Hardwood Floor Cleaners & Tips

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MoppingHere are several different recipes for mixing up your own cleaners for hardwood flooring, just a few simple ingredients are all that’s needed. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way, you just need enough liquid to dampen the mop (or cloth) and scrub away.

If you’re happy to damp mop with straight water, try adding about 10 drops of essential oil per gallon of water for extra cleaning muscle. Some suggestions: lavender, tea tree oil, pine or eucalyptus oil will add antiseptic qualities.

You’ll also find tips on this page for removing scuff marks, how to test for wax (and remove it), a few DIY polish recipes and a scratch repair method that may surprise you.

Getting Started: Sweep or vacuum surface to remove as much dirt and dust as possible.

Directions:

  • When using one of the recipes below, damp mop only. Saturating the floor with liquid may cause spotting or warping of the surface. You can either lightly spray one section at a time or lightly spray the mop head.
  • Scrub in the direction of the grain of the wood to grab and remove as much of the dirt as possible.
  • Wipe dry with a soft cloth after washing.

Mix 1 gallon warm water with your choice of the ingredients below…

Solution #1

  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 TBS castille soap

Solution #2

  • 1 cup white household vinegar (*Is it safe to use? See notes below)

Solution #3

  • 1/4 cup borax
  • 1/2 teaspoon mild dish detergent (liquid)

Solution #4

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil

Solution #5

  • 1/8 cup mild liquid dish soap
  • 1/2 cup vinegar

Solution #6

  • 1 TBS Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap
  • 1/8 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brewed black tea

Tea Mixture:

Steep 1 bag of tea in 2 cups of boiling water and leave until it comes to room temperature. Remove tea bag and soak cloth in liquid, wring out then wipe floor clean. Dry with a soft cloth. The tannic acid in the tea will help bring wood to a shine.

For Oil-Finish: Damp mop with straight water after first cleaning with the recipe below.

  • 1 TBS rubbing alcohol
  • 2/3 cup hot water

*Is vinegar safe to use? Isn’t it too acidic for hardwood?

If you poured a bottle of vinegar directly on the floor and allowed it to sit, it would most likely damage the surface. However, in the mixtures above it is well diluted and only used as a damp mop (meaning excess liquid is squeezed out). Vinegar is an excellent household cleaner and brings a lot of muscle to the job. If you’re concerned about the effects it may have on the finish over the long-term, consider doing a clear water rinse after wiping floor with a mixture that has vinegar as an ingredient (then wipe dry as usual).

Removing Scuff Marks

  • Keep a spray bottle with a mixture of 50/50 vinegar, water and about 15 drops of essential oil of your choosing.
  • Sprinkle scuffs with baking soda then spray solution, let fizz for a few seconds.
  • Scrub marks until they are removed then dry with a soft towel.

Wax Testing & Removal

  • Wet your fingers with water then flick into a corner of the floor where there’s not much traffic. If there’s wax on the surface, the floor will turn white under the water beads (may take a half hour or so to turn white).

To Remove Wax:

  • Scrub the surface with mineral spirits using a household sponge with a nylon scrubby side. Wipe dry with a soft cloth as wax is dissolved. Repeat process a second time if needed.

DIY Polish

Wash surface as usual and dry thoroughly. Using one of the mixes below, apply polish to surface then wipe dry with a soft cotton towel.

Recipe #1

  • Mix equal parts olive oil and white household vinegar.

Recipe #2

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (or olive oil)
  • 2 TBS cider vinegar
  • 3 TBS vodka

Recipe #3

  • 1 TBS olive oil mixed with 1 tsp lemon juice. Apply to a clean, dry mop and treat floors after cleaning.

Quick Tip: You can also spray commercial furniture polish onto the mop head and then wipe over surface.

Scratch Repair

  • Rub a crayon that is the same color as the flooring into the scratch, filling the space as full of the wax as you can.
  • To seal in place, heat with a hair dryer to soften the wax, allow to cool for a few seconds then buff with a soft cloth.

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Published: November 16, 2011
Updated: June 9, 2012

What Readers Are Saying:
59 Comments to “Hardwood Floor Cleaners & Tips”
  1. PatV says:

    I love your homemade recipes. Thank-you!!

  2. sue says:

    have been looking for hardwood floor cleaner.thanks!

  3. Kandy says:

    Ive notice several very dirty spots on my hardwood floors. Usually by the corners of doorways. It looks as though there is dirt build up and like a clear coat of something over it, almost as if it sealed. I’ve scrubbed but I can’t get through the seal to get the dirt under it. Can you help??

    • Miranda says:

      When your wood floors were previously refinished they didn’t clean all of the gunk out of the corners. Some of it may also be an old stain that wasn’t properly sanded down in the corners before a new stain was applied. Either way, it’s sealed in so unless you want to strip your floors, sand them, and reseal them you may just have to deal with the grimy looking corners. At least you’ll know they’re clean to the touch.

  4. Rita Caldwell says:

    A couple years ago I moved into an old farmhouse that we inherited and am re-modeling one room a year. Our master bedroom was the bedroom of a gentleman with Alheimers and he would frequently urinate in the floors and his caregiver would put down paper but not change it regularly. Now there are large black spots in the hardwood floors. I’m looking for a way to remove those if possible before we begin re-finishing the floors. I’m afraid these spots are deep and will be a permanent stain all through the wood. Any suggestions????

    • Ginny says:

      Did you ever find out a solution to your problem?

    • Amy says:

      When we moved into out new home, my male dog ‘marked’ so much of our hardwoods. I used just water to wipe it down and wen tover it with a solution of vinegar and water. It took the urine up. I am not so sure about dark stains. You may need to get the area sanded owna nd refinisihed.

    • Rachel says:

      My incontinent dog saturated her bed with pee – which we only discovered when we moved her bed and revealed a black spot in our hardwood floor.

      I lightly dabbed hydrogen peroxide on the black stain for several days in a row and it’s all but gone. Watch out not to saturate the wood too much with the peroxide or the liquid will damage the floor.

  5. Kelly Stubblefield says:

    To Kandy –
    use a paste of water and baking soda to gently scrub the build up off the floors. Then use the cleaner of choice from above. Baking soda is a good scratch free cleaner.

  6. rachael says:

    do you have any homemade solutions for engineered hardwood floors?

    • Sheryll Finger-Morris says:

      On Engineered Hardwoods if your floors are under warrenty you absolutely need to use what the manufactors suggest. If you don’t you could void your warrenty. The very best thing to do for these floors is to use a damp…and I mean not wringing wet micro fiber mop. I love these mops. They are easy to use and leave all wood floors clean, streak free and beautiful. And mop. When it gets dirty take off the pad and wring it out in clean water. I also have another mop that I use to dry the floors. The less water you use the better the floors look and the better they stay, you could also use a dry microfiber mop and a spray bottle of water and mist your floors. These floors are made in layers and can’t be refinished when they are damaged. If your floors are really really dirty put a squirt of dawn dish soap use the microfiber mop and mop, rinse and dry. I would only use this if you absolutely have to. Keeping floors beautiful and clean isn’t about the chemicals you use it is about the equipment. Go to the manufactors sight and check what they suggest. What is cheaper than plain ole tap water?
      I am not a Commerical dealer. I have a high end Commerical and residential cleaning business. I go to the manufactors to find out how to clean all surfaces. it is my job to know.

  7. Jane says:

    We got black scuff marks on our wood floods awhile back. I remember where I work the janitor using a tennis ball on marks. Using the tennis ball with some elbow action along the grain of the wood brought up those marks.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I have been using water and vinegar for my hardwood floors for over 5 years using damp cloth.

  9. Miss Sonja says:

    My new house has hardwood kitchen cupboards with a natural poly finish on them. The previous owners left dark build-up marks around the handles and some drip marks from being over the sink. How can I clean these without having to re-finish the whole lot? My previous cupboards were laminate and easy cleaning.

  10. Kate says:

    Are these solutions safe for bamboo flooring?

  11. IDBEDD says:

    Would anyone know how to clean up wooden handrails on stairways?

    • Nancy G says:

      I had the same problem on a beautiful oak banister. It was sticky from the finish getting dirty, etc. we used Murphy’s Oil damped on a rag with some ‘elbow grease’. This removed the dirt but not the fine finish. Then we used a small brown lunch sack and went upstairs & downstairs using the sack, not our hands. It works like super-fine sandpaper. It smoothed any bumps and brought the luster back.

    • ruth says:

      Use a mild solution of water soap and vinegar.Wipe with a rag or washcloth grabbing the handle as you when when using stairs. Wipe with clean cloth until cloth comes away clean. Try not to cringe when you think about all the nasty little hands that have been on it!

    • Kim says:

      I would like to know about the handrails too.

  12. IDBEDD says:

    LOL…..ok this to funny. Ah….WOULD anyone know? Not wood! LOL @ me!

  13. Kim says:

    I was told that to bleach dark spots on my hardwood floors, to apply lemon juice, it has bleaching properties. Just leave on and check it every so often. If not lightened enough, reapply. Worked for me.

  14. Andrea says:

    I have laminate wood floors, so KIND OF wood but not really….are any/all of these recipes safe for this kind of floor?

  15. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for these! I was looking at my floors this morning and wondered if Tipnut had a cleaner I could use and woila! Of course you did! Your site is the very very best and I just love it!

  16. Debbie says:

    How do you get the grime/ dark coloring out of the tongue and groove lines in a light colored hardwood floor?

  17. Vicky says:

    I have laminate wood floor walnut color from costco, this floor looks like natural but dull color can you please let me know if any of mentioned recepies are good for this kind of laminate floor, i have tried the ones recomended for the manufacture company but they don’t really work.

  18. morgan says:

    For laminate floors I use equal parts water, vinegar and alcohol. Just water and. Vinegar leaves streaks. But the alcohol evaporated quickly, so it leaves a great shine and cleans better than store bought cleaners.

  19. Barbara Thetford says:

    Does anyone know of a recipe for washing untreated floorboards which will also take out the smell of dog urine and leave a pleasant aroma afterwards. Thanks

  20. Lisa says:

    Just something worth mentioning to those with pets, cats in particular……essential oils are toxic to cats (lavender oil, peppermint oil, etc) so I would NOT add these to your mixture. Cats’ livers lack the enzyme to break these oils down and exposure to them (even just the residue left on the floors they’re walking on) can cause liver damage/failure and death.

  21. Beth says:

    We needed to get black stains out of the grain before having the finish on our floors covered with another coat. Those white “magic erasers” worked amazingly well. The floor guy was even impressed!

  22. Jessica says:

    Hi, I am looking for a way to clean my hardwood floors, the problem is they have never been finished. I want a way to clean them without all the sanding. The house has carpet so the backing of the carpet has left marks on the floors as well. Thanks alot!!

    • Ann says:

      I would like to know about cleaning unfinished hard wood floors too. If you ever find an answer, please let me know!

      • Nancy says:

        Steam works well on unfinished floors, but it is labor intensive. Steam a small area at a time, and rinse off residue with slightly damp hand towels or old bath towels, ect. Rinse out the wiping cloths after every foot or so. Best of luck to you!!

  23. SavtaDonna says:

    I have dark stained floors which were finished with polyurethane about ten years ago. The finish is now dull and many scuff marks how should I clean the floor and how to remove the scuff marks- or should I have it refinished? Thanks much !

  24. Karin says:

    Please do NOT use furniture polish on a wood floor….unless you want to break a bone or two! It makes the floor SOslippery….even just a little spray, knowing you used it there and being careful, made me fall, even after realizing that it made it slippery and trying to clean furniture spray off the floor.

  25. Fabiola says:

    Would the hardwood cleaning mixes work if used with the steam shark mop?

  26. Diane says:

    WD-40 works well for scruff marks and anything gummy or sticky. it is a fish oil product and won’t hurt the floor plus gives a great shine. Wipe off excess or it can be slippery. also works great on stainless steel.

  27. anonymous says:

    eucalyptus oil + vinegar smells like nail polish remover – just fyi

  28. RachelJ says:

    We ripped up the carpet and found gorgeous hardwood floor underneath. In 1 of the roomsthe previous owners painted the room and got white paint on the gorgeous floor and proceeded to lay carpet over it. How do I remove the old paint without damaging the floor? I mopped it, tried different solutions, paint will not come up. Any suggestions?

    • Nan says:

      use equal parts of water and fabric softener cheaper stuff works best. Mix in a stray bottle. Also works on dried paint on windows. My daughter found this out when she was removing wallpaper and drip some on the woodwork. When she wiped it off, to her surprise the old paint drips came off. On old lead based paint I have use 100% fabric softener and a scraper.
      Anybody know how to get food coloring stain off unfinished wodd? I have tried bleach, peroxide, magic eraser. I am ready to sand but am afraid it is deeper than I can sand may have to paint

  29. Marie says:

    Try baking soda – works for removing grape juice and wine stains from countertops. Use a gentle scrubbing motion.

  30. KaliCat says:

    How do you get pet stains off of unfinished floors? Seems like a FAQ with no answer. Obviously have pets so I want a natural solution that won’t harm them or my floor. Thanks for the Tips :)

  31. Eliz says:

    For cat or dog urine u can try mouthwash w/ water. I have not tried this, but another landlord has tried it and said it worked for him. Not sure what mixture he used, but thought I would mention this in case somebody wanted to try it.

  32. Michelle says:

    You never want to use vinegar on natural hardwood floors (as opposed to laminate or any type of man made). The acidity causes “etching” in the surface much like it would if you clean granite with it.

    • Nancy G says:

      Earlier comments have suggested using water & a small amount of vinegar with a damp (not wet) mop. I Now I’m a bit worried because you mentioned etching. I have natural hardwood floors that were refinished over 20 years ago by the previous owners. I didn’t know about vinegar, water & damp mop until a year ago. It really gets the dirt. What is ‘etching’?

  33. Diana says:

    Try a TSP mixture. You can get it in most any paint dept.

  34. Falcon Moon says:

    Can I use walnut oil as essential oil?

  35. Bunsterj says:

    What do you do with white spots on wood floors from water?

  36. Anna says:

    Does anyone know how to remove dark circles from chair legs off unfinished hard wood floors ??? Help

  37. Linda says:

    I have old hardwood floors from the 1930’s. After years of carpet, I finally pulled the carpets up and exposed the hardwood floors which were in realativly good condition. However, after years of shampooing carpets and other damage, the finish was ruined so they are no longer sealed.
    I can not afford to have tham sanded and refinished so, I have learned to keep them in good condition with the following items. I have dogs and cats and tons of traffic but my floors look good.
    1. When they really need to be cleaned, usually in the spring and fall, I clean them using windex or ammonia/water solution. Windex is actually ammonia and ammonia will clean them up to look brand new but, it dries the wood and takes any protection from the surface of the wood so it is open to getting dirty. I also use ammonia and water in a spray bottle for quick clean ups but I have to use an oil after it dries.
    2 After cleaning, I use orange oil spray to protect the surface of the wood and make it slicker. Not fall on your bottom slick but slick enough that dust is easier to swiffer up. I don’t use olive oils or walnut oils because they become sticky on the top surface and dust does not slide as easy. I spray on, covering the area well, let is set for about 3-5 minutes and than rub it in well with soft rags.
    3. I never use just water on the floor as it leaves streaks.
    4. I use paste wax or bees wax on the edges to keep the dust down. The slicker you make the edges, the easier it is to keep it clean. Be sure to buff it well after it has dried.
    5. I clean my floor in heavy traffic areas with furniture oil on a cloth every few days, I just use an old towel and a sweeper mop, spray the oil onto the cloth and wipe the floor.

  38. Kphernan says:

    i have bamboo floors, is it safe for me to use the vinegar, water & alcohol solution to clean my floors? please help :)

  39. Amy says:

    I was hoping you could help with a tough problem. I put a non-slip carpet pad under a runner. After I took it up it left a sticky residue. It looks like a waffle pattern on the surface of the floor. Any suggestions? I have read everything from goo gone to olive oil to non abrasive liquid-free hand soap, but I’m afraid to try them because I don’t want to ruin the floors. Thank you!

  40. Shelley P. says:

    Hello

    Just a reminder to everyone that essential oils are deadly to cats. They cannot metabolize them and can die within months of contact. The contact doesn’t have to be physical, it could be the vapors in the air.

  41. Deni says:

    Do you have a cleaning solution for a finished cork floor? Can I use vinegar and alcohol mixed with water to clean cork?

  42. russ says:

    Hi can you recommend a solution to clean my hardwax oiled wood floors I was told I need a cleaner that nourishes the wood aswell as cleaning it.
    Thanks

  43. Angie says:

    Any ideas on how to clean the groove between wood floor planks? I love my floors, but some of the higher traffic areas look bad because of the darker “stripes”. Thanks !

  44. Manda Stuart says:

    I have laminated floors (light color) and I have to use my swifter daily to remove dust and dirt. What can you recommend for preventing such dust build up on my floors? HELP

  45. Kim says:

    Are these safe for laminated wood floors?

  46. Gen says:

    Can I mix a gallon of this and store it to use multiple times or will it go bad? Thanks


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