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How to Clean Unfinished Hardwood Flooring

Back during the modernization craze of the 1950s, my grandmother — rest her soul — put down carpet and linoleum on top of the original, unfinished hardwood in her turn-of-the-century farmhouse. Needless to say, my mother decided to undo that abomination and restore the floor to its rustic beauty.

But then again, she does have cats and dogs. And grandchildren. And a husband who works outside. So, how do you keep unfinished hardwood clean?

The Cleaning Challenges of Unfinished Wood

Unfinished Wood FlooringUnfinished hardwood has no protective barrier. Spilled drinks, dropped food, pet accidents, kids’ crayons, tracked-in grime and almost anything else can sink into the wood or become ground into its fibers.

The fibers also can trap bacteria and germs, so keeping the floor clean is not only necessary for your home’s beauty but also your health!

However, some cleaning products made for finished hardwood or other types of sealed flooring will damage unfinished hardwood.

So, you need to have the right tools and the right techniques for keeping an unfinished wood floor clean and sanitary.

Step One: Basic Cleaning

Grab your old standbys — a broom and dustpan — and go to work. To speed the process, invest in a large dust mop. You also can use a vacuum cleaner if it has a setting for hardwood floors. Do this at least once a week, preferably twice a week. Dust can build up fast on a hardwood floor!

For general sanitation, you can use a simple white vinegar mix. Combine one part white vinegar with one part water and lightly mop. Don’t saturate the mop or the floor. Let it air dry.

Step Two: Deeper Cleaning

For stains and deeper grime, you’ll need to use special cleaners. I’ve listed the most-recommended options, and you can find these at any hardware or home improvement store. With any new cleaner, test it in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it doesn’t discolor your floor.

  • Trisodium phosphate – Trisodium phosphate is a substance that comes in white granular or crystal form. Rub it into the wood grain with a small scrubbing brush, then use white rags moistened with water to “rinse” the wood. Make sure you get all of the water up!
  • Mineral spirits – Spray on and rub with a non-abrasive pad. Or, you can dampen a white rag with the spirits and rub into the wood, following the grain. Remove the excess with clean white rags and let dry. IMPORTANT: Mineral spirits are highly flammable as well as toxic if inhaled! Use a respirator and ventilate the room.
  • Sanding – If something stains the floor, you can just sand it out! Use a little sandpaper on a small area or rent a sander for a larger area. Be careful not to overdo it or let a sanding machine sit over any one area — it can cause permanent damage.

Step Three: Wax On, Wax Off

For added protection, paste wax will help repel spills and dirt and keep the floor looking more beautiful longer. Rub the wax on in a clockwise motion and let it dry. Then, buff the floor to bring out the shine. You can rent a buffer at any home improvement store.

Now, stand back and admire your work. And don’t let the kids draw on the floor.

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