I’ll admit — wood floors deserve a gold medal for making our spaces look sophisticated, blending with almost every decor style, and being one of the most sought-after floor types.
Knowing how to polish wood floors correctly will bring out the natural beauty of your floors, conceal imperfections, reduce wear and tear, and extend their longevity.
Wood floors, especially those in high-traffic areas, deal with a lot every day — pet hair, loose dirt, debris, sticky fingerprints, pet nail scratches………….you name it.
That’s why giving your hardwood flooring the VIP treatment through cleaning and polishing shouldn’t be a one-and-done deal.
Not sure what to do to up your polishing game?
Stick around as I blow the whistle on all there is to know about hardwood floor cleaning, basic hardwood floor care, and polishing hardwood surfaces like a pro. I’ll drop a few cleaning hacks that will have your floors shining like new.
*This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.
Why Does My Floor Look Dull? (7 Possible Reasons)
Here are seven good reasons behind your hardwood floor’s dull and dingy appearance:
#1 You May Just Be Moving Dirt Around
Giving your hardwood floors a mop down without clearing all the dust and debris first with a dust mop or vacuum cleaner is pretty much smearing dirt around.
When you mop floors without removing dirt, you leave behind a muddy solution on the surfaces.
This muddy mess will dry up, making your floors dull and dingy. “Sweep or vacuum before mopping” is the motto when it comes to cleaning hardwood floors.
#2 You May Be Using the Wrong Cleaners
When shopping for a cleaner for your hardwood floors, you need to get one specifically suited for your floor type. Some cleaners contain pretty harsh chemicals.
Using the wrong cleaning product will leave a hazy-looking residue on your wood floors and damage these surfaces in the long run.
#3 You May Be Using Too Much Cleaning Product
No matter how dirty your floors are, don’t pour the cleaning product into your mop water like there’s no tomorrow.
Product build-up on your hardwood floors will dull their shine.
#4 You May Not Be Completing the Job
When you finish mopping your wood floors, don’t just leave the surfaces to dry completely and hope for the best shine.
You need to buff the dried floors — either by hand (using a dry microfiber mop or a soft, clean cloth) or with a buffing machine.
Buffing is super important as it helps prevent streaking, which normally causes dull floors.
#5 You May Have Loads of Scratch
If your wood floors are too scratched up, they will appear extra dull.
Simple things like trimming your pet’s nails often, sweeping or vacuuming your floors regularly, putting felt furniture pads under your furniture legs to avoid scratching, and not walking on your wood floors with heels (high heels scratch floors) can make a huge difference in the appearance of your surfaces.
It’s better to have minor scratches than full-blown scratches on your wooden floor.
#6 You May Have Many Layers of Wax or Polish Build Up
Using excess paste wax or polish leaves behind an extra sticky residue that attracts dust and dirt in no time.
The outcome? Dull-looking surfaces.
#7 You May Need to Refinish Your Floor
Hardwood floors also experience normal wear and tear.
So when your floors can’t seem to shine anymore despite using the right wood floor cleaner, mopping properly, and not using too much floor wax or polish, it might be time for a refinish.
You can embark on a simple DIY project or call in hardwood flooring experts.
Refinishing Instructions (What to Do to Get the Most Pristine Results)
If you’ve made up your mind to give your hardwood floors a complete makeover, here are four key things to keep in mind for a successful refinishing project:
#1 Test the Finish on Your Wood Floors
Before going all in with the product, test the finish on your floor surfaces.
You see, some wood floors require water-based finishes, while others strictly need oil finishes.
For instance, a floor with a polyurethane finish may do well with a water-based finish. But flooring with a penetrating finish like tang oil needs an oil-based finish.
You can know your hardwood floor was finished with an oil-based finish by rubbing fine steel wool lightly on an inconspicuous area (like on a surface that’s always covered with a rug).
If there’s a waxy coating on the fine steel wool, it means your flooring has an oil-based finish and therefore needs to be refinished with an oil finish.
#2 Clear and Clean Your Wood Floors of Dirt and Dust
Clean wood floors guarantee desirable refinishing results. So, ensure you thoroughly clean the entire floor with a damp mop before refinishing.
You wouldn’t want to end up coating dirt and debris.
Use your vacuum cleaner or dust mop to remove dust and dirt before starting the actual floor cleaning. You can mix warm water with a few drops of dish soap to mop your surfaces.
Also, before using a homemade solution like diluted white vinegar to clean hardwood floors, make sure you first test it on an inconspicuous spot to see if it will dull or shine the area.
#3 Spot Treat Any Tough Spots or Stains
Look for any stains or tough spots on the surface, and use a hardwood floor stain remover and a clean cloth (microfiber cloth) to get rid of the stains before applying the finish to these areas.
#4 Apply Polish Per Manufacturer’s Instructions
Always read the manufacturer’s instructions on the product label before applying the product on your surfaces. This will ensure you use the recommended quantity and tools so that the refinishing turns out exactly as you wanted.
Wood Floor Polishing — Essential Do’s and Don’ts
For a successful, hassle-free polishing experience, here’s a list of what you should do and what to avoid as you prepare to polish your wood floors:
TOP POLISHING DO’S
#1 Measure your floors first
Before buying your preferred wood polish, find the square footage of your entire floor to ensure you purchase enough product to finish the job.
Simply get the length and width of the room in feet using a tape measure, and multiply the two measurements. For example, if the length and width each come to 12 feet, then the surface is 144 square feet.
Generally speaking, a bottle of polish with a 32 oz capacity can cover a floor surface of around 500 sq ft.
#2 Clear Furniture and Clean Floor Before You Start Polishing
Make sure you clear the furniture in the room and clean your floors thoroughly with a clean, damp mop (that you’ve wrung out well) before applying the product.
Simply prepare your mop water by adding a little dish detergent in warm water, and use it to clean your surfaces (always change the water when it gets dirty).
And remember the golden rule — sweep or vacuum before damp mopping any room.
Pro Tip: Never leave standing water on hardwood floors when cleaning. Too much water damages wood floors.
#3 Always Use A Soft Clean Pad to Apply Polish
It’s important to use a mop that doesn’t leave scratches on hardwood floors and guarantees a smooth finish when polishing.
I recommend using a flat head mop with a microfiber pad. Ensure the microfiber pad is clean and dry before using it on your hardwood flooring.
#4 Work in Small Sections
Cleaning in sections will enable you to apply the wood floor polish smoothly and perfectly before moving to the next section.
Start with a section on the furthest corner as you work towards floors near the exit door.
Apply a small amount of polish on the section (like an s-shaped amount) and use your dry microfiber mop to spread the product back and forth — follow the direction of the wood grain.
#5 Always Test Polish in a Small, Inconspicuous Area First
The only way to know whether the product you’ve settled for will meet your aesthetic desires is to test it before coating the entire surface.
So, be sure to test the product on a small area of the floor (preferably on an area that’s in the corner or always hidden under furniture).
This next point is important…….
Do not use paste wax on floors that need a water-based polish, and vice versa. If you’re unsure what your surface needs, here’s a quick test to help you find out.
- Pour about two drops of water on an inconspicuous spot. Let the water sit for a few minutes, then check whether white spots have appeared. If you see white spots in the water drops, it means your wood floor has a wax finish and should be waxed.
#6 Apply Polish Directly on Floor (As Per Instructions)
Always spritz the product directly on the floor following an S pattern (this will help you avoid using excess polish), and follow all the instructions on the product label.
Top Wood Polishing Don’ts
#1 Don’t Use Old Polish
Expired polish won’t produce the results you desire to see.
For this reason, double-check the shelf life of that bottle of polish that’s been sitting in your cabinet for months before using it on your floors.
#2 Don’t Use Anything Other Than What’s Instructed for Application
Even if you trust your creative or innovative skills, don’t apply the product on your floors using an applicator that hasn’t been recommended on the product label.
#3 Don’t Dampen Your Applicator Unless Instructions Say Otherwise
If the instructions on the product label haven’t stated you need to dampen your microfiber mop with water before using it to spread the wood polish, don’t do it.
#4 Don’t Rinse Out Your Applicator During Application
Rinsing your mop head when you’re yet to finish applying the product can do more harm than good. So, only use a dry mop throughout unless the instructions say otherwise.
#5 Don’t Use Spray Bottles or Buckets to Apply Polish
You should only spritz the product directly from its bottle. Don’t try to mix it up with water in a spray bottle or bucket.
#6 Don’t Over Apply Polish
Overpolishing doesn’t automatically guarantee the shiniest surface.
The excess liquid build-up will eventually make your floors hazy and sticky. It’s often said that you shouldn’t do more than three coats of polish when working on your hardwood flooring.
So, apply enough, smooth it out, and let it absorb.
Finishing the Job
When you’ve finished the first round of polishing your floors, you should wait at least 24 hours before going over the surface with a second layer of polish.
Plus, you should wait at least 6-24 hours before stepping on the just-polished floor with socks.
As for walking on the floors with shoes or returning furniture to their usual spot, you should until 24 hours have lapsed.
How to Polish Wood Floors Correctly: Final Thoughts
Hardwood floors are one of the most stunning floor types out there, but they can’t look their best throughout without our help.
Regular hardwood floor cleaning and polishing is the best way to bring your wood floors back to life. But maintaining this natural shine requires more than just routine cleaning and polishing.
For instance, you must use a product that suits your floor type, know how to clean hardwood floors properly, dust and clean your floors well before polishing, avoid overpolishing your floors, and much, much more.
Incorporating all these tips will ensure your surfaces don’t lose their luster too soon and protect them from lasting damage.
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Grainne Foley is a wife and mother of 2 great kids. During her 5 years of full time RV travel, Grainne learned to become very efficient at household chores, in order to make time for family adventures. Now, back in a house, she has continued to create tools and techniques to help others lighten the load of household organization and cleaning.