Sunday, September 21, 2008

The How-to of "Wet Work": Floors

All that stuff under foot: cleaning your floors

Well, you’re just about down to the finish…with walls, woodwork, and windows all washed and clean, all that is left is what’s under your feet: floors and carpets. We’ll cover floors in this instalment.

Basic floor mopping technique:
1. Sweep and vacuum first:
Before mopping, floors must be thoroughly swept and vacuumed to remove all loose dust, dirt and debris. Remember: dirt + water = mud. Don’t make your work messier by failing to remove all loose dirt before adding water.

2. Gather your tools:
- two buckets
- a mop you can squeeze out nearly dry
- a sponge with a nylon scrubby back Keep a sponge just for floors so you don’t contaminate your food preparation surfaces by using the kitchen sponge on the floor.
- soft cloths for drying,
- a clean, empty spray bottle
- a clean dust mop (optional)

3. Assess your floor:
Before you begin, you must assess the type of floor you will be washing, as both the cleaning solution and the technique vary from one floor type to another. See the appropriate section below.

4. Prepare the proper cleaning solution:
Basic Cleaning solution 1 (acidic)
- 1 gallon (4 litres) warm water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 5-10 drops liquid soap

Basic Cleaning solution 2 (alkaline)
- 1 gallon (4 litres) warm water
- ½ cup baking soda
- 5-10 drops liquid soap

Basic Shine solution (for vinyl and asphalt tile floors
- ½ gallon (2 litres) warm water
- 1 cup liquid fabric softener

Caution: Never mix bleach and ammonia; this combination creates a deadly toxic gas.

Caution: If you have pets, do not use ammonia for cleaning, especially floors, carpets, and anything near the floor. Fido and Puss, whose sense of smell is up to 200 times stronger than ours, will mistake even the faintest ammonia odour for the smell of decomposing urine and be attracted to the area for use as a toilet.

A caution about commercial floor cleaners:
Not all commercial floor cleaners are good for all floors. If you choose to use a commercial floor cleaner, read the instructions carefully and follow them.

In particular, be wary of the “no rinse, built-in shine” kinds of floor cleaners. They may actually cause you more work because sometimes that built-in shine is tacky and attracts and holds dirt. A clean floor is more important than a shiny floor, especially if you have young children who crawl around on it and put their toys in their mouths.

5. Prepare a second bucket of fresh warm water.
This will be used for rinsing the floor

6. Work in small areas
Regardless of what your floor is made of, flooding the whole floor with water is not good for it. Wood floors can warp, water can get in the joints of vinyl or laminate floors, grout in tile or stone floors can discolour if allowed to stand with dirty water on them. Work in an areas no more than two yards square (about two metres). Clean that area, rinse it and dry it before you move on to the next section.

7. Wring out that mop!
A sloppy mop just makes a mess. Particularly dirty areas may need some hand washing with your sponge and some of the cleaning solution. To mop, dip your mop into the cleaning solution, wring dry, and go over the area to be cleaned, as many times as necessary to get it clean. The dirtier it is, the more passes it will take to clean it.

8. Rinse with clear water
Sorry, but getting the floor wet and then moving the dirt around with a mop is not good enough. You have to rinse to get the dirt gone. Rinse the mop in the bucket of clear water and go over the area a second time with a clean mop. If the rinse water gets grubby before you are done, empty it and get fresh.

9. Dry it off
I know it sounds silly, but you really should leave at little water on the floor as possible. Not only does it protect the floor, it protects family members from slipping on the wet. Use soft cloths or a dry, clean dust mop to dry the floor. The dust mop head can be tossed in the dryer for a few minutes to dry it out if necessary.

10. Clean your tools and store them together
Your mop buckets really shouldn’t be used for other things like garden work or carrying water to fill your fish tank. You don’t want to cross-contaminate. Rinse out your mop heads thoroughly and hang the mop to dry. Sterilize the sponge (one minute in the microwave on High) and set it to dry. Empty the spray bottle, wash it out, put it in the bucket. Store the mop items together. It is helpful to write the Basic Cleaning solutions on the side of the mop bucket in indelible marker…then you never forget it.

Assessing your floor:
It is very important to determine what kind of floor you have before you make up your cleaning solution. Even if you are planning to use a commercial floor cleaner, you MUST choose the right one or risk damaging the floor. Here are some common kinds of floors and information about cleaning them:

Ceramic and other hard tile:
Hard tiles typically come in two types: glazed (shiny) and unglazed (matte). They are cleaned differently.

When it comes to cleaning, glazed tiles are pretty indestructible. A thorough mopping and rinsing, using Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic) and the Basic Mopping Technique will generally do the trick.

If you have unglazed tiles (the currently popular terra cotta tiles are unglazed), be aware that they are porous and subject to staining. Anything you drop on them will penetrate and can become permanent. Not only that, germs and dirt can live in the “pores” and become virtually impossible to dislodge. The best thing to do with unglazed tiles is to seal them (make sure they are scrupulously clean first) and then wax them to keep the sealer from wearing off from foot traffic. You will need to renew this wax periodically to keep the sealer…and the tiles…protected. But that is for another day…today you just want to wash it in the least costly, most efficient manner.

To clean unglazed tile, use the Basic Mopping Technique to mop with Basic Cleaning Solution 2 (alkaline) and make sure the baking soda is thoroughly dissolved.

Note: unglazed tile does not shine. It is not supposed to. So don’t work yourself into a lather trying to find a way to make your terra cotta tile floor shiny…it is supposed to be dull and rustic-looking. Put your effort into sealing it and keeping it meticulously clean.

Vinyl and soft tile floors
If you have vinyl flooring in your house, count your lucky stars…this is the easiest floor of all to clean and maintain. If you have vinyl tiles rather than sheet vinyl, you must exercise a bit more caution with regard to water, but for the most part, you’ve got the easiest floor of all to take care of.

If you are tempted to use a commercial mop and shine product, think it over. Not only are these products costly, the shine agent can build up on your floors and eventually create the appearance of ground-in dirt. Furthermore, the products can leave a sticky residue behind that attracts and traps even more dirt. The second application of the product does not remove the first one…it goes on top of it. Eventually you can end up with a mess!

If you need to remove grimy, built-up residue from waxes or mop and shine products, here’s how: using plain sudsing ammonia, pour it full strength in a small section of floor and agitate lightly with your mop to help break up the old product. Use a plastic scouring pad on particularly stubborn areas. When your mop starts getting dirty, rinse it under running water in the sink. When the section you are working on is clean, move on to another section. When the entire floor is clean it is a good idea to seal the floor and then lay down a coat of wax. Afterwards, use only Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic) to clean your floor and do not clean with anything containing ammonia: not only will it dissolve the wax you’ve just put on, it will act as a “pee here!” signal for your pets.

If, on the other hand, you just want to get the floor clean and move on, here are some tips in addition to the Basic Mopping Technique to make this as painless as possible:

Use Basic Cleaning solution 1 (acidic). Pour about 2 cups of the solution into the clean sprayer bottle. Walk around looking for particularly dirty spots: grubby areas at doorways, in front of the sink or stove, dried spills near the table, “misses” by your family males near the toilet, places your feet stick to the floor, etc. Squirt these dirty spots with the spray bottle.

If there are heel marks on the floor, a synthetic scouring pad…the green scrubby thing on the back of your sponge…and a squirt from the spray bottle can be helpful.

Mop using the Basic Mopping Technique, being careful not to let water stand for long in the seams of sheet vinyl or the joints of a vinyl tile floor, as it can loosen the adhesive.

If the floor looks dull when you are done, mop again lightly with a solution of 1 cup white vinegar to a gallon (4 litres) of warm water or with the Basic Shine Solution.

Marble, stone or slate:
Marble (including travertine and limestone):
Marble floors are porous and prone to damage and staining. Dirt, grit, sand and other abrasives do the most damage to marble and other stone floors…they act like sandpaper, grinding down the surface. Sealing the floor will help protect it, but experts are divided on whether or not marble should be sealed.

Marble floors should be kept immaculately clean at all times to reduce the incidence of abrasives (on the soles of our shoes) from dulling the floor. Vacuum rather than sweep to keep from scraping dirt and grit across the surface with your broom. Do not use a vacuum with a beater bar, use the soft brush attachment instead.

Marble will etch from even the mildest of acids…even orange juice or tomato juice!…and salts will pit the floor, so it is critically important to clean up spills on marble just as soon as they happen. Mop marble floors using the Basic Mopping Technique, with Basic Cleaning Solution 2 (alkaline). Make certain the baking soda is fully dissolved. You can wax marble (and stone) floors, but the wax may discolour the floor (yellow it) and you will have to periodically strip the wax and reapply it, a really arduous task.

Stone: Stone floors would seem to be the most durable you can find, but a lot of stone is porous and easily damaged. Each type of stone has its own degree of porosity making some stone floors more susceptible to stains than others. Consider sealing your stone floors to protect them from wear and tear. Wash your stone floors using the same solution and technique you would use for marble.

Slate: Slate floors are durable and fairly easy to maintain. Slate naturally resists water, so it doesn’t need sealing. Wash your slate floors like marble or stone.

Grout: Slate, stone, and ceramic tile floors are usually laid down with grout between the individual tiles. If the grout is dirty, even when the tiles are clean, the floor will look grubby. Grout is porous, so liquid cleaners seep through them without much effect. Bleach can be an effective cleaner, but it can leach colour out of coloured grouts. Most home improvement stores carry grout cleaning sticks you can use to clean grout. Once it is clean and dry, apply a sealer so you don’t have to go through this again.

If you are trying to get mildew out of white grout, make a paste of baking soda and bleach, spread it on the grout, cover with a wet paper towel (if it is wet enough the towel will stick to the wall). When the grout is clean, seal it.

Cement or brick
Cement or brick floors should be sealed. They are very porous and are easily stained, particularly by oil-based stains. Once stained, they are virtually impossible to clean. Brick and cement floors should be mopped using the Basic Mopping Technique using Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic) at least once per week.

Special note: cement garage floors are often stained with oil and grease. While nothing (not even steam cleaning) can return the floors to their original state, you can soak a lot of the oil and grease out of the floor with this simple technique: spread clay cat litter (not the stuff with smelly crystals and stuff…the cheap generic kind!) over the stains and let set overnight. Sweep up with a stiff broom (or vacuum with a shop vac…NOT the one you use on your carpets!) and discard. Do NOT use this in the litter box! Repeat as necessary…this stuff really draws the oil and grunge out of the cement, but even this little miracle has its limitations!

Laminate flooring is nothing more than strips of chipboard with a plastic sheet laminated to the top of it. That plastic sheet has what amounts to a photocopy of wood on it. The laminated strips are laid down and snapped together…those joints are extremely vulnerable to water. Never, ever allow water to stand on your laminate floor, not even when you are mopping.

Advertising notwithstanding, laminate floors are not indestructible. Avoid dropping heavy or sharp items on a laminate floor…if the plastic “skin” that is the top layer of the laminate is breached and moisture gets in, you’re looking a replacing a panel because the water will make the substrate swell up and cause a bump in the floor. Each subsequent mopping will make it worse. How do I know this? Guess whose husband dropped a computer monitor on her beautiful laminate flooring and poked a little hole in it?

The plastic coating on the top of the laminate can be damaged by abrasives and such harsh cleaning tools as steel wool. Use the scrubby sponge and keep the area as dry as possible while cleaning. Mop laminate floors using the Basic Mopping Technique and Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic). You can squirt the dirty spots with solution as long as the spots are not on joints or a place where the top plastic layer has been breached.

Tips on spot cleaning laminate and polyurethane-sealed wood floors
To remove oil, paint, permanent marker, tar, rubber heel marks:
use a neutral pH cleaner on a clean cloth. If that doesn’t work, use rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover containing acetone.

To remove blood, fruit juice, wine, beer, soda pop, pasta sauce: wipe up with warm water. If that doesn’t work, use a neutral pH cleaner on a clean cloth.

To remove candle wax or chewing gum: first harden it with ice and then scrape very gently with a plastic scraper. Wipe the rest with warm water on a clean cloth.

Wood Floors
The finish on your wood floors will determine how you clean them.

Before you set yourself up for difficulty, try to determine if your wood had been varnished, polyurethaned, or oiled. Varnish and polyurethane look alike, but the polyurethane finish is virtually indestructible and can be mopped like a tile floor. A varnished floor takes a bit more care, and an oiled floor shouldn’t be mopped at all.

An oiled wood floor will have a dull glow to it, but varnish or polyurethane will have a shine. To test for varnish, go to an inconspicuous spot and put a few drops of acetone (nail polish remover) on the varnished wood and rub gently in a circular motion. After a minute or two, check it. If the finish has gone sticky or gel-like, it’s varnish. Polyurethane will not change.

To clean your polyurethaned wood floor: Use the Basic Mopping technique with Basic Cleaning Solution 1 (acidic). No further treatment is needed.

To clean your oiled wood floor: Use teak oil or mineral oil (NOT mineral spirits). Moisten a cloth with the oil and, on your hands and knees, rub the oil in the direction of the grain of thw wood. Change to a clean space on the cloth as needed. Polish with a fresh cloth to remove excess oil and to impart a shine. Particularly dirty areas just require more oil and elbow grease. Regular vacuuming and periodic dust mopping will help keep these floors soil free. Spills should be wiped up immediately.

To clean your varnished wood floor:
most experts agree that using any kind of water-based cleaner on your varnished wood floor is an invitation to trouble, especially if the condition of the finish is dodgy. Water can make the wood strips swell, warp, split, even mildew. Your best bet is to purchase a cleaning product made specifically for wood floors and use it according to directions.

If you search the web you may find some sites that recommend cleaning varnished hardwood floors with a vegetable oil soap, but at least one hardwood floor manufacturer strongly recommends against it: . Considering the cost of sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor, it is better to be safe than sorry, and pop for the little extra cost of a specialized, dedicated cleaner for wood floors.

Next: cleaning your carpets and rugs


Sweet Violet said...

Jan4insight---I ok'd your comment for publishing but for some reason it hasn't shown up. In answer to your question about commercial fabric softeners, I don't have an alternative except, perhaps, a 50% solution of white vinegar and water allowed to dry on the surface of the floor. Or the traditional old standby: paste wax.

Considering the brisk sales of these softeners, I doubt allergy is a big concern of most users and this blog is dedicated more to saving money (as opposed to "green" solutions) by using what you have around the house and not spending big bucks unnecessarily for cleaning products. Sometimes, however, if we want to go green, we just have to accept that what we want...shiny floors, for not attainable without a great deal of work (paste wax laid down by hand).

I hope you enjoy the blog...I have decades of experience in "Commando Cleaning" and thought there might be a few people who'd benefit from my experience.

Nancy said...

Great post, I use apple cider vinegar for my hardwood floors and never had a problem.

Lillie said...

Hi Violet,

my name is Lillie Erhardt and I have been reading your blog which I found very interesting!
You wrote about vacuumcleaner so I have a great tip-off for you.

This year Electrolux are celebrating 90 years which they will pay tribute to persons through the project Kitchen Stars! To become a Kitchen Star you need to send us a photo on you and tell us about a worth remembering memory from the kitchen.

As an exchange for your participation all the Kitchen Stars will receive a trendy Electrolux ErgoRapido vacuumcleaner!

If this sounds interesting please contact me for further information.

Kind Regards,

Lillie Erhardt,
for Electrolux.

Lilly Mouse said...

Woweee! :) That is a truly comprehensive article on all that happens beneath our feet.

It leaves me feeling that the guy who cleans the foyer floor is something of an artist. Really lovely, thanks :)

Ciao for now, Lilly

Trægulve said...

This is a very excellent blog article. I hope that you will post more and thank you for sharing.

Ibne Hanif said...

You have provided useful housekeeping tips. I recommend you should update it too.

Marie Reed said...

This article is very helpful! I never rinse my floors after washing them. Now I now that I really should be! I'l get to mopping lickety split:)

Polystick said...

This is really very useful tips i will follow your instructions and i want to more tips please updates your blogs.

Thank you for post.

Kate Bristow said...

I'm also one of the people who are using water and white vinegar for the hardwood floors. Great results!