Taking care of hardwood or laminate floors can be challenging given the everyday conditions of a family and pets. But keeping your home looking good is crucial to maintaining its value.
Generally, there are two types of residential wood flooring: real wood (solid or engineered) and laminates that are man-made to look like wood.
Solid hardwood floors are made of planks milled from a single piece of timber.
Engineered hardwood is made from layers of material that have been glued together, with a layer of hardwood on the top. Typically engineered wood comes finished with a clear protective coating or finish.
Laminate flooring is manmade, a multi-layer synthetic flooring product fused together in a factory using a lamination process. The top layer of laminate flooring is photographic material that is made to look like wood including a clear protective finish.
Is it finished?
Don’t know what you have exactly? No worries. When it comes to cleaning wood floors (solid, engineered or laminate) the only thing you need to figure out is whether or not your floors have a finish. You don’t really need to know the type of finish. The important fact is whether the floors have been treated in some way to make them resistant to standing water, which is the enemy of all wood and wood-like floors.
To find out if your flooring is finished, drop a single drop of water on the floor. If it beads and just sits there, the flooring has been finished. If the drop of water soaks in and disappears leaving a dark spot, the wood is not finished.
What follows is for finished solid or engineered wood and laminate flooring only. Unfinished hardwood CANNOT be mopped since it will damage the floors.
If your floor is unfinished, or if it’s an old wood floor and some of the finish has started to wear away, then don’t use any moisture or product on the floor at all. Just dust-mop it with a flat-head mop.
Wood floor cleaners
The key to making your own wood and laminate floor cleaner is similar to the commitment of a physician: First, do no harm. The trick is making a product that will clean well without harming the finish of your floors, even when used repeatedly over many years.
White vinegar is a fabulous cleaning product because it cuts through dirt well. But it is highly acidic and used repeatedly will over time can attack the finish on your wood or laminate floors, making them look dull. Vinegar can also soften the finish, making it feel gummy or sticky. So let’s just agree that when it comes to cleaning wood or laminate floors, no vinegar.
Alcohol is also a fantastic cleaning product. Rubbing alcohol (70% is most common, but 91% works is great, too), denatured alcohol, even gin or plain vodka all work. Alcohol is also a disinfectant, as you know from visiting a doctor’s office or hospital. The great thing about alcohol as a cleaning agent is, that like water, it has a nearly neutral ph—neither acidic or alkaline. This makes alcohol the perfect ingredient in your homemade cleaner. It not only cleans but also protects and preserves beautifully finished wood and laminate floors.
Your regular tap water, while safe to drink, may leave water marks and hard water build up on your floors over time. The best way to avoid this is to use distilled water in your floor cleaner (available in any supermarket) to eliminate streaking, hard water marks, and mineral build-up.
A very small amount of Blue Dawn will break the surface tension of the water making the cleaner much more effective—but not so much that it requires rinsing.
Homemade Wood and Laminate Floor Cleaner
The proportions are: one part alcohol (rubbing alcohol is cheap and available in any supermarket or drug store) to four parts distilled water plus a few drops blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. Here it is again:
- 1 part alcohol
- 4 parts distilled water
- 2 or 3 drops Blue Dawn
Example: 1/4 cup alcohol, 1 cup distilled water, 2 drops Blue Dawn.
Mix this up in a spray bottle each time you clean the floors. You can make it up ahead. Be sure to label it well and keep it out of the reach of children.
How to clean
Sweep or vacuum the floor (you’ll read more about this below). Spray the cleaner in a small area, scrub well with a cloth or sponge and immediately wipe the area dry with a microfiber cloth.
The secret is to spray, scrub and wipe dry immediately. If you do not want to do this on your hands and knees, I recommend this Microfiber Spray Mop for both wood and laminate floors. It sprays the cleaner from its removable bottle that lets you make your own cleaner. It has a large surface mop and machine-washable microfiber pad, which makes scrubbing wood and laminate floors a breeze.
Vacuum or sweep
Here’s an easy routine to care for your wood and laminate floors: At least twice a week vacuum (or sweep) your wood or laminate floors to remove the real enemies here: dirt, sand, grit, pebbles, and grime. It comes in on your shoes and gets ground into the finish and surface of your beautiful floors every time you and the kids walk on them.
Unless the vacuum you use has a hard floor attachment (not just a setting for hard floors), you’d be better off using a broom to dislodge, sweep up and remove debris and dust. My Shark Navigator Lift-Away vacuum uses these washable microfiber pads that dislodge dirt and debris and then acts as a dirt and dust magnet.
Then every two weeks, clean and scrub the floors with your homemade cleaner and a good mop that cleans and wipes the floor nearly dry in a single effort.
Protect your wood and laminate floor from scrapes and scratches with felt furniture pads. The kind of felt pads that are self-stick are inexpensive, easy to apply and will last for many years. Felt reduces friction which makes it easy to slide chairs in and out and also cut the noise.
Taking good care of your wood and laminate floors will not only keep your home looking great, you’ll be protecting your home’s value—which is likely one of the biggest investments you will ever make.
First published:9-16-15; Revised & Updated with new information 5-21-19