Cleaning Hardwood Floors with Oil Soap or Wax

Cleaning hardwood floors with oil soap or wax based products on a polyurethane finish can not only void the manufacturers warranty but often causes an unsightly residue that prevents future re-coats from adhering to the floor.

There are many misleading retail floor cleaning products that claim to be "safe for wood floors" or "safe for all hard floor surfaces", leaving the consumer to believe that includes cleaning hardwood floors.

You aren't cleaning raw wood. You are cleaning the urethane coating that protects the wood.

"Water is a hardwood floor's worst enemy. Clean up spills immediately. Do not use a damp mop or oil-based soap. Always check with the flooring manufacturer for recommended cleaning products."
American Hardwood Information Center

Avoid Cleaning Hardwood Floors
with Oil Soap or Wax

Some homeowners use oil soaps, such as Murphy's Oil Soap. This product has been around for a long, long time and is aggressively marketed to the consumer for wood flooring.

Hardwood floor wax paste or wax based products are another common mistake when used on urenthane finished wood.

A hardwood polisher, such as Pledge wood floor cleaner, can also cause major problems for the wood floor owner.

Cleaning hardwood floors with oil soap or wax can leave thick residues that must be removed, if possible, by powerful cleaners. A neutralizer recommended by a professional finish company, such as Basic Coatings, might be effective. Or a full sand and refinish may be necessary.

If your wood floors have been exposed to oil, soap or wax based cleaning products, you may notice footprints, a dull finish, smears, smudges, streaks or a residue that is sticky.

Murphy Oil Soap™ Debate

There is a lot of debate over the issue of cleaning hardwood floors with Murphy Oil Soap™.

An internet search of this topic will quickly reveal many, many distraught hardwood floor owners who seem to have ruined their floor with this product and hardwood flooring contractors strongly advising against its use.

There are those who continue to defend Murphy Oil Soap™ as safe for polyurethane coated flooring, including the makers of this product, Colgate-Palmolive Company.

The fact remains, however, that none of the hardwood floor craftsmen who support and participate in this website will comfortably recommend this product.

Nor do hardwood flooring manufacturers - who will void your warranty if you use it.

Never use any of the following products (or products similar in nature) on
your floor: ammonia-based cleaners, acrylic finishes, wax-based products,
detergents, bleach, polishes, oil soap, abrasive cleaning soaps, or acidic materials such as vinegar.
Armstrong Hardwood Flooring Warranty

Important: Do not use oil soaps, liquid or paste wax products or other household cleaners that contain citrus oils, lemon oil, tung oil, silicon, or ammonia since these warranties do not cover damage caused by nonrecommended products. Use of these and other such products will harm the long-term performance of your floor and may also affect its recoatability.
Anderson Floors Warranty

Hardwood Floor Wax
Wood Floor Polish

Do not use wax or silicone-based polishes or cleaners. Some wood flooring cleaners sold at your local store may actually make the floor more difficult to clean and may create problems when the floor requires refinishing.
Basic Coatings

Perhaps you haven't been cleaning hardwood floors with oil, soap or wax based products, but you aren't the original owner and you've noticed symptoms like footprints, sticky spots or smears.

If you are concerned your wood floor may be damaged by the use of inappropriate products, follow the instructions below to test an inconspicuous area.

Test for Paste Wax

To test for paste wax, it is best to test an area that has low traffic but also is part of the main living area (behind a door is a good place to start).

1.) Clean the test area with a hardwood floor cleaner or a very diluted mixture of vinegar and water.

2.) Dry the area thoroughly. Next, put one drop of mineral spirits on the floor and let it sit for three minutes.

3.) Wipe the area with a white soft cloth. If the cloth is stained yellow or brown - or feels waxy - there is a paste wax on the floor surface.

4.) If paste wax is present, a full sand and refinish is most likely necessary as a recoat will not adhere to the floor.

Test for Wood Floor Polish

Never wax a surface-finished floor, and never use vinyl or tile floor care products on any wood floor. Self-polishing acrylic waxes cause wood to become slippery and appear dull quickly.
Wood Floors.org

Test for Acrylic Polish

To test for acrylic polish, test an area that has low traffic but also is part of the main living area - such as behind a door.

1.) Clean the test area with a hardwood floor cleaner or a very diluted mixture of vinegar and water.

2.) Dry the area thoroughly.

3.) Combine 1 teaspoon ammonia, 1 teaspoon water and one drop of dishwashing detergent. Place one drop of this mixture on the floor and let it sit for five to 10 minutes.

4.) If a white spot appears, then there probably is a floor polish or wax on the floor.

Cleaning Hardwood Floors with
Oil Soap and Wax is Unresolved

It seems to be very convincing evidence against products like Murphy Oil Soap™ when manufacturers and industry experts, for the most part, will not recommend it.

And yet, some house cleaning professionals, wood floor owners and the makers of the products themselves boast of Murphy Oil Soap™ and others as safe and effective.

It may be that cleaning hardwood floors with oil soap or wax products are not being used according to label directions.

It may be that cleaning hardwood floors with oil soap or wax products were used prior to the use of a product such as Murphy Oil Soap™, for example, and did some damage or left a residue.

Regardless, cleaning hardwood floors with oil soap or wax leaves behind solids - just as soap leaves a residue on your skin and shampoo leaves build-up in your hair - even after rinsing.

The effect on polyurethane-coated floors is that new layers of polyurethane - needed for care and maintenance of hardwood floors every several years - will no longer adhere to the floor's surface due to these build-ups.

And if the residue cannot be removed professionally by powerful cleaning agents, the only solution is to completely remove all previous polyurethane coatings by sanding the floor down to bare wood and applying fresh layers of finish. A very expensive, time-consuming and avoidable predictament.

Our recommendation? Better safe than sorry.

Cleaning hardwood floors with oil soap or wax products is not necessary.

There are a number of excellent, inexpensive safe products available, recommended by manufacturers and contractors, that don't void your warranty, that aren't controversial.

You may also be interested in:

Vinegar to Clean Hardwood Floors
Cleaning Products Overview
Hardwood Floor Cleaning Products Guide

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