The Comprehensive UfYH Guide to Cleaning Your Floors

One of the many things I’ve learned while running UfYH is that there is a pretty significant number of people who don’t really know how to clean a floor. I’d say it’s in the top five things I get asked about on a regular basis (cat pee is always #1, always). So we’re going to go through all of the things you should know about floors but might not have ever learned.

Know your flooring

In general, you’re going to be dealing with one of the following: carpet, linoleum, hardwoods, laminate, or tile. There are definitely more materials that floors can be made of, but for the most part, these are the most common. Once you know what kind of floor you have, you can figure out how to clean it.

Dry vs. wet cleaning

When cleaning your floors, you’re going to use either a dry method, a wet method, or a combination of both. Dry methods include sweeping, Swiffering, and vacuuming. Wet methods include mopping, steam cleaning, and steam mopping.

Get your supplies

Your basic arsenal of supplies for keeping your floors clean should include:

  • A broom and dustpan or a electrostatic floor sweeper (like a Swiffer or similar)
  • A mop and bucket or a steam mop (steam mops are a bit of an investment, so that’s not a necessity right off the bat)
  • Some multi-purpose cleaning solution
  • A vacuum.

Everyone has their own preferences (mine: reusable and washable Swiffer-type cloth on an unspeakably old Swiffer; steam mop; and a base-model Dyson vacuum), but use what you have on hand or can obtain easily. I also have a vacuum-style carpet steamer, because I have two dogs and, for some reason, off-white carpets.

Let’s get cleaning

There are a few things that are going to remain consistent no matter what kind of floor you have. First, you want to get up any dry material before you use something wet. Second, work from the farthest part of the perimeter inward so that you finish at the exit of the room and don’t have to walk back over your clean floor to leave. Third, like most things, the more frequently you clean your floors, the less terrible it is.

Linoleum: First, sweep or Swiffer up any dirt, dust, hair, and whatever else has found its way to the floor. Next, mop with hot water and cleaner (follow the bottle directions) or a steam mop, working around the perimeter and making your way toward the center of the room and then to the exit of the room. Let it dry. [A note: I have a deep and abiding love for Magic Erasers. I will neither confirm nor deny that at one point, I cleaned my linoleum square by square with Magic Erasers to find that the floor was, in fact, white and not gray. I will say, though, that this is extremely labor- and time-intensive, and unfathomably frustrating. So only embark upon that journey if you’re sure you want to commit to it.]

Tile: Cleaning tile is very similar to cleaning linoleum. First sweep up the dry stuff, then mop. With tile, you also have grout to contend with, which can get dingy and gross. You can try cleaning grout with a bleach pen and a stiff-bristled brush, but keep in mind that once grout is stained, it’s usually stained for good. Another thing to keep in mind is that some kinds of tile can absorb water, so work in small areas and try not to oversaturate anything. If you happen to have manufacturer instructions for your particular tile, always follow those.

Hardwoods: Hardwoods are where we switch it up a little. With hardwoods, you want to avoid water as much as possible. Even on sealed hardwoods, water can lead to swelling and loosening. So you’re going to want to employ your dry methods first (sweeping) and then, if necessary, mop with as little water as possible (your mop should be just barely damp) and going immediately over it with a dry mop or towel to get up any excess water so it’s not sitting on your floors. Use a cleaner that specifically mentions it’s safe for hardwoods. Again, start at the farthest point, get into the corners, and work your way toward the exit.

Laminate: Like with hardwoods, water is laminate’s enemy. Moisture can loosen the laminate and seriously decrease the life of the flooring. Follow the steps for hardwoods and use as little water as possible.

Carpeting: Folks, you  need a vacuum cleaner. Sure, you can sweep a rug; after all, Nana used to do it. But let’s face it, Nana did a lot of shit we don’t have time for these days. It doesn’t have to be a fancy-pants vacuum cleaner, but so much stuff accumulates in rugs (dust, dirt, crumbs — and double the amount of crap if you have pets or kids) that you really need to be vacuuming regularly. How regularly will vary, but for me (household of two adult humans and two small dogs), once a week is necessary to keep my allergies at bay. Steam cleaning is optional; you can always rent a Rug Doctor or similar if you need a good deep clean, or if you want to invest in a vacuum-style steam cleaner, it can help to keep things as clean as possible, but it’s not a non-negotiable necessity of owning carpet. (Although I will admit to being utterly fascinated and simultaneously grossed out by how disgusting the steam cleaner dirty water tank is, no matter how often I deep clean the carpets.) As far as vacuuming goes, the people who vacuum in a way to leave perfect vacuum marks are also the people who have lawns that have the ruler-straight mower lines; that is to say, they are not like the rest of us, and perfect vacuum lines are not an indicator of a job done properly; a clean carpet is.

So go forth, everyone, and learn to love your floors by properly taking care of them.

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[E] Rachel

I punctuate sentences with Oxford commas, and I punctuate disagreements with changesocks. Proud curmudgeon. Get off my lawn.

7 thoughts on “The Comprehensive UfYH Guide to Cleaning Your Floors”

  1. Okay, question time: I’ve been going back and forth on buying a carpet cleaner of my own, but honestly I have no idea where to start in terms of looking. We would definitely get our money’s worth out of the thing; five cats and two dogs, two adult humans and a small one due in a month or so. But when I begin to comparison shop, I get overwhelmed and frustrated quickly, because I really, really want to make sure that if I’m going to sink a couple of hundred dollars into a cleaner, that it’s a really good one that is really capable of standing up to the level of abuse in my house. Any suggestions or recommendations?

    1. When my tile grout gets really grody I use OxyClean and an old-fashioned floor scrubber I picked up at Goodwill. I wash my floor as usual then I let a strong OxyClean solution set for a while to do it’s job. Next I use the floor scrubber. I mop up the excess OxyClean with a microfiber mop. Then I rinse a couple of times with plain water. I know I should seal the grout lines but the thought of that job – no, just no.

  2. Thank you for this! As an animal lover with wood floors, I’d like to put in a good word for the Method almond wood floor cleaner. It’s non-toxic and appears to have a special aptitude for softening scratches and giving them a gentle glow.

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