Is It Safe to Clean Hardwood Floors With Bleach? (Quick Guide)

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Bleach is a powerful chemical disinfectant used to whiten clothes, remove stains, and sanitize toilets.

But, it’s not the ideal solution for every household cleaning scenario.

If you’re preparing to give your home a deep cleaning, you might be wondering:

Is it safe to clean hardwood floors with bleach?

The short answer is no. It’s not safe to clean hardwood floors with bleach because bleach can break down the wood’s finish and seep into the porous fibers causing discoloration and weakening the structure of the floorboards.

When you consider the number of safe and effective alternatives available, there is no reason to use bleach and risk damaging your hardwood floors.

Under certain conditions, you can get away with cleaning hardwood floors with a heavily diluted bleach solution. However, you should do it very sparingly and take several precautions (I’ll explain in a minute).

In the following sections, I dive deeper into the topic of cleaning hardwood floors with bleach. You’ll learn why it’s not a wise choice, the alternative cleaning solutions, and much more.

Let’s dive in!


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What Happens When You Clean Hardwood Floors With Bleach?

First, wood is a porous material, and without a durable finish, liquids can penetrate several layers deep. Though hardwood floors are usually treated with a sealant that deflects moisture,  chemicals (i.e., bleach) and acidic formulas can breaks down the finish and expose the wood.

Can you use bleach on wood floors? Though there is some debate, I don’t recommend it.

Let’s look at the first potential negative outcome of using bleach on hardwood floors: discoloration.

Discoloration

The active ingredient in bleach is sodium hypochlorite, a highly corrosive and reactive substance. It kills bacteria, fungi, and viruses, but it can also alter colors. 

When bleach comes in contact with any color, it changes it at a molecular level, altering the composition of those molecules and how they reflect light.

Just like when used on clothing or hair, bleach whitens and lightens molecules. It can have the same effect on floors, especially wood floors with a dark stain. For this reason, there are other methods and alternatives to clean your floors.

Here’s the key takeaway: you can use bleach on wood floors, but you’ll run the risk of altering the color.

Weakens Wood

Wood cells are held together by lignans, which are fibrous, plant-based compounds. Bleach can break the bonds, and when wood bonds are broken, it risks the structural integrity of your floors or stairs. 

Splinters, creaking floors, or worse are all possible outcomes when you use bleach on a hardwood floor, especially over time.

For this reason, bleach should not be used on wood that needs to retain its strength, such as on stairs, chairs, or outdoor decks because it could cause hazardous conditions.

That said, all bleach is not created equal. Let’s delve into the different types to get a better understanding.

Are Any Types of Bleach Safe to Use?

As stated before, sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient in most bleach products, but depending on the type of bleach, you’ll get a different effect and a different active ingredient.

In general, there are four types of household cleaning bleaches:

  • Oxalic Acid
  • Chlorine Bleach
  • Two-Part (A/B) Bleach
  • Non-Chlorine Bleach

Oxalic acid, chlorine bleach, and two-part bleach all have caustic active ingredients. This simply means that they are corrosive.

These three types of bleach break the bonds of chromophores in wood and change how they reflect light, thereby altering color. Each differs in the aspects of cleaning and how they affect wood, but none of them eliminate the risks to hardwood floors.

The fourth type, non-chlorine bleach, is also known as oxygen bleach. An example of this is the popular brand, OxiClean

Non-chlorine bleach is structured differently and is less toxic, but not as powerful as the other bleaches in terms of disinfection. The active ingredient is sodium percarbonate, which behaves differently than sodium hypochlorite. When mixed with water, sodium percarbonate creates tiny bubbles that loosen stains.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of bleach.

Oxalic Acid

This type of bleach comes in crystalline form and, when mixed with water, creates an acid that reacts with the wood to release oxygen radicals. It is weaker than the other bleaches but useful for removing stains.

Chlorine Bleach

Chlorine bleach is probably the one you are most familiar with; the most common brand is Clorox. This type releases oxygen radicals and chlorite radicals — molecules formed of one chlorine and one oxygen atom. It’s best for removing dyes and problem stains.

Two-Part (A/B) Bleach

This refers to sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and hydrogen peroxide. Combining sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide causes a chemical reaction that creates bleach that will blanch the stain and can alter the color of the wood.

This type of bleach is never recommended for interior use.

Non-Chlorine Bleach

This bleach comes in a powder and liquid form and uses oxygen as its active ingredient. It is a less toxic option and more environmentally-friendly, though it doesn’t have the same disinfecting power or color-altering effect of chlorine bleach.

To sum up, if you need to use bleach on your wood floors for disinfection purposes, start with the mildest form: oxalic acid. While non-chlorine beach is even milder, it won’t have the same cleaning impact that oxalic acid can deliver.

Now that you’ve had a brief overview of the different bleach types, let’s look at how bleach might impact a variety of hardwood floors.

Is Bleach Safe on Any Type of Hardwood Floor?

There are many types of hardwood floors, and each has its own characteristics in terms of beauty, natural color, and strength. The Janka Hardness Rating measures the strength of wood.

Much like the Rockwell Scale for metal, the higher the number on the Janka Scale, the stronger the wood. More durable and harder woods like hickory, especially when finished, make it more difficult for bleach to penetrate and break down. But, before using it, ask yourself if it’s worth the risk.

The general recommendation is not to use bleach on any hardwood floors. But, the reaction between the bleach and wood may vary depending on the type of wood.

When Can You Use Bleach on Hardwood Floors?

Even though I don’t recommend it, there are a few situations where one-time use or infrequent applications of bleach might be permissible, but keep in mind it still carries the risk of altering the look and integrity of your hardwood floors. Let’s look at a few examples.

Types of Finish

Some types of surface finishes, such as polyurethane, can hold its own against bleach better than a penetrating finish like linseed oil. While a penetrating finish sinks deep into the pores of the wood, a surface finish rests on the top of the wood to prevent the absorption of liquids. 

Keep in mind that caustic agents like bleach can still penetrate surface finishes, and it easily infiltrates penetrating finishes.

Age of Wood Floor

Older wood floors break down faster than newly installed floors. Over time, wood naturally settles and shows signs of wear. Besides that, finishes must be reapplied periodically, so if your floor has been neglected, it may be more susceptible to damage from bleach.

Bleach Concentration

The strength of the bleach matters. Only use bleach when it is diluted significantly with water. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends five tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water as a dilution ratio for disinfection.

Spot Cleaning

If you’re cleaning a small area, use a diluted bleach solution and test it first to see how the bleach will react to your wood floors.

Next, let’s look at some bleach-free alternatives to getting your hardwood floors clean.

Bleach-Free Alternatives for Cleaning Hardwood Floors

Your best bet is to always use the recommended cleaning product by the floor manufacturer or mild soap and water. Below are some trusted products for cleaning hardwood floors.

Safer Alternatives to Bleach

Here are a few safe hardwood cleaning products to consider as alternatives to bleach:

Bona: Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner was rated Best Overall according to cleaning experts at Good Housekeeping. Its water-based formula is safe for use on finished and unfinished wood floors. It dries fast and is available in a handy spray bottle for easy application. Just spray and mop. You can buy Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner on Amazon, or check out my in-depth review to learn more.

Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner Review
Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner

Rejuvenate: Rejuvenate Wood Floor Restorer and Rejuvenate Wood Floor Cleaner are non-toxic pour-and-mop products. The restorer is great for filling in scratches and bringing back shine while the cleaner is a quick-dry formula designed to remove tough dirt without leaving residue. You can read my comparison of Bona vs. Rejuvenate to learn more or read dozens of reviews on Amazon.

Pledge: Pledge Clean It Gentle Wood Floor Cleaner is another popular and safe product recommended by Good Housekeeping. It’s ideal for large jobs, has a signature lemon scent, and requires no mixing. Just point the bottle at your surface, squeeze, and mop. It’s very affordable and available on Amazon.

Black Diamond: Black Diamond Wood & Laminate Floor Cleaner is another reliable alternative to bleach. Like Bona, it comes in an easy-to-use spray bottle and is safe on all types of wood. It’s eco-friendly, safe for use around children and pets, and promises a streak-free shine. Check it out on Amazon.

Clorox Disinfecting Wet Mopping Pads: Clorox makes bleach-free, hardwood floor-safe wet mopping pads that disinfect and kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria. Attach these disposable pads to a Swiffer Sweeper or similar mop head, wipe the floors, and air-dry. Although you’ll need a new pad every time you clean, the 12-pack is relatively affordable on Amazon.

Cleaning Solutions to Avoid

Avoid cleaning solutions that are designed for tile floors. According to Bona, tile floor cleaners contain strong degreasing agents that can damage the finish on hardwoods.

If you prefer making your own cleaning solutions, avoid lemon juice or white vinegar as cleaning agents. These products are acidic and not designed to clean porous surfaces like wood.

Similar to the degreasing agents in title floor cleaners, the acids from the lemon juice or vinegar can break down the finish on your floor and allow water to seep into and damage the wood, causing it to warp, expand, or cup (the same way bleach might).

How to Clean Deep Stains Without Bleach

With a surface stain, you may be able to remove it if you address the issue quickly with one of the beach alternatives mentioned in this article. But, if you’re dealing with deeper stains, you need to take a targeted approach.

Below are tried-and-true methods for removing common stains from your hardwood floors without bleach.

Note: I go into more detail about these methods in this guide to deep cleaning hardwood floors.

  • Scuff Marks: Rub a pencil eraser or tennis ball firmly across the scuff marks.
  • Oil and Grease: Mix dish soap and water and scrub the oil and grease stains in a circular motion.
  • Paint: Rub the paint with a damp microfiber cloth. If that doesn’t work, dip the cloth in a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol and try again.
  • Pet Stains: Dampen a cloth in a solution of four parts water and one part white vinegar and scrub the area. Sprinkle baking soda to absorb the odor, wait 10 minutes, and clean up the baking soda with a damp cloth.
  • Water Stains: Place a cloth on the stain and rub a hot clothes iron on it for several minutes (with the steam setting off).
  • Chewing Gum: Put ice cubes in a plastic bag to harden the gum. Carefully chip the cold gum off with a plastic knife.
  • Sticky Residue: Dip a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponge in a 4 to 1 water/vinegar solution and rub out the residue.
  • Wax: Use a hairdryer to loosen the wax gently. Then, wipe the wax with a clean microfiber cloth. Check out these other effective methods.

If the stain has had time to set and has penetrated the layers of wood, you may have to strip, sand, and reseal the wood.

If you don’t feel comfortable tackling this project alone, use home improvement resources like Home Advisor.

Bottom Line: Bleach Will Damage Hardwood Floors

You’ll see all kinds of opinions about whether to use bleach on hardwood floors, but when it comes to maintaining the beauty of hardwood, I suggest you refrain from using bleach.

The bottom line is that bleach is a caustic agent that can damage hardwood floors. It could happen immediately or with repeated use, but the nature of its chemical makeup breaks elements like wood down and alters its color.

Here’s a quick wrap up of why you should not use bleach on wood floors:

  • It can alter the color of your floors.
  • It can weaken the wood.
  • It can remove the finish and allow water to penetrate.
  • It can cause damage that might require professional help at a high cost.

Here is what you should use instead:

  • Recommended cleaner from your floor’s manufacturer
  • Mild soap and water
  • Natural cleaning solutions that don’t contain lemon juice or vinegar (unless significantly diluted)

If you’re concerned about keeping your floors clean and disinfected, having a regular cleaning schedule will help. Whatever you do, avoid the use of bleach directly on your hardwood.

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