors: Step by Step

To make your hardwood floors clean, attractive and durable you need to clean them regularly.

Unlike other flooring types, hardwood floors are sensitive to water, cleaning solutions, and certain cleaning methods.

In this guide, you'll learn how to clean hardwood floors the right way for both sealed and unsealed wood.

Before we begin, it’s very important to understand that water and wood do not mix.

Additionally, the floor can be scratched or dented if you use techniques that apply force or too much pressure on the surface.

Furthermore, harsh cleaning solutions can eat into or damage the surface finish.

So, the point here is that cleaning a wood floor requires specific care and attention — but if you do it the right way, you'll end up with a beautiful floor that will last years.

How to Clean Dirty Wooden Floors Step by Step

Before you begin to consider cleaning your floor, you must know if your wooden floor is sealed or not.

Sealed wood has a polyurethane finish layer or coat that protects the underlying wood against moisture. 

Unsealed wood floors does not have such a protective layer and thus is vulnerable to water or any liquid.

Sealed wood floors are common in modern homes. They can be shiny, high gloss, or have a matte finish.

Unsealed wood floors are fewer and found in old colonial homes. To test if your hardwood floor is sealed, splash few drops of water on a small area.

If it beads up, the wood is sealed. Conversely, if seeps in or gets absorbed, the wood is unsealed.

How to Clean Sealed Wooden Floors

Step 1: Dusting

Sweep or vacuum dust and other debris using a soft-bristled broom or a vacuum recommended for hardwood floors.

If you use a hard-bristled broom or a vacuum with a beater bar, you may scratch the surface of the floor. 

Dusting should be done on a weekly basis so that any hard debris or soil does not scratch or create dents in the floor as you walk across.

Step 2: Mopping

Regardless of regular dusting, there will always eventually be sticky dirt or grime on your floors.

Therefore you will need deep clean using a hardwood floor cleaning solution such as Bona. Obtain your cleaner and read the instructions before use. Test it on a small area if you are new to the product.

Saturate a mop in the cleaner and wring it out completely to make it damp. Mop the floor after sweeping or vacuuming.

Follow with a towel or a sponge mop dampened with clean water to rinse the cleaner. Some cleaners do not need to be rinsed, so be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions.

The main reason for wringing out a mop is to avoid leaving any film or pool of water standing on your floor.

Do not let your hardwood absorb water, swell, and warp. Testing your new cleaner solution on a small area gives you a hint as to how it will react with the surface.

If you are worried about what to use for cleaning a hardwood floor, you may use a mixture of water and white vinegar. This classic combination is one of the safest and most natural ways of cleaning wooden floors. Vinegar is gentle, safe, and tough on grime and dirt.

Steam cleaning is also another method of cleaning a hardwood floor but it has some inherent risks.

Since steam can penetrate through any tiny opening, this method can damage a wooden floor that is not properly sealed.

Hot steam on the floor's surface can also damage the finish or dull its appearance.

Step 3: Polishing

Between cleaning, you can improve the look of your sealed wooden floor by applying a thin coat of a hardwood floor polish and restoration product such as Weiman or Bona.

Polish helps conceal or fix light scratch marks. It further evens out the surface appearance and leaves it shiny.

How to Clean Unsealed Wooden Floors

Unsealed wood floors are charming and can last many years when properly cared for.

Since they lack a protective surface finish, however, any liquid- or water-based cleaning method can damage them.

To avoid this from happening, avoid using such methods of cleaning. Mop up any spills immediately before they seep into the wood.

How to Clean Dirty Wooden Floors

Dirt and grime can also penetrate the unfinished wood when left uncleaned for a long time.

This not only negatively affects the appearance of your wood, but also shortens its lifespan.

So, you may be wondering: Just how do you clean unsealed hardwood floors?

1. Sweeping/vacuuming

Sweeping or vacuuming on a regular basis is sufficient enough to keep your floors clean. Sections with ingrained grime or dirt can be cleaned using odorless mineral spirit.

It is safe, gentle on wood, and dries fast. Simply spray the spirit on the section and follow with a microfiber mop.

2. Oil treat

Grime and residue may build up on the surface of the unsealed hardwood floor despite regular sweeping or vacuuming.

Since you cannot clean with a water-based cleaner, you may use a natural oil such as linseed or jojoba to restore the beauty of your wood.

To treat with oil, sweep or vacuum the floor and apply the oil using a rag.

Allow it 10 to 15 minutes to act on the residue and follow up with a clean, dry mop to remove the dirt as you simultaneously buff the oil. This can be done on a monthly basis.

3. Waxing

You may use petroleum or non-water based wax between cleanings to restore the beauty of your unsealed wood floor.

Apply the wax using a dry rag and allow it half an hour to blend with your wood.

When the wax has dried, buff with a clean piece of cloth or with a buffing machine if you are dealing with a large area.

The Bottom Line

To keep your sealed or unsealed wooden floor clean — and to prevent scratches — protect it from tracked in dirt and moisture.

Place doormats at exterior doors and always remove your shoes before walking on the wood floors. Use furniture pads on legs of your chairs to avoid scratching the floor.

Place rugs in high traffic areas and avoid dragging heavy objects on the surface of your floor.

Pets, especially dogs, are common culprits causing scratches on hardwood floors. To ensure that doesn't happen, keep their claws trimmed.

Place rugs in areas where they eat, and watch out for any other mess that pets may make. 

If you look after your floors, they'll look after you. A hardwood floor is an iconic addition to any home, and can serve you well for decades if managed properly. 

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