Deep cleaning old wooden floors

After spending a few days in our new apartment (earlier this week), we realized one glaring problem:

the beautiful wooden floors are hideously dirty

It’s not that they look dirty, because as you may have noticed in the photos they are quite pretty and light (I’m guessing pine).

But after walking around on the floors with bare feet for a while, the bottoms of our feet started to look dirty. And by the end of the afternoon, they were down right black.

I think that part of it has to do with the fact that the apartment hasn’t been lived in for a few months. And they seem to have had someone in the apartment recently doing some renovations. If you’ve ever renovated in your own home, you know just how far dirt tends to reach and penetrate. And we’re clearly looking at a serious case of floor dirt buildup.

How to clean wood floors

I always used a bit of soap and vinegar with a bucket of hot water to clean our floors at the farm. But there’s conflicting verdicts online about cleaning hardwood floors with vinegar — and apparently it’s better for a routine cleaning versus a hard core dirt and grime removal mission. So it was time to do a little more research.

One important thing to know about cleaning wood floors is that standing water on them is your worst enemy. So using a really wet mop isn’t a good idea unless you’re following up quickly with a dry towel or something similar to soak up the excess water.  Usually if your floors are well sealed, you shouldn’t have too much trouble with mopping. But if there are deep scratches or areas that aren’t well stained, they are at risk for becoming further damaged by the water which seeps in. The best way to test your seal is to pour a spoonful of water on the floor. If it pools, you’ve got a good seal and you’re good to go.

As we’ve been packing up more things around here, I started thinking about a tool we’ve had in our pantry for the last while, going completely unused. It’s a really practical device that we got from Stefan’s parents when we moved into the farm — a super cool floor steamer. They figured it would help us keep our kitchen with the enormous beige tiles clean. And I have to say this steam floor cleaner is magical. But for some reason it often just seemed like too much extra work, despite the great results.

One of the really cool things about our Top Clean Profi is that it also has a regular vacuum built into it. In fact, there are several steamer cleaners on the market specifically for cleaning hard wood floors. But I figured since we’ve got this thing, I might as well do some more research to see if it will help us with our mission. And according to their brochure, you can definitely use it on wood floors as long as you run the vacuum at the same time, allowing a minimal amount of water to remain on the floors.

The Plan

What we’re planning to do now is to be here at the farm with the movers on the 16th until sometime in the afternoon. Once things are nearly wrapped up, we will high tail it over to Berlin and do a major cleaning mission. This will be made easier by the fact that Stefan’s parents will be here to help out.  We would have had plenty of time to clean when we were in Berlin earlier this week, but I hadn’t thought of the floor steamer at that point — and we didn’t happen to have a mop with us since we needed the only one we had at the farm.

We’ll do a spot test in one area first and see how things look. And hopefully will then be able to get all the rooms vacuumed and steamed (we’ll be using too different components for this to save time instead of just the steamer’s vacuum alone first) well before the movers arrive (which won’t be until the morning of the 17th anyway).

Once everything is moved in, we’ll also be putting down some large area rugs which will serve multiple functions. We’re definitely hoping they cut down on the echoes in the rooms (which the furniture will also help with) as well as dampen the pitter patter of Mackenzie’s feet since she tends to sound like an elephant when she runs and walks through the apartment. And no one wants to be “that neighbor” upstairs who constantly makes a ton of noise. The rugs should also help to catch random dirt and keep the floors warmer in the winter, which should certainly be a big help in this old house with mega-high ceilings.

What methods do you use to keep your wood floors clean?


    • says

      Another recommendation which came via FB is the following:
      My hubby lays and refinishes hardwood floors for living, when my floors at home seem dirty i use a solution of 1 gallon warm water and 1 cup of vinegar to mop the floors with. Then rinse with clear water, with a damp mop. Repeat as needed. Don’t use chemicals as that will destroy the finish.

  1. Amy Huff says

    This is probably both too late & not terribly helpful, but I use a steam mop on my hideous laminate floor, and LOVE it.  I sweep first, then use the steam mop (which uses only water), and it all evaporates in a few moments.  It leaves the floor feeling so CLEAN.  Works great on tile & vinyl too.  Good luck!

  2. Danielle Coleman says

    Agree wirth Tiffany – what ever you do do not use any kind of chemicals on your hardwood flooring…Although saying this I would not even use vinegar. Steam mops are a great solution and work really well :) If you are a little paranoid about any excess water (very very tiny) then just use a dry mop over the floor when finished.


  3. Shelli says

    My hardwood floors are 100 years old, they are not sealed, most likely waxed. They are very, very dirty. Some spots are even black. I have tried scrubbing with vinegar and water with no luck. Anyone have any suggestions?

    • Patricia says

      I recently acquired a home built in 1909. The original hardwood floors seem to be in really good condition other than the filth. I need to know how to clean these floors. Can someone please help?

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