How to Make Hardwood Floors Shine

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You can make hardwood floors shine.
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Everyone loves hardwood floors, and they improve the value of your house far more than other floor coverings, such as carpet, which often gets replaced when a home changes hands. If you don't know how to make hardwood floors shine, though, they can just as easily be a liability. Dull hardwood floors are like uncut gems: They show their true value only when polished, and absent polishing, they aren't worth nearly as much. So, if you're a homeowner and you care about giving your house all the TLC it deserves, learning how to make wood floors shine should be a top priority because floors are so visible.


When you polish wood floors, whether solid wood, engineered or a laminate, you're polishing the finish, so the first thing you need to do is identify it. Most wood floors have a polyurethane coating, but some are finished with alkyd varnish, shellac or some other film finish that may need special care, and if the hardwood flooring has a fuzzy feeling, it's probably finished with penetrating oil, which calls for a completely different polishing approach altogether. It goes without saying that the floor has to be clean before you polish it, so besides polish, you also need a good floor cleaner that won't damage the finish.


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Common Causes of Dull Floors

It would be almost impossible for a floor not to get dull given all that it has to withstand. The finish can get multiple scratches from high-heel shoes, pet claws and dirt being ground into it, and it can get deep scratches when you drag heavy furniture across the floor, although you can prevent these by using rugs or furniture felt pads and by lifting furniture instead of dragging it. Some other causes of dull floors include:


  • Not sweeping and mopping regularly or mopping with a dirty mop​. Make sure to use clean water when mopping.
  • Failing to dry or buff the floor after mopping.
  • Using the wrong cleaning supplies.​ Chlorine bleach, ammonia and undiluted vinegar can dull certain finishes, and paste wax is a dust magnet and eventually turns dull no matter what cleaners you use. This can happen more quickly if you use too much wax or oil soap, another cleaning product that dulls floor finishes. Always follow usage instructions when using these products.


  • Regular wear and tear.​ No floor finish lasts forever, and eventually, the floor will need to be refinished.

Identify the Floor Finish

If you recently installed a prefinished floor, it is probably factory-finished with an ultra-hard aluminum oxide coating, and if so, that's good news because it's durable and easy to clean and polish. If the floor is older and has been refinished, the coating could be varnish, or it could be something else. Choose an out-of-the-way place and try rubbing the finish with rubbing alcohol. If the finish softens, it's something other than varnish — probably shellac — and you should avoid commercial hardwood floor cleaners, which contain alcohol and other harsh chemicals. Clean grime and gunky buildup from shellac by removing dust with a dust mop and wiping it down with warm water to which you've added a little dish soap.



Using Vinegar as a Floor Cleaner

If you search the internet for "how to make wood floors shine naturally" or other hardwood floor cleaning methods, you'll probably find white vinegar mentioned more than once, but in fact, it's an acid that can dull most hardwood floor finishes, and it should generally be avoided. However, there are instances in which vinegar can be helpful. For example, if the floor near the entryway has white salt stains left by people tracking snow across it, vinegar can dissolve them, but it should be diluted to 50 percent and used sparingly. You can also safely use vinegar to clean a floor finished with penetrating oil, although a soap and water solution will probably work just as well.


Cleaning Tips for Hardwood Floors

No matter what the type of finish happens to be, most hardwood floors sustain micro scratches from high-heel shoes, pet claws and furniture, and these scratches dull the finish. You can often improve matters with floor polish, but as the scratches accumulate over the years, the floor eventually needs to be refinished. Besides scratches, loose dust and dirt also dulls floors, and you can remove dirt with regular cleaning, but there are some cleaning methods you should avoid. Besides using vinegar as a wood floor cleaner, some other cleaning approaches that aren't as effective as you might think include:


  • Washing with lots and lots of water:​ Water can seep between the planks and cause warping.

  • Steam cleaning:​ The hot water and steam almost guarantee water damage to your floor.

  • Oil-based soaps and detergents:​ These leave a milky residue.

  • Dust treatments:​ Your floor might become too slick.

If these are the wrong ways to clean your wood flooring, what are the right ways? You have two options: You can purchase a commercial hardwood floor cleaning product and follow the instructions on the container, or you can make your own cleaning solution. A commercial cleaner contains a long list of ingredients but no harsh chemicals to dull the floor finish. If you're looking for a DIY cleaning solution, try mixing 1 teaspoon of Castile soap per 4 cups of water and adding a few drops of essential oils if desired.



How to Clean Hardwood Floors

Step 1: Vacuum the Floor

Remove all rugs and vacuum debris from the floor. Do not use a vacuum with a beater bar, as this will scratch the finish. Use a soft broom or dust mop to get all the dirt around furniture legs that the vacuum can't reach. Remove debris once every week so dirt and grime don't build up on the hardwood floors.


Step 2: Damp Mop the Floor

Mop the floor using a commercial floor cleaning product or your homemade cleaner. When using a commercial cleaner, follow the instructions on the container. If using a homemade cleaner, put some in a spray bottle, spray a small section of the floor and mop over it immediately with a microfiber flathead mop to prevent any of the cleaner from falling through the gaps between floorboards. Mop in the direction of the wood grain to avoid making streaks. If there's a lot of buildup on the floor, you may have to spray and wipe more than once. This cleaning method is safe for all film finishes.


Step 3: Buff the Floor Dry

After mopping the entire floor, go back over it with a microfiber cloth to buff it dry. Buff in the direction of the wood grain.

Step 4: Polish the Floor

Use a commercial hardwood floor polish to make the floor really shine. Tilt the container back and forth to mix the product (don't shake) and then pour it on the floor, making either a puddle or an "S" shape. Run a flathead mop gently through the polish, going in the same direction as the wood grain to spread it evenly. Apply only gentle pressure.

Step 5: Wait a While

Let the polish cure for 24 hours before moving furniture or walking on the floor with your shoes.



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