When it comes to flooring materials, it’s hard to beat hardwood. Not only is it visually appealing, it’s also durable, long-lasting and versatile. But what type of care do wood floors require?

Whether you’ve inherited hardwood with the purchase of a new home or you’re considering upgrading the floors in your current home, proper maintenance is essential to letting its full beauty shine through.

Important tips on how to maintain hardwood floors

First things first: Preventive maintenance

The best and easiest way to keep hardwood floors looking good is to exercise preventive maintenance. When less dirt gets tracked in, that means less cleaning for you. Below are a few easy ways to keep floors cleaner on a daily basis:
  • Add “scrubber” mats outside entryways so people can easily remove loose dirt and soil before coming inside.
  • Place doormats inside entryways as a second line of defense, or as a convenient place to remove shoes. Be sure to avoid rubber-backed mats, as these may damage your floor.
  • Keep a mat in front of any sinks to prevent water from splashing onto the floor.
  • When it’s wet or snowy outside, add a boot tray to collect water, ice and slush.
  • Put felt floor protectors on the bottoms of furniture legs to minimize scratching and to make them easier to move before cleaning floors.
  • Consider installing window treatments to protect hardwood floors from sunlight, which can cause fading over time.
  • Keep pets’ nails trimmed to prevent scratching.

Routine cleaning: The basics

Even with preventive maintenance, you’ll need to periodically clean your hardwood floors. On a daily or weekly basis, you’ll want to sweep the floors to remove any loose dirt, dust or hair. You can use a high-quality broom, a mop with a microfiber dusting pads, electrostatic cloths, an electric broom or a vacuum cleaner that has an attachment designed for safe use on bare floors.

When a deeper cleaning is in order, use a professional cleaning product that’s specially made for hardwood floors. Avoid ammonia- or oil-based cleaners.

  • Carefully follow the directions—some products are ready to use right out of the bottle, while others must be diluted with water.
  • Apply the product to a pre-moistened rag or mop, then cover the floor without oversaturating. Excessive water can cause wood to expand and cause permanent damage.
  • When mopping, go in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Rinse only if the product requires it; otherwise, just let the floor air dry.

Damage control: Removing marks from hardwood

An unsightly stain or mark can detract from the appearance and value of wood floors. If the mark is on the surface, you should be able to remove it with a soft cloth. Do not use strong chemicals, sandpaper, wool pads or any other hard materials that could scratch the floor’s finish.

To remove stains that have permeated through the finish and into the wood itself, the remedy is a bit more extensive. Each of these may require staining, waxing and buffing to ensure consistency with the surrounding wood.

  • For pet stains, water marks, and dark or white spots, try rubbing the area with fine steel wool and floor wax.
  • Darker stains may also require a follow-up application of bleach or vinegar, which should sit for an hour before rinsing.
  • Oil-based stains can usually be removed with mild dishwashing detergent. Rinse and repeat as necessary, then smooth the surface with fine sandpaper.