What’s the Best Way to Clean Hardwood Flooring?

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated October 19, 2021
Man relaxing in room with hardwood floors
MixMedia/E+ via Getty Images

The best way to clean hardwood floors is to use the right tools and supplies so you don't ruin the finish

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Cleaning hardwood flooring isn't difficult, but it's not as easy as just running the vacuum over then getting out your mop and bucket. You need the right vacuum, dry mop, and damp mop, and you need the right cleaning solution.

1. Choose the Right Supplies

To avoid irrevocably damaging the wood on your floors or ruining the finish, the supplies and equipment you choose are as important as the cleaning routine itself.

Vacuum Cleaner

You need a vacuum designed for hardwood floors or at least one that's rated for both carpet and wood. If you go with a dual-rated model that doesn't switch modes automatically, make sure you change to the hardwood setting manually before you start.

Lightweight upright canister vacuums with powerful suction and HEPA filters are solid options because they're light enough not to gouge or scratch your floor as you move them and are powerful enough to remove most dust and dirt with minimal effort. And, having a model with a HEPA filter helps lower the allergen particulates in your home and traps more dust particles. 

And remember, if you have pets, for best results, you need a vacuum rated for pet fur. Again, a lightweight upright or canister vacuum with a HEPA filter is a good option here.

Dry Mop

Dry mopping hardwood floors
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A dry mop, also known as a dust mop, is an essential for keeping hardwood floors clean and free of dust and debris. You can get ones with washable microfiber cloths or pads, so there's no need to keep buying replacements. Microfiber is super soft, so won't damage your flooring, and it attracts dirt, dust, and hair, making cleanup easier. Dry mops are useful for giving your hardwood floors a light daily clean, without having to haul out the vacuum and shift all the furniture. They're not a total replacement for a vacuum, though. You'll still need the vacuum for those deep cleans and to lift heavier debris.

Damp Mop

Damp mops (not soaking wet cotton string mops) are essential for lifting off dirt and spots that vacuuming alone can't handle. But remember, it's vital that you don't get your hardwood floors too wet. So go for a mop with washable or disposable microfiber pads and, for ease of use, a built-in spray function. Here, you just fill the handle with your chosen cleaning solution and pull the trigger as you mop, letting you wet the floor a little and immediately wipe it away with the mop head.


Microfiber cloths are a must-have for spot-cleaning small areas and attacking stubborn spots. They're also great for buffing up a dull floor. Keep a stack of these on-hand for your floors and use them instead of anything abrasive to avoid damaging the finish or the wood beneath.

Dustpan and Brush

For small messes and for picking up the pile of debris your dry mop gathers, a dustpan and brush is necessary.

Cleaning Solution

There are loads of options when it comes to cleaning solutions, but the key is to choose one specifically rated for hardwood. If you don't you run the risk of ruining the finish and creating a cloudy, bubbled, or badly disfigured floor. Using the wrong cleaner means you'll be faced with the not-insignificant cost of repairing a hardwood floor and, in extreme cases, may even have to replace your hardwood floors.

2. Clear the Deck!

Now you've gathered all your supplies, it's time to get cleaning. But before you can get stuck in, you need to clear the area. If you're doing a full clean rather than a daily once-over with the dust mop, move all the furniture out of the way. If you can't clear the room, move everything to one corner or side, clean the rest of the room, then move the furniture back and clean the space where you stacked it. 

Just remember to put felt pads beneath everything before you move it so you don't scratch the floors during the move.

3. Break Out the Vacuum Cleaner

Vacuuming hardwood floors
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Before you switch it on, check the vacuum's wheels and head for anything abrasive like coffee grounds, salt, or small chunks of gravel. It's amazing what your vacuum accumulates. All of those small particles can embed themselves into the wheels or around the edge of the head of your vacuum. Then, when you drag the vacuum, they act like sandpaper, badly scratching your floors.

For the best results, vacuum with the grain of the wood, as this lets you maximize suction power and remove the most dust and dirt. When you've done as much as you can with the big head, switch it for the stair wand or crevice tool attachment and use that to vacuum along the edges, where the floor meets the walls or baseboards. If you have baseboards, use the same tool to vacuum those, too, as they gather a lot of dust but are often overlooked.

4. Spray and Mop

Once all traces of loose dirt and dust are gone, it's time to tackle what your vacuum couldn't lift and restore your floor's beautiful finish. If you've got a spray mop, fill the reservoir according to the manufacturer's directions and start mopping. 

Important note: If your cleaning solution is concentrated, it's vital to dilute it according to the directions or you risk seriously damaging your floors. 

Don't spray excessively. You don't want to saturate the floor, only dampen it. Spray and mop, working in small sections from the furthest corner to the door. Use a long sweeping figure-eight motion that works with the grain of the wood to capture the most dirt.

5. Check for Wet Spots

When finished with the wet mop, take a look at the floor. Is it very wet? Can you see any standing water or puddles on the surface? Does there appear to be a sheen of water anywhere? If so, it's too wet. To reduce the risk of the wood absorbing water, causing irreparable damage, the floor needs to dry quickly. You can speed up drying time by opening windows and sweeping over the floor with a fresh, clean dry mop head.

6. Keep Hardwood Floors Cleaner for Longer

Deep cleaning is essential to maximizing the life and quality of your hardwood flooring, but you don't want to do it more than necessary, because it's hard work. You can, however, spot clean and lightly clean the floors to increase the duration between the need for deeper cleans.

Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning saves a lot of time, reducing the frequency with which you need to do a full clean. And it protects your floors from bad staining. Spot cleaning is super simple. Just keep a dustpan and brush, a couple of microfiber cloths, and a small spray bottle somewhere convenient. Then, whenever there's a spill, the kids or pets traipse across the floor with mucky feet, or someone drops crumbs, glitter, or similar, you can limit the mess to one small area and get it cleaned up quickly.

Light Cleaning

Nobody wants to haul their furniture around every day or even every week. So light cleaning is a good move that limits how often you need to do a full clean. Use your dust mop to sweep your floors, moving around and under furniture without moving anything. Then go over the floor with your damp mop, again going around or under furniture. Just be careful not to spray the cleaning solution on anything other than the floor, as it could potentially harm metal or soft furnishings.

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