Floor Cleaning: Tips and Guidelines

Dirt from the street collects on feet and gets tracked into your house dozens of times a day. The little dumps, spills, and heel marks of daily living accumulate with startling speed.

And unless your home has only one kind of floor throughout, you will have to deal with cleaning different kinds of hard-surface floors. The first step toward efficient floor cleaning is to know what your floor is made of. The cleaning method that works for one surface may ruin another.

That's where we come in. The following article provides tips and guidelines for cleaning just about every type of hard-surface floor -- from asphalt tile to wood.

A Heavy-Duty Floor Cleaner
Here's a recipe for a solution that will remove extra-tough dirt and grime from asphalt, glazed or unglazed ceramic tile, concrete, flagstone, and slate floors:
  • Mix 1⁄4 cup low-sudsing, all-purpose cleaner; 1 cup ammonia; and 1⁄2 gallon cool or cold water. Caution: Wear rubber gloves, and work in a well-ventilated area when using this powerful solution.
  • Apply the solution to the floor with a sponge mop, using pressure for heavily soiled areas; rinse with cool, clear water for spotless results.
  • Dry with a soft cloth.




Asphalt Tile Floors

Asphalt tile floor won't retain the footprints when you replace your favorite old TV chair in the family room with a new one. Although asphalt is resilient, grease, oil, solvents (such as kerosene, gasoline, naphtha, and turpentine), harsh cleaning preparations, strong soaps, and scouring can damage the surface. Consider these suggestions for cleaning this type of floor:
  • If you take the time to damp-mop your asphalt floor every week, you will not have to wash it and apply polish as often as if you allow dirt to build up.
  • Make sure that the cleaner you use can withstand damp-mopping. If it can't, you will have to reapply it anyway. A cup of fabric softener in 1/2 pail of water will help keep the floor's shine.
  • Don't flood the floor with water; excess water can seep into the seams and loosen adhesives that hold down the tiles.
  • Remove heel marks by dipping fine-grade (000) steel wool in liquid floor wax and rubbing the spot. Wipe with a damp cloth.
In the next section, we'll find out how to treat one of the most challenging types of hard-surface floors: brick.

Brick Floors

Caring for a porous brick floor is a lot of work no matter what you do. If you use a solvent-base wax on the floor, you have to seal it. If you use a water-base polish, you'll occasionally have to strip the wax buildup.

The best way to care for your brick floor is to keep it sealed and waxed. You'll need to use a commercial sealer for brick; neither varnish nor lacquer will do. Here's what else you need to know about treating a brick floor:
  • Damp-mopping after vacuuming will prevent dirt from building up on your brick floor. Try putting 1 cup of vinegar in the water; the floor will shine without being polished -- a real time-saver.
  • Use a solvent-base wax, so that you don't have to strip your floor. A solvent-base polish can be applied over a water-base polish, but a water-base polish cannot be applied over a solvent-base polish. The solvents in the wax dissolve the layer of wax that is on the floor during each application, so there is no wax buildup.
  • Remove wax buildup by applying a wax-stripping product with a scrub brush or floor-scrubbing machine that has a brush attachment. Rinse the floor thoroughly after applying the stripper. Do not clean your brick floor with acids, strong soaps, or abrasives.
As you'll find out in the next section, ceramic tile is a lot less difficult to maintain than brick.

Quick Care for a Brick Floor
While the following method of caring for a brick floor is not as effective as treatment with a stripper, sealer, and paste wax, it is quick and inexpensive.

Since this homemade solution contains ammonia, the floor is stripped every time you wash it, eliminating wax buildup. Most acrylic liquid waxes are self-sealing, allowing you to skip the application of a sealer.

Clean and strip the floor with a solution of 1⁄4 cup low-sudsing, all-purpose cleaner; 1 cup clear ammonia; and 1⁄2 gallon cool or cold water. Caution: Wear rubber gloves, and work in a well-ventilated area when using this powerful solution. Apply the solution to the floor with a sponge mop, using pressure for heavily soiled areas; rinse with cool, clear water for spotless results. Then apply two thin coats of an acrylic floor wax.



Ceramic Tile Floors

Glazed (shiny) ceramic tile is virtually stainproof, but unglazed (matte) ceramic tile is porous and must be sealed to resist stains. A new unglazed ceramic-tile floor needs to be sealed with a commercial sealer and a water-base wax. Both types of tile are installed with grout. Some advice for tending to your ceramic tile:
  • Never use harsh abrasive cleaners that might scratch the glaze.
  • Do not clean unglazed ceramic tiles with acids, strong soaps, or abrasives.
  • Damp-mop ceramic tile with an all-purpose cleaner. Dry the floor with a soft cloth to avoid streaks.
  • Sparkle your ceramic tile walls and countertops by rubbing the tile with car wax. Buff after ten minutes.
  • About once a year, strip the wax buildup on your unglazed tile floor and rewax. Rinse the floor thoroughly with clear water after applying the stripper.
Concrete -- the focus of our next section -- is similar to brick in that it's a porous surface that is difficult to maintain. But you can keep concrete looking great by applying the right cleaning techniques.

Concrete Floors

Concrete is very porous and soaks up stains quickly. While few of us are so fastidious that we seal or paint garage floors, sealing a cement floor inside your home with a commercial sealer will save time in the long run, because the sealed floor will require little cleaning.
  • For an unsealed concrete floor, sweep up the loose surface dirt, and then wash it with either a strong all-purpose cleaning solution or the homemade cleaning solution we describe in the first section of this article.
  • The garage floor is the biggest cleaning challenge: Cement floors soak up oil and grease stains, gather piles of litter, and collect road dirt. But not many people spend much time in the garage, so you don't need to attack the mess very often. As strange as it seems, kitty litter can be a big help in the garage. Spread some around to absorb oil and grease. Also, keep the garage door closed so that leaves and other windblown debris don't collect in your garage.
  • When it comes time to clean the garage floor, sweep out the dirt and dust, and spread kitty litter with a stiff broom, working from the back of the garage to the front. Then get out the garden hose and flush the floor with clear water. You can scour tough globs of dirt with your stiff broom or blast them with a jet of water.

    Cleaning a garage floor can be done with a simple garden hose.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    A simple garden hose will wash the dirt off your garage floor.

  • After you have gotten rid of the loose surface dirt on your garage floor, use the Heavy-Duty Floor Cleaner we describe in the first section of this article. It works as well as a commercial heavy-duty cleaner, and it's much cheaper. Apply to the concrete floor with a sponge mop, using pressure for heavily soiled areas; rinse with cool, clear water for spotless results. Let the floor dry.
Now it's time to address two other porous surfaces: flagstone and slate.

Flagstone and Slate Floors

Flagstone and slate are natural-stone flooring materials that are similar. They have rough, porous surfaces and are set into grout.
  • Flagstone and slate floors must be sealed with a commercial sealer, not lacquer or varnish.
  • The best way to seal a flagstone or slate floor is with a commercial sealer for terrazzo and slate. After the sealer dries, apply two thin coats of an acrylic floor finish with a long-handle wax applicator fitted with a lamb's wool pad, or apply paste wax with a floor-polishing machine. To do this, use a spatula to spread a small amount of paste wax directly on the brushes of the polisher. Slowly operate the polisher back and forth to apply a thin coat of wax. When dry, buff the floor.
  • A self-polishing liquid will build up on your floor, and you'll occasionally have to strip the wax buildup and rewax. After applying the stripper according to the manufacturer's directions, rinse the floor thoroughly with clear water, then apply wax.
  • Damp-mop flagstone or slate floors using either clear water, an all-purpose cleaning solution in warm water, or water to which fabric softener has been added. Wring the mop until it doesn't drip, and apply it to the floor in slow, even strokes. If the freshly mopped floor dries with a luster-dulling film, you can mop it again with water containing a cup of white vinegar; the floor will glisten.
Thank goodness for linoleum, which is easy to maintain as long as it has been waxed. Read about how to clean linoleum floors in our next section.

Linoleum Floors

To shine and resist foot traffic, linoleum must be waxed. But once it is waxed, the only regular maintenance linoleum floors need is vacuuming and an occasional swipe with a damp mop.

Cleaning linoleum with a mop is the quickest way to go.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Linoleum should be cleaned with a mop.

  • A cup of vinegar in the mop water will bring up the shine on the floor, so you can delay rewaxing until it's really necessary.
  • Remove heel marks from linoleum by dipping fine-grade (000) steel wool in liquid floor wax. Rub the spot gently, and wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Solvent-base products can soften and damage linoleum. Scouring the floor, flooding it with water, or using very hot water is also bad for linoleum floors.
  • The fastest way to clean a linoleum floor is with a one-step cleaner or polish, but the best way to clean the floor is to mop it with an all-purpose cleaner. Dissolve the cleaner in warm water, rinse, and apply two thin coats of self-polishing liquid.
Next on our list is marble, which can be one of the most beautiful types of floors if it's cared for correctly.

Marble Floors

Marble can be used throughout the house -- on floors, countertops, and even bathroom walls. It is available in a variety of colors, with a polished or nonpolished finish, and in an array of thicknesses and shapes.
  • Nonpolished marble is very porous, stains easily, and must be sealed with a commercial sealer. Do not use varnish or lacquer to seal marble; it quickly peels off. Polished marble is less porous but can still be stained; a commercial marble sealer is also recommended for this finish.
  • Marble floors look great after being damp-mopped using either clear water, an all-purpose cleaning solution in warm water, or a mixture of 1 cup fabric softener and 1/2 gallon water.
  • Self-polishing liquid wax is a fast, shiny finish for marble. Occasionally, you'll have to strip the wax buildup and rewax. After applying the stripper according to the manufacturer's directions, rinse the floor thoroughly, then apply wax.
  • Use either a water-base self-polishing wax or a paste wax. If you use a paste wax, test it in a corner to see if it will discolor the flooring. If a solvent-base paste wax is used, rewax to strip the old wax and to renew the shine.
Quarry tile -- our next topic -- requires up to three coats of sealer and further protection by wax. We'll guide you through the process.

Quarry Tile Floors

Like brick, quarry tile looks durable, but this unglazed clay tile is very porous and readily soaks up stains.
  • Quarry-tile floors have to be sealed with as many as three coats of sealer and further protected by wax.
  • Seal a quarry-tile floor with a commercial sealer for terrazzo and slate. After the sealer dries, apply two thin coats of an acrylic floor finish. Use a wax applicator fitted with a lamb's wool pad or apply paste wax with a floor-polishing machine. To do this, use a spatula to spread a small amount of paste wax directly on the brushes of the polisher. Slowly operate the polisher back and forth to apply an even, thin coat of wax. When the wax is dry, buff the floor.
  • To keep your sealed and waxed quarry-tile floor looking new, all you have to do is damp-mop it occasionally after you vacuum. If the mopped floor dries with a luster-dulling film, restore the shine by mopping it again with water containing a cup of white vinegar.
  • Apply a commercial wax-stripping product with a floor-scrubbing machine that has a brush attachment. After applying the stripper according to the manufacturer's directions, rinse the floor thoroughly with clear water. Use a nonabrasive powder and a synthetic scouring pad for stubborn spots.
  • If you use a paste wax, you will never have to strip the floor. Test the wax in a corner first to see if it will discolor the tile.
Now we'll move onto rubber tile, a useful type of flooring but also one that needs to be cleaned carefully.

Rubber Tile Floors

Rubber tile provides an anti-static surface that is ideal for home offices and rooms with computers. Careful care of rubber flooring is necessary because it can be damaged by exposure to strong cleaners.
  • Make a rubber-tile floor look freshly waxed by adding 1 cup of fabric softener to 1/2 pail of water.
  • The quickest way to clean a rubber-tile floor is to use an all-purpose cleaning solution. Read the product label for precautionary measures, and test it in a corner before using it on the entire floor.
  • Occasionally remove wax buildup with a cleaner or wax stripper. Follow stripping with two thin coats of self-polishing wax; allow to dry between coats.
  • Remove heel marks from rubber tile by dipping fine-grade (000) steel wool in liquid floor wax. Rub the spot gently, and wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Solvent-base products can soften and damage a rubber-tile floor. Also, keep scouring pads, strong soaps, and hot water away from rubber tile.
  • Flooding the floor with water will cause big problems; excess water can loosen the adhesives that hold down the flooring.
You don't have to worry quite as much when cleaning terrazzo floors, the topic of our next section.

Terrazzo Floors

Terrazzo is a very durable floor commonly used in bathrooms and halls. This flooring is made of marble chips set in cement. After it cures, terrazzo is ground and polished.
  • The best way to seal a terrazzo floor is with a commercial sealer for terrazzo and slate. After the sealer dries, apply two thin coats of an acrylic floor finish. When the wax is dry, buff the floor.
  • All a terrazzo floor needs to keep it looking good is a quick going-over with a damp mop, using either clear water, an all-purpose cleaner in warm water, or a mixture of 1 cup fabric softener and 1/2 gallon water. If your mopped floor dries with a film, mop it again with water containing a cup of white vinegar, and the floor will glisten.
  • To strip the wax buildup on your floor, apply a wax-stripping product with a floor-scrubbing machine that has a brush attachment. After applying the stripper according to the manufacturer's directions, rinse the floor thoroughly with water.
Our next topic, vinyl, is popular because it is so easy to maintain. As you'll discover, all you have to do is clean a vinyl floor regularly for it to last a long time.

Vinyl Floors

A no-wax vinyl floor is a breeze to maintain. All you have to do is keep it clean. Here's how to do it:
  • Wipe up spills with a sponge dipped in dishwashing liquid.
  • Scrub off heel marks with a synthetic scouring pad.
  • To wash the floor, use an all-purpose cleaning solution. Test any cleaner in a corner before using it on the entire floor.
  • Sometimes a no-wax floor dries with a film. Don't panic; just mop it again with water containing 1 cup of white vinegar, and the floor will glisten like new.
  • Do not scour the tile or flood with water. Water can seep into the seams and loosen the adhesives that hold the flooring down.
  • If your vinyl floor is old or not a no-wax variety, clean it with an all-purpose cleaner dissolved in water. After you have cleaned the floor, rinse the tile with clear water. When the floor is dry, apply two thin coats of a self-polishing floor finish, allowing the floor to dry between coats.
We've saved the best for last. Provided you put in the time to care for them, wood floors can add a touch of class to your home. Find out how to treat this surface.

Wood Floors

The sight of a glimmering wood floor speaks to us of glamour, good living, and very hard work on somebody's part. It's true that you have to take care of a wood floor, but you don't have to break your back to do so if you take care of it on a regular basis.
  • The product used to seal a wood floor determines how it can be cared for. Varnish, shellac, polyurethane, or lacquer are used to finish floors, but only polyurethane requires no further treatment.
  • The integrity and beauty of wood floors with varnish, shellac, or lacquer finishes can be maintained only by using solvent-base cleaners and polishes. Water should never be used on wood floors, except those treated with polyurethane. They can be damp-mopped.
  • The fastest way to clean a lacquered, varnished, or shellacked floor is with a one-step cleaner/polish. After vacuuming, pour the liquid on a small area and rub lightly with a wax applicator. Working on a small section at a time, stroke the floor in the direction of the grain. Blot up any excess liquid with a clean cloth.
  • The best way to clean a wood floor is not the fastest but will result in a long-lasting shine. After vacuuming the floor, apply a liquid wood-floor cleaner with a dry wax applicator on a small area at a time. Let it soak for a few minutes, and wipe up the excess. When the floor is dry, buff with a floor polisher. Caution: This is a combustible mixture; use only in a well-ventilated area.
Whether it's wood or marble or concrete, each surface has its own distinct cleaning needs. And meeting those needs is crucial to having long-lasting floors that shimmer.