Why You Should Stay Away from Acidic Cleaners on Your Hardwood Floor

Your hardwood floor has accumulated dust and dirt over time, and it’s time for a cleaning. However, you’re unsure about the type of cleaner you should choose from the endless choices available. 

Can you use the same cleaner you’d use on a ceramic or vinyl floor or not? Do you need a specially-formulated cleaning solution, or does any multi-purpose cleaner do the trick? We’ll explain the different types of floor cleaners, which types can be used safely on hardwood floors, which types to avoid ,and why you should stay away from acidic cleaners. 

By the way, if you want to learn about LVT flooring, we have details covered here.

Types of Floor Cleaners

Acidic Cleaners

These are cleaners with a pH of less than 7. Lemon juice and vinegar solutions are the most often used examples.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice -also known as citric acid- is naturally acidic and easy to get a hand on. It breaks up dirt, is tough on grease and hard water stains, with the added benefit of its fresh scent.


Vinegar-also known as acetic acid- is also an environmentally-friendly ingredient that’s found in any household. It was commonly added to any mop rinse water in the past to neutralize the detergent, increase its effectiveness and improve the cleaning job. 

Alkaline Cleaners

These are cleaners with a pH higher than 7. Some examples are ammonia and bleach.


Ammonia is a highly alkaline substance that is extremely potent and can easily cut through the grime and grease on your floors, leaving it bright with no stroke marks.


Bleach is also a commonly used alkaline multi-purpose cleaner and disinfectant. It’s cheap and can kill mold growing on the floors, protecting you from harmful spores. Make sure to never mix bleach and ammonia as it produces chloramine gas, which is toxic and causes irritation to the eyes, nose, and chest.

Neutral Cleaners

That is any cleaner with a pH equal to 7. They’re considered the best substances to clean hardwood floors.

Oil Soaps and Wax Cleaners

These are cleaners that should only be used on floors finished with a penetrating oil or wax finish. Each floor finish’s manufacturer has to approve them to ensure no damage to your floors. If used on a polyurethane finished floor, they leave behind an oily or waxy residue that is hard to remove and makes recoating the floors difficult.

Why You Should Stay Away from Acidic Cleaners

While an acidic cleaner works well for a vinyl or a ceramic floor, leaving it dirt-free and disinfecting it at the same time, never use it on hardwood floors.That’s because your hardwood floors are usually coated with a polyurethane layer, whose purpose is to protect your wood floor from external damage such as scratches, pets’ claw marks, spilled liquids, dropped objects, and so much more. So, when you clean your hardwood floors, you’re actually cleaning the finish with which your floor is coated, not the actual wood.

Acidic cleaners, which eat away at the dirt and grime, also eat away at the floor finish. This causes your floor to look dull and riddled with splotches that are hard to be restored. They soften the finish as well, making your floor feel sticky and gooey.

If the idea of diluting the acidic cleaner with water crosses your mind, don’t do it. This can lead to excess water on the floor that will be absorbed into the wood and cause swelling, discoloration, and irreversible damage. More so if your floor has a wax finish as it will lead to warping in the wood.

Alkaline cleaners should also be avoided when cleaning a hardwood floor, as they have the same disadvantages as acidic ones. They erode the finish, reducing its shine, in addition to seeping into the wood, leaving it discolored and weakened.

Properties of Cleaners Suitable for Hardwood Floors 

For hardwood floors, specially-formulated cleaning products are safe and effective without a doubt, but they come with a hefty price tag that can be avoided. Just make sure to pick an all-purpose cleaner that fulfills the three following requirements.

Neutral pH

A neutral pH ensures that the polyurethane finishing layer isn’t eroded and softened by either acidity or alkalinity.  

No Harsh Solvents 

Harsh solvents like N-propyl bromide (nPB) or trichloroethylene (TCE), commonly found in degreasers, will also soften the finishing coat, leading to easier scratches and dents. Look instead for milder solvents like isopropyl alcohol, glycerine, or propylene glycol. These mild solvents speed up the drying process, and decrease streaking and dulling.

Quality Detergents 

Detergents are the only thing capable of properly cleaning the dirt on your floor. They attach to the oils and dust particles, allowing them to be washed away by water. Look for detergents with a good cleansing power that can remove normal or dried soils in addition to stubborn grease and grime.  

How to Properly Clean Hardwood Floors?

First, sweep or vacuum your floors. Then, spray your cleaner and wipe with a damp clean cloth or microfiber mop with the wood grain direction. Make sure to use a soft broom or a vacuum with a soft floor nozzle. Also, avoid steam cleaners and drenching the floor while mopping to prevent water damage.

Final Words

Since hardwood floors are typically coated with a polyurethane finish, wood floors can’t be cleaned with the usual cleaners used for other flooring types. The polyurethane layer, which is the actual part of your floor being cleaned, is easily eroded with acidic and alkaline cleaning products. This leaves your floor looking dull and more easily susceptible to damage.

Look for cleaners meant for hardwood floors to extend the finish’s lifetime that clean your floor without leaving behind dullness, streaks, residues, or damage. Remember to buff and recoat your floors every 3-5 years to protect and preserve your floors for years to come.