Taking care of hardwood or laminate floors can be challenging given the everyday conditions of a family and pets.
Generally, there are two types of residential wood flooring: real wood (solid or engineered) and laminate that is man-made to look like wood.
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, just whether the floors have been treated to make them resistant to standing water, which is the enemy of all wood and wood-like floors.
Drop-of-water test. 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 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 the floors will be damaged.
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. Just dust mop it with a flat-head mop.
Wood floor cleaners. When it comes to wood and laminate cleaners, you can spend a fortune on commercial products like Bona Black Diamond. Or you can make your own for pennies.
The key to making your own 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, even when used repeatedly over many years.
No vinegar. White vinegar is a fabulous cleaning product because it cuts through dirt well. But it is highly acidic and, used repeatedly over time, can attack the finish, making your floors 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.
Yes, alcohol. 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. It has a nearly neutral pH — neither acidic nor alkaline. This makes alcohol the perfect ingredient in your homemade cleaner to not only clean but also protect and preserve beautifully finished wood and laminate floors.
Distilled water. Use distilled water in your floor cleaner (available in any supermarket) to eliminate streaking, hard watermarks and mineral buildup.
Blue Dawn. A very small amount of Blue Dawn — not so much that it requires rinsing — will break the surface tension of the water, making the cleaner much more effective.
Homemade Wood and Laminate Floor Cleaner: It’s 1 part alcohol to 4 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. If you make it ahead of time, be sure to label it well and keep it out of the reach of children.
How to clean. Sweep or vacuum the floor. 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 using a microfiber spray mop, which works well on both wood and laminate floors.
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.
How to make your own furniture polish
Some time ago, I got a request from reader Kelly for a recipe for homemade furniture polish. She said that she uses a lot of it and it was getting expensive.
My first thought was, “Of course,” and to suggest she time her purchases with furniture polish sales and then stock up. That was fresh on my mind, as I’d recently purchased a can of Pledge aerosol polish (reg. $5.49) for $1.50. What a deal!
Kelly didn’t mention environmental issues in her desire to make her own furniture polish, but after doing some research on the matter, I became convinced it may be something all of us should consider — perhaps even more than the high price of quality furniture cleaners, polishes and protectants.
Read the labels
I was quite shocked to see what goes into a can of commercial spray furniture polish (not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was not it).
Many contain synthetic ingredients like silicone, solvents, petroleum distillates and artificial fragrances to mask the chemical smells.
Since then, I’ve learned so much, mostly this: We can have a healthier home and save a lot of money at the same time by replacing chemical- and fragrance-laden furniture polish with homemade natural formulas.
Here are my top two, for your consideration:
Wood Furniture Polish No. 1
- 1 cup olive oil (see note)
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
Mix until blended well. You can do this in a blender or food processor to get the ingredients to emulsify, in much the same way you would make salad dressing. Mix the lemon juice and vinegar. Then start the machine, and pour in the oil very, very slowly until all is combined or emulsified.
To use, simply apply a small amount of the mixture with a soft cloth, and buff to a shine. Use sparingly! A little of this mixture will go a long way. It is best to start with a small amount on your cloth, adding more as necessary. If you leave too much oil on furniture, it will act as a magnet and attract the dust you’re trying to avoid.
Do not make large batches of furniture polish, because, unlike the canned stuff, these natural ingredients will lose their effectiveness over time. It is best to make up a small batch in the amount you will need at the time. Store in a clean container like a squeeze or spray bottle. Label the container, and always keep out of reach of children.
Note: If you can find it, you may prefer to use jojoba oil instead of olive oil (look in a health food store or online). Jojoba is a natural liquid wax that has no scent and will not become rancid.
This homemade furniture polish is better for your wood furniture than anything you buy at the store. It polishes, cleans and protects like no commercial product can. In a sturdy container with a tight-fitting lid, combine the following:
Wood Furniture Polish No. 2
- 1/3 cup boiled linseed oil (see note)
- 1/3 cup turpentine (gum spirits)
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
Shake well. Apply with a soft cloth, and wipe completely dry with a second clean soft cloth. Label clearly, and keep out of reach of children!
Note: It must be boiled linseed oil. Buy this at the hardware store or online. Do not attempt to boil it yourself.
Get rid of white rings. Before polishing wood furniture, check the wood for watermarks that look like white rings from where a wet glass or hot plate was previously placed. One way to remove that is with a little mayonnaise! Place a dot of the real stuff — full fat, no diet or lite version — on the problem, and then gently rub it into the stain.
Let the mayo remain on the mark for at least 15 minutes (it could take hours to penetrate properly). Then wipe it away. Remarkably, the mayonnaise should pull the moisture, which is causing the white markings, out of the wood surface. When the white rings are gone, proceed with your choice of polish to polish the surface.