Your floors bear the brunt of daily life – dogs, kids, cleats, muddy boots, wet footprints and more coming through your home. Your floors reveal the truth about what goes on at home through the scrape of the chair across the floor, by moving furniture or the glittery mess from a craft project.

Whether you’ve installed new flooring or are refinishing the ones you inherited, they can last for years with the proper care. Follow these nine steps for cleaning and caring for your wood floors for a lifetime of warmth, character and beauty.

1. Floor Finish

Determine what kind of finish your floor has. Not sure? To do a quick assessment on your own by rubbing your finger across the floor.

  • If you don’t see a smudge (as with most new flooring), the floor is surface sealed, usually with polyurethane, urethane or polyacrylic
  • If you see a smudge, the floor has been treated with a penetrating seal, like shellac, varnish or lacquer, and then waxed

Wood Floor Swatches

2. Surface Dirt

Sweep, vacuum or sweep your floor regularly (even daily) to remove surface dirt.

Sweep Dirty Wood Floor

3. Spills and Stains

Clean up spills immediately. If it’s something sticky, use a lightly dampened cloth or rag to wipe up the sticky residue. If it’s something that stains, use a product specifically formulated for this.

Wine Spill on Wood Floor

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4. Cleaning Solution

The best cleaners are those recommended by your floor’s manufacturer. Otherwise, try using a quarter cup of a pH neutral, gentle soap like dishwashing soap or Murphy’s Oil Soap in a bucket of warm water. Be sure to wring out the mop until it’s barely damp and change the water as it gets dirty. Once you’re done, rinse the floor with a barely damp mop and clean water. Note: Too much water on any wood floor may warp the wood.

Mop Cleaning Wood Floor

5. Upkeep

If your floor has a polyurethane finish, upkeep is simple. Simply vacuum or sweep, then clean with a lightly damp mop. If your floor has a seal with a wax top coat, vacuum and use a dust-mop regularly, and buff to keep your floors shining.

Dust Mopping Wood Floor

6. Shine Through

If your floor starts to lose its shine, then you’ll want to recoat the surface with surface finish, but never use a wax on a floor that has a surface finish. Also, do not use furniture spray on a wood floor. You’ll end up with a floor as slippery as a skating rink! Depending on the traffic on your floors, you may need to do this every 5-7 years.

Surface Finish Wood Floor

7. Wax On

When buffing no longer restores the shine, you may need to rewax. Apply a cleaner and paste, or liquid wax made specifically for wood flooring. After application, let the floor dry, then buff to a shine. Paste wax takes a bit more effort to apply, but it provides more protection for your floor. Liquid wax makes the job easier, but leaves a thinner coat. Thankfully, you should only have to do this twice a year.

Wax Wood Floor

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8. Prevention

To prevent scratches, put felt pads under chair and table legs, and use doormats on the outside of your entrances and just inside your doors to help catch dirt and sand before it can get tracked in. If you’ve got pets, make sure their nails are clipped short so they won’t scratch the floor.

Felt Pads for Furniture

9. Resist Humidity

You may notice cracks in your floors during the winter, when the air can be dry, but these should fill in when the humidity rises in the summer. Your best bet is to keep the relative humidity in your home between 35% and 55%.

Crack in Wood Floor


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