Dear Angie: What’s the best way to clean a hardwood floor? – Les G., Baton Rouge, La.

Dear Les: Hardwood floors are a beautiful addition to any room and can really boost home value.

Installing hardwood flooring can also be a big investment, so proper care and maintenance – including cleaning – are important.

Laminate flooring is a bit more durable, but using the wrong cleaning supplies on hardwood can damage the wood and cause it to warp or even crack. So, here are some cleaning tips to help you safely care for your hardwood floor.

Knowing the floor cleaning don’ts

It’s a no-brainer that wood flooring and moisture don’t mix, so you’ll want to avoid any cleaners that involve a mop and bucket.

Getting your floor wet can cause the wood to expand, warp or even buckle. Solutions using vinegar or ammonia are too harsh for hardwood floors and can leave behind residue. Steam cleaners are also a big no-no for hardwood, since the steam can actually crack the wood.

Similarly, commercial polish, waxes, abrasive soaps and floor cleaners can damage your floor’s finish.

Most newer homes have finished hardwood floors that can withstand a small amount of moisture. But if your floor is unfinished, you’ll want to avoid liquid or water-based cleaners altogether, since even a small drop of water can leave behind a stain.

Choosing the right cleaning supplies

Whether you’ve chosen a solid hardwood floor, or more durable engineered hardwood or bamboo, you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to choosing cleaners.

If you purchased pre-finished hardwood flooring, check with the manufacturer for recommendations on which cleaning product to use. If your wood flooring was finished on site by the installer, find out what type of finish was used and consult with the manufacturer.

If you have an unsealed hardwood floor, you can use a solvent-based cleaner or wax made specifically for unfinished wood flooring. You can also buff the existing floor to restore shine. New waxing products should be added to unfinished wood floors every six to 12 months, at most.

Cleaning hardwood floors

Once you’ve found the right floor cleaner, get rid of larger dirt and debris by sweeping thoroughly or vacuuming with a soft brush attachment.

Don’t use an upright vacuum cleaner with a beater bar, which can dent or damage the floor.

To clean the floor, spray a small amount of cleaner on a soft cloth or microfiber mop. You want your mop damp, not wet, with just enough moisture to collect dirt and dust without leaving water behind.

Protecting your hardwood floor

Between cleanings, you can take steps to care for and protect your hardwood flooring.

Wipe up any spills or moisture immediately with a dry cloth.

Place rugs in entryways, high-traffic areas and near the kitchen sink to protect your floor from moisture and wear and tear.

Put felt pads on chair legs or any furniture that might be moved frequently, and use area rugs under coffee tables.

If you have pets, keep their nails trimmed to minimize scratches, and use caution while wearing high heels – or better yet, take your shoes off at the door.

While the color of any wood floor will change over time or with sun exposure, you can take steps to minimize sun fading by closing your blinds when no one is home or using sheer curtains.

Leaving sofas, tables and area rugs in the same spot year after year can cause uneven aging, so consider rearranging your furniture once a year or so.

Angie Hicks is founder of, provider of consumer reviews and services. Send questions to [email protected] or tweet with #AskAngie. Follow her @Angie_Hicks.

By Angie Hicks, Angie’s List (TNS)