Shopping for the Best Hardwood Floor Cleaners All Depends on Your Finish Type
We asked the experts how to get it right.
Published Feb 25, 2022 1:03 AM
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Cleaning your hardwood floors doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, there’s just one rule you need to follow. Wood has been labeled as a high-maintenance material choice in recent years, but it’s an incredibly durable floor covering—in some instances you can safely use the same cleaner on multiple flooring categories, even vinyl, because what you’re washing isn’t the wood itself but the top layer. So whether you have solid or engineered planks or strips, all that matters when picking out the best hardwood floor cleaners is the type of finish you have.
Experts reveal the finish is generally one of two things: a traditional oiled finish or a sealed finish (like polyurethane or aluminum oxide). The latter is far more common—in fact, Revel Woods cofounder John Dupra estimates that 90 percent of wood floor owners today have planks prefinished with a sealer that sits on top of the floor like a protective barrier. The former is a penetrating finish that soaks into the wood and hardens to reinforce the surface, which is why you’ll need a very particular type of cleaner. (Hint: It’s also usually oil-based.) Read on to discover our favorites (with an emphasis on good bottle design and easy application), plus what to look out for on a label.
- Best scent: Koala Eco Floor Cleaner
- Best value: Grove Co. Floor Cleaner Concentrate and Spray Bottle
- Best oil: Murphy Oil Soap
- Best for spot cleaning: Supernatural Wood and Floor Cleaning Set
- Best for deep cleaning: Kinfill Floor Cleaner
Best Scent: Koala Eco Floor Cleaner
Scent: Mandarin and peppermint | Concentrated solution: Yes | Volume: 24 fluid ounces | Good for: Most hard surfaces (including sealed and waxed wood, engineered stone, concrete, and vinyl)
What we like:
- Biodegradable, plant-based formula
- Natural citrus and peppermint fragrance
- Free shipping on orders over $65
Why we chose it: A refreshing citrus scent sans chemicals that will make your room smell like freshly squeezed oranges.
This large 24-ounce bottle of cleaning concentrate will likely last you years, and we love that you won’t be able to find any dyes, masking agents, synthetic perfumes, chlorine, or bleach on its ingredient label. As a natural, nontoxic formula, however, it’s still incredibly powerful—it cut through greasy grime no problem, and since it’s pH-neutral and doesn’t contain alcohol, it won’t dry out your wood floors (or furniture, for that matter). Even when you only use it for a quick spot treatment, you’ll be able to enjoy a scent on par with cutting a fresh orange. And while it doesn’t arrive in a refillable bottle, the packaging is made from 100 percent recyclable, post-consumer plastic, complete with a label that reminds us of an antique botanical print pretty enough to frame and hang on a wall.
Best Value: Grove Co. Floor Cleaner Concentrate and Spray Bottle
Scent: Orange and rosemary, lavender and thyme, and free and clear | Concentrated solution: Yes | Volume: 2 fluid ounces | Good for: Sealed wood as well as tile and laminate
What we like:
- Reusable labeling system
- Easy to store
- Doesn’t leave the freshest scent
- Not great for oiled or waxed wood
Why we chose it: A little goes a long way.
We easily tackled every floor, from the kitchen to the bathroom, with this handy, eco-friendly cleaner that can be applied to more than just sealed wood. Simply add the entire tiny bottle of multipurpose concentrate into the glass spray bottle (which you’ll only need to purchase once thanks to the customizable labels that easily slide onto the bottom), fill to the indicated line with water, then give it a good shake. The silicone label also provides a firm, sturdy base for storing when not in use. And while the scents aren’t exactly our favorites, we’re big fans of the completely plant-based formulas—no additives here—that promise to remove everything from crayons to coffee stains.
Best Oil: Murphy Oil Soap
Scent: Orange | Concentrated solution: Yes | Volume: 32 fluid ounces | Good for: Most hard surfaces (including sealed and finished wood, tile, and linoleum)
What we like:
- Less than $5
- Widely available
- Does not contain ammonia or bleach
- Can make floors slippery
- Experts caution against applying to sealed wood floors
Why we chose it: A classic, no-frills formula that will get traditionally finished floors sparkling.
Murphy’s Oil Soap has a long, reputable history of being the go-to hardwood floor cleaner. Simply formulated with water, coconut, and other plant-based ingredients (and only 2 percent synthetics), it’s a top choice if you’re not only looking to remove dirt and debris, but restore a bit of shine and replenish your top coat without having to re-oil as often. It’s commonly sold as a concentrate, so you’ll need to add only the smallest amount to make a solution that’s mostly water; add too much and you’ll be battling with cloudy leftover residue that can be tricky to remove (or trying not to fall on the slippery surface). Though the brand claims it’s safe to apply on all kinds of finishes, experts recommend using this on oiled floors only. That’s because, as Dupra notes, sealed floors can’t absorb oil, so it builds up like a film on the surface to the point of damage.
Best for Spot Cleaning: Supernatural Wood and Floors Cleaning Set
Scent: Palmarosa, lavender, peppermint, basil, and fir | Concentrated solution: Yes | Volume: 8 fluid ounces | Good for: Most hard surfaces (including sealed wood, engineered stone, concrete, and vinyl)
What we like:
- Different spray modes
- Unique screen-printed label
- An investment
- Scents for all cleaners is the same
Why we chose it: A long-lasting solution that’s perfect in small doses, stylish spray bottle included.
While this wood floor cleaning set (with a 1-ounce concentrate that makes a 13-ounce solution) is $25, a bottle of 8-ounce concentrate refill will run you $60, which is pretty steep compared to other refills on this list—but we think the splurge is worth it. Plus it’s specifically formulated with more nourishing ingredients like olive oil versus alcohol, lactic acid, and glycerin (reserved for tackling tubs and tiles). This small amount generates more than 104 ounces of cleaner, guaranteed to last a long time, especially when, more often than not, all you’ll need to do is spot-treat with a quick spray. And the glass spray bottle is really the best part: It’s completely recyclable and features a silicone base for a sturdy foundation. Spill-free storage is as easy as turning the nozzle to “stop”; there are various settings for targeted spritzes and wider sprays, too.
Best for Deep Cleaning: Kinfill Floor Cleaner Kit
Scent: Orange | Concentrated solution: Yes | Volume: 16.9 fluid ounces | Good for: Most hard surfaces (including sealed wood, natural and engineered stone, and vinyl)
What we like:
- Large, refillable bottle
- No single-use plastic
- Modern design
- Does not come with a spray top
- Expensive shipping (from Europe)
Why we chose it: Shake up this chic container and add a few drops to a bucket of water to clean an entire room (or three!).
Opening up and preparing Kinfill’s floor cleaner is a delight. The kit includes an incredibly sleek glass bottle with a colorful, slim silicone base to indicate its main purpose (tackling floors, tub, and glass and mirrors, for instance). The steel screw top makes pouring a dash of solution into a bucket of water easy, perfect for when you want to mop down your entire floor. Despite the fact that they’re diluted with water, these ingredients are powerful yet safe, free of harmful ingredients like palm oil, aluminum, formaldehydes, phthalates, and sulfates. It’s a great choice for kid- and pet-filled homes, and the brand also highlights that it’s particularly safe to use for pregnant and nursing women, so you can wipe down your floors without worry.
We Also Like
How We Chose These Products
To narrow down our list of the best hardwood floor cleaners, we kept a few things in mind: mostly plant-based, nontoxic formulas that are still powerful enough to cut through grease, grime, dirt, and debris; thoughtful bottle design, including easy storage, easy labeling, refillability, and multiple spray modes; and cute labels we wouldn’t mind having on display. We also especially leaned into cool, eco-conscious, direct-to-consumer brands. Then we got to testing each of the wood cleaners on the parquet floors typical of New York City apartments, as well as on engineered planks. And a bonus we discovered? You can use all of these cleaners on more than just your hardwood floors.
Our Shopping Checklist
Type and Versatility
Determining the best wood floor cleaner is all about the finish of your floors. Were they prefinished or site-finished? UV-cured or infused with oil? “The type of finish you have is what is most important in determining the type of cleaner to use,” explains Rick Wagner, vice president of sales at Duchateau. “For a sealed finish, any cleaner that states it can be used on sealed wood floors will work fine. For oil-based finishes, like those used at Duchateau, it is important to use a cleaner specially formulated for oil-based finished floors. Regular sealed-wood floor cleaning products will dry out your oil-finished floor.”
This information can typically be found through the manufacturer or the contractor who installed your floors. If you don’t know, don’t panic—Dupra recommends reaching out to a professional, like a local independent retailer. Luckily most hardwood floors installed today are sealed, and the protective coating is often the same one used for a number of flooring types, including laminate and vinyl, so multipurpose cleaners are actually quite effective and versatile. But in general, you’ll want to avoid labels that claim they polish, rejuvenate, or add shine to your floors; these solutions likely include additives that can leave a film behind. “The point of a cleaner is to remove, not to add,” says Dupra. “It can cause a really expensive problem down the road because you can’t undo it.”
Concentrate vs. Ready-to-Use
Every cleaner on our list is a concentrate, which will require you to dilute it with water before giving your floors a spritz or mopping. This is often a more sustainable option, as companies don’t need to transport water, simultaneously reducing the need for extra packaging. Most will also offer a spray bottle that you can refill rather than having to replace it every time you run out.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to use your wood floor cleaner as often as your vacuum. In fact, cleaners really only need to be used to spot-treat messes or remove footprints (or paw prints), rather than giving every plank a spray. Experts recommend using dust or sponge mops (great for applying cleaner onto an oiled floor) and microfiber cloths (best for wiping down sealed floors). “It is also a good idea to use the two-bucket system: one bucket of diluted cleaner (according to label instructions) and a second bucket with clean rinse water,” suggests Wagner. Still, you don’t want to dump water all over your wood floors; these two elements aren’t the best of friends, and moisture can get trapped between boards. “Too much water can cause wood to swell and move, so the less you use, the better,” explains Marc Bacher, CEO of Stuga, a Scandinavian-inspired wood company beloved by Chris and Julia. TL;DR: You only need to dampen the floor, not drench it.
Q: How often should I clean my hardwood floors?
A good rule of thumb is to simply sweep or vacuum your floors—using a hardwood floor attachment or turning off the beater bar to avoid scratching—weekly. Otherwise the frequency depends on your lifestyle and location. “If your home is beachside, you’ll need to clean much more than someone living in an urban high-rise,” points out Bacher, as sand and salt water can quickly damage the top layer of wood. But when it comes to spraying and wiping down your floors, you don’t have to do it as often as you might think. “In America, we tend to overclean,” notes Bacher. “Using too much product will leave residue on the floor, making it look dull.”
If routine vacuuming doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, most robot vacuums are safe on hardwood and an easy line of defense against dust and dirt from accumulating, adds Bacher. He also highlights that one of the best things you can do to protect your floors is to take your shoes off at the front door. The abrasive quality of dirt, especially on the bottom of shoes or even slippers, is akin to taking sandpaper to your floor.
Q: Can I steam mop my hardwood floors?
We won’t sugarcoat this one: Don’t ever steam mop a wood floor—or really any wood-based floor, for that matter. Even laminate. “I don’t care what kind of floor you have: Yes it will certainly clean your floor, but it will subsequently dramatically and drastically shorten its life span because it damages the structural integrity of the finish,” stresses Dupra. It can even void your warranty.
The Last Word
Determining the best hardwood floor cleaner depends on your floor finish as well as how frequently you need to clean. Do you want something for a monthly deep scrub-down or something you can reach for to spot-treat a mess or a collection of muddy paw prints? More than anything, wood floor experts note you need to vacuum or sweep to keep dirt and debris at bay, as this is what will wear down your floor over time. So vacuum first, then reach for one of our rigorously tested, eco-conscious floor cleaners to take care of the rest.