How to Clean Varnished Hardwood Floors

Updated February 21, 2017

Varnish adds a nice glow to your hardwood floors, but it can pose problems when the time comes to clean them. If you use harsh cleaning chemicals on the floor, they might stain or fade the varnish, giving the floor an old and ugly appearance. If your cleaning chemicals are too mild, though, you might not remove all of the accumulated dirt and grime. This doesn't mean that cleaning your varnished hardwood floors is impossible. If you take the time to understand the type of finish your floor has, cleaning the floor is a simple matter.

Rub your finger across the hardwood floor and check for a smudge. If you don't see a smudge, it means your floors are surface-sealed (covered with a hard protective shell to prevent staining from moisture). If you do see a smudge, skip to the Penetrating-Sealed Floors section.

Sweep loose debris off your floor. Surface-sealed floors don't require you to sweep them often, but loose debris on the floor interferes with the cleaning process. Dispose of the debris with a dustpan.

Scrub your floor with warm water and a mild dish-washing detergent. Use a soft-bristled brush or mop to not scratch your floors as you scrub. Use a moist cleaning utensil instead of a soaking wet one, or it might leave puddles that can damage the wood flooring.

Polish your surface-sealed floors using floor polish. Different polish brands have different application guidelines, so read the product label carefully and follow the instructions fully.

Rub your finger across the surface of your floor. If a smudge remains, your floors have a penetrating seal (where the sealants sink into the wood) that is not moisture-resistant.

Sweep your penetrating-sealed floors and dispose of the debris with a dustpan. Since you should not use moist cleaning products on a floor with this type of seal, sweeping them regularly is the best way to prevent unsightly build-up from forming.

Strip old wax and grime from your floor once a year, using white spirit. Do not use water to clean these floors. The water will leave unsightly stains.

Apply paste wax by smoothing it onto the floor using a cloth. Buff the wax (with either a cloth or a floor buffer) until the surface of the floor shines. Apply a second coat if you desire.


A vacuum cleaner can work in place of a broom when the time comes to remove loose dirt.

Things You'll Need

  • Broom and dustpan
  • Warm water
  • Mild dish-washing detergent
  • Soft-bristled brush or mop
  • Floor polish
  • White spirit
  • Paste wax
  • Cloth
  • Floor buffer
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About the Author

Shae Hazelton is a professional writer whose articles are published on various websites. Her topics of expertise include art history, auto repair, computer science, journalism, home economics, woodworking, financial management, medical pathology and creative crafts. Hazelton is working on her own novel and comic strip while she works as a part-time writer and full time Medical Coding student.