How to Clean and Maintain Any Type of Floor

How to Clean and Maintain Any Type of Floor

Flooring is a big investment, and a very noticeable part of your home. Keep it beautiful, whatever the type, with this guide to cleaning and maintenance.

There are few things that make your house look – or feel – more unpleasant than a dirty floor.  Trust me, I know: just this morning, I walked across my kitchen tile and collected about a bushel of dog hair on my slippers, courtesy of my two Labradors.  Yuck!  Time to clean!

There are many varieties of flooring materials found in houses, often more than one in the same home, and it’s important to know exactly how to care for each type in order to maximize its beauty and durability.  There’s more to keeping your floor clean than just an occasional once-over with a vacuum or mop.  And there are more reasons for keeping it clean than just the way it looks: clean floors last longer.  Dirt and debris are abrasive particles, and they get trampled over on a regular basis.  Over time, these particles scratch the surface beyond repair, affecting the look of the floor.  What’s worse, more dirt collects in the grooves and scratches made by the previous particles, and wears them down further, so they collect even more dirt … it’s a cycle that can be very detrimental to any type of flooring.  If you keep your floor as dirt-free as possible, you can considerably extend its life, and make your investment worthwhile and your floor beautiful.

A tip for all types of flooring: use floor mats both outside and inside doorways to reduce the amount of grime that people track in on their shoes.  Better yet, have people remove their shoes at the door!

Wood Floors – Care and Maintenance

How to Clean and Maintain Any Type of Floor
  • Preventive maintenance is important: be sure to tend to any spills or messes immediately.
  • Every other day, use a broom or a soft, dry dust mop and sweep high-traffic areas of your home (exterior doorways, stairs, and in front of the sink, stove and refrigerator if your kitchen has a wood floor). 
  • Although sweeping should be the primary method of cleaning your wood floor, you can also vacuum once a week or so in order to pick up the fine particles that the broom doesn’t get.  Don’t use an upright or canister vacuum on a wood floor – they can be damaging.  You can use a bare-floor brush attachment.  Pull it toward you, keeping the handle raised so that the edge won’t scratch the floor’s surface. 
  • Never use water to clean a wood floor.  It can cause warping, and in extreme cases, even cause the floor to rot.  Be cautious of too much water and water-based cleaning products even if your floor is protected by wax. Water damage can be very costly to repair!  If you’re trying to clean up a mess and must use water, use this method: dampen a soft cloth, wring it out well, and wrap it around the head of a sponge mop.  Go over a small section of the floor at a time, and be sure to wipe that section dry with a second cloth before moving on to the next part.
  • If your hardwood floor has a polyurethane finish and you want to remove a greasy film or dirt buildup, you can damp-mop with a nonabrasive, non-streaking solution: either one part ammonia to 20 parts warm water, or a mix of one cup of white vinegar and one gallon of warm water.  Remember to thoroughly wring out your mop before you put it to the floor; it should be half dry.  If you do end up with a puddle, take care of it right away to avoid water damage.
  • Some polyurethane finishes must be cleaned with a pH-neutral cleaner (check your manufacturer’s recommendations before choosing a cleaner).  These types of cleaners are available at hardware and home improvement stores.  If you’re using a pH cleaner, a two-step process is required, using two buckets and two mops.  Fill one of the buckets with the cleaner, which will normally be diluted with water – mix carefully according to the package directions.  Fill the other bucket with plain water.  Wet a sponge mop with the cleaning solution, wring it out well, and then clean a small section of the floor.  Dip your second mop into the water, wring it until half dry, and go over the spot you’ve just mopped in order to remove the excess cleaner.
  • Some finished can’t be damp-mopped.  If you have an older finish, such as varnish or shellac, damp-mopping will remove the remaining shine.  There are specialized cleaners available for these types of finish.  If cleaning them doesn’t restore the shine, you can either wax over the old finish or start fresh by having the floor sanded, stained, and treated with a polyurethane coating.
  • Before you wax a hardwood floor, be sure to remove the old dirt and wax.  Mix one cup of ammonia with one gallon of water, and evenly apply it to the floor with a damp mop.  Once the floor has dried completely, apply the floor wax as per the manufacturer’s instructions.  Ensure that the area is well-ventilated, because wood floor waxes are made with a petroleum solvent that can be irritating.
  • Liquid paste waxes provide a lustrous gleam rather than a high-gloss finish.  They’re self-polishing and less slippery than most waxes, but they’re also slightly less durable, so if you use this type of wax you’ll have to apply a fresh coat several times a year.  Because of the relatively frequent reapplications, there can be a buildup after a while; you may need to use a stripping solution to get rid of the old layers of wax before putting a new one down. 
  • If you’re using a liquid paste wax, just pour out a little bit on a section of the floor that’s been prepared with the ammonia and water solution and spread it around with a long-handled wax applicator.  This type of wax is very quick-drying – usually in about ten minutes – so it can harden on the applicator as well. Immediately after each use, you should wash the applicator’s soft pad with detergent. 
  • Solid paste wax is more difficult to apply than liquid paste wax, but lasts longer, so there’s no need to reapply as frequently.  Also, if you’re using this type of wax, you won’t need to strip the old away before applying a new coat, because paste wax tends to wear off with use.
  • If you’re using solid paste wax, you can apply it by hand using a soft cloth, or you can apply it with a waxing/buffing machine.  These types of machines can be rented, but if you’re maintaining several wood floors, it may make better sense in the long run to buy one rather than rent it.  Or simply invest in the services of a professional!
  • If you over-wax your floor, you’ll end up with a dull buildup.  Only do the entire floor every other time.  On the in-between times, wax high-traffic areas, but avoid areas that don’t get a lot of wear, such as corners and around furniture legs.
  • A simple recipe for a shiny wood floor from Linda Cobb, the “Queen of Clean”:  Boil one quart of water and steep two teabags in it for a few minutes.  Pour the tea into a bucket.  Dip a soft cloth or mop into the tea and wring it out well; it should be damp, not wet.  Wash the floor.  The tannic acid in the tea will give the hardwood floor a beautiful shine.  

Wood Floors – Spot and Scratch Removal

  • To remove scratches from a waxed wood floor, you should lightly buff the area with a piece of superfine steel wool.  Always rub with the grain of the wood.  When you’ve sanded out the scratch, apply two coats of paste wax and buff each coat with a soft cloth.
  • An alternate method of removing scratches: take a crayon that matches the floor color and rub it over the scratch, filling the gap.  Heat the area with a blow dryer on the highest setting, then buff with a soft cloth.
  • To remove white spots or water stains, spread on some paste wax and rub the area with a piece of #0000 steel wool (again, remember to follow the grain).  Buff to a shine.  If this doesn’t work, sand it lightly, and then clean it with mineral spirits and #00 steel wool.  Stain the area to match, wax it, and then buff it to its original finish.
  • To remove black heel marks, dip a piece of steel wool in wood floor cleaner.  Rub the mark gently, let the floor dry, and re-wax and buff if necessary.
  • To remove burns, first try rubbing the mark away with a damp sponge or fine steel wool; most floors have a tough protective finish, so the burn mark will only be on the surface.  If it’s deep into the wood, take a piece of steel and moisten it in a mild solution of soap and water.  Rub the burned area with the steel wool in a circular motion to remove the charred wood.  Then use fine sandpaper to rub the area.  Apply a touch-up stain, then wax and hand-buff.
  • To remove scuff marks, dab some mineral spirits on a soft cloth and gently buff the scuff until it disappears.


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