How to clean or finish an old pine wood floor

Updated February 21, 2017

An analysis of the type of pine you have and how it is currently finished is the first step in cleaning and refinishing an old pine wood floor. The earliest pine floors found in the northern United States were not treated or finished in any way. These floors aged to an amber shade after years of washing with a mixture of water and lye. The flooring was flat-sawn, wide-board, white pine with a tight wood grain. Southern pine floors featured dense, unfinished heart wood. Once finishing products became more widely available after 1860, pine floors often received a coating of linseed oil or wax.

Sweep or vacuum the floor to remove surface dust and residue. Do not use the beater bar or power head attachment of your vacuum on wood floors as this will result in unwanted scratching.

Mix 1/4 cup of white vinegar with 887ml of warm water in a clean, unused spray bottle. Spray your white cotton rag or towel with the vinegar-water solution and lightly damp mop your floor.

Clean a section at a time, changing dirty cloths for clean as you work; dry each area thoroughly before moving on to the next one. This method will prevent damaging water absorption to your old floors.

Spot-clean heavy stains not removed by your vinegar-water solution by lightly rubbing the stain out of the area by hand using extra fine steel wool. Apply floor wax to a clean cotton cloth and hand rub the sanded area until fine scratches are eliminated.

Wash your floor.

Scratch the floor's surface with a bit of very fine steel wool in a hidden corner or closet to determine its existing finish. If a bit of the surface finish is removed but the wood itself is not scratched, you have a floor treated with a penetrating sealer and a wax finish. If the wood itself is scratched, you have an original unfinished pine floor. If the scratch test reveals an original unfinished pine floor, do not apply any finish or wax. Leave the floor unfinished to maintain its authenticity and value.

Apply linseed oil to a damp cloth and gently rub it into the surface of the floor if your floor has been treated. Wipe away any excess oil immediately using a clean, dry cloth. Work in sections until the entire floor has been treated. Allow the floor to dry overnight.

Apply paste floor wax to the floor using a clean, dry cloth. Rub the wax into the wood in small, circular movements.

Use a clean, dry cloth to hand buff the floor wax to form a protective sheen. Work in sections until the entire floor has been waxed.


Never clean a wood floor with soap and water. The wood cells will swell and cause warping. Clean and/or finish old pine floors by hand. Avoid using a power buffer that could scratch the soft wood surface.

Things You'll Need

  • Broom
  • Vacuum with floor attachment
  • Vinegar
  • Measuring cup
  • Warm water
  • Spray bottle
  • Cleaning rags or towels made from white cotton
  • Drying rags or towels made from white cotton
  • Extra-fine steel wool
  • Linseed oil
  • Floor wax-paste
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About the Author

Kevin Ann Reinhart, a retired teacher-librarian, has written professionally since 1976. Reinhart first published in "Writers' Undercover" Cambridge Writers Collective II. She has a bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from the University of Waterloo and a librarian specialist certificate from Queen's University and the University of Toronto.