A reader recently* e-mailed me with a question. Here's what she asked:
This will likely sound like a lame-o question but I thought I'd ask all the same:
What is the most effective method for cleaning kitchen/bathroom floors?
It seems like a simple enough endeavour (and maybe I'm just thinking it out too much) but the idea of using a mop that incrementally just pushes/sloshes ever increasingly dirty water around the floor, doesn't seem very "clean" to me.
Okay. First: There are no "lame-o" questions. Unless I'm asking them. I ask a lot of lame-o questions, myself. But in this case - not lame.
And yes, I have some tips. Thank you for asking. (Besides - my kitchen floor happened to need cleaning this morning - perfect opportunity to take some photos at 7:00 a.m.)
Second: You are entirely correct. Pushing around a bunch of increasingly dirty water with a mop is not exactly "clean." I remember once reading some household tips from Marlene Dietrich, and her view on floors was that the only way to truly clean a floor was by hand. I tend to concur.
(Just as an aside: MD was apparently a bit OCD about cleaning. Her daughter, Maria Riva, in her memoir of her mother, frequently mentioned MD's habit of carrying around cleaning products with her whenever she travelled, and fastidiously disinfecting every hotel bathroom attached to every room she stayed in.)
Here are my eco-friendlier tips for cleaning kitchen (and bathroom) floors.
Sweep or vacuum the floor first. This is to remove any crumbs, pet hair, dirt, food, toe jam, etc. Vacuuming was my preferred way to get junk off of floors when I cleaned for other people, but honestly I don't like the noise, myself. Plus I'm kind of going "unplugged" with my cleaning these days. Just be aware that sweeping/dry mopping often takes longer, and can be more frustrating if you have lots of pet hair flying around. Just saying.
Sometimes I wish I was a Quaker. Like, in the 19th century. They had pegs on the walls where they could hang their wooden chairs while they swept. When I'm sweeping a kitchen floor, I either move all the chairs to another room, or turn them upside down on the table, if they'll fit. While the chairs are upside down, I usually take the opportunity to remove any pet hair/dust from the felt pads I tend to put on the bottoms of all my chair legs.
My smaller cat, Guy, enjoying the jungle gym created by the upside down chairs. Also: Supervising my cleaning.
These are the things you will need to clean a kitchen or bathroom floor. (The types of surfaces that this post applies to include vinyl, tile, sealed cork and terrazzo. For wood, laminate and stone floors, some of these techniques could potentially damage the floor. Proceed at your own risk. I'll deal with those kinds of floors in another post, BTW. Sometime.)
A) A bucket. Mine is stainless steel, from Lee Valley. (Actually, it's a compost pail. But I use it as a cleaning bucket.)
B) Vinegar. Any kind of vinegar will do, although I wouldn't necessarily recommend balsamic, because that's kind of yucky. Also: Expensive. I usually buy white Heinz vinegar in 4L (4 quart) bottles, to use for cleaning. More on vinegar, below.
C) Rags. I prefer terry cloth rags, because they hold more liquid.
D) Rubber gloves. These are actually optional, but if you do a lot of cleaning, or at least a lot of cleaning ALL AT ONCE, your hands will get all chapped from being wet and dry and wet and dry. Just saying.
E) Knee pads. Because, dude - if you're going to wash a floor on your hands and knees...
My knee pads. I bought mine at a local hardware store. You can also find them at lumber or home improvement stores, I think. Being made of some kind of foam, they are not so eco-friendly. But they are waterproof, which is useful for washing floors on your hands and knees. Plus they last a long time.
Okay, here's the vinegar I use. You'll notice that it's pickling vinegar. The difference between picking vinegar and regular vinegar is that the former is a little more concentrated - 7% acetic acid vs. the 5% acetic acid in regular white vinegar. You can also buy 10% acetic vinegar in the eco-friendly cleaning supply section of major grocery stores and health food stores, but in that case you need to be VERY CAREFUL with the vinegar. Like, always wear gloves, and don't splash it on your skin. Which is a total drag. Buying 7% just means that it will last longer, because you'll need less than if you used the regular kind. That's all.
Add some vinegar (about 1/2 cup) to your bucket.
Fill the bucket about 1/4 full of hot water. I like hot water for washing floors because A) it's not quite so bone-chilling on the hands, and B) it dries faster. I do realize hot water is not so eco-friendly because of the energy taken to heat it up, okay? Enough said.
Example of what 1/4 full looks like.
The bucket of vinegar-water and some clean, dry rags, ready to wash the swept floor.
I almost didn't take pictures of the process, because A) I was actually washing my floor, and didn't want to stop and take my gloves off to use the camera, and B) I thought people could figure out how to wash a floor by hand... but then I kind of experienced some doubt about the latter, so: Immerse a clean rag in the bucket of vinegar-water, wring it out, and wipe a section of floor with the damp rag. I usually do an area about four feet wide by two or three feet deep with each "wring" of the cloth.
I should probably add: I use vinegar because it is a mild disinfectant (it's used for pickling because it kills some germs, and therefore preserves food), and it's safe enough to use with pets and children around. My cats will not leave me alone when I wash a floor. I would never dream of using anything stronger than vinegar with them around.
I like to wipe my floor dry as I go - basically because of the cats, who will just walk across a wet floor like it was nothing... and then get wet kitty paw prints all over everything else they walk on. Also: My apartment is really humid right now, and wet stuff takes a long time to dry. If you dry the floor as you go, you can walk across it almost immediately after you're done. Just use some clean, dry rags, and change the rags often as they get wet.
(Below is a snapshot of the above scene, about two seconds later - providing compelling proof that cats WILL walk on wet floors. At least, mine will.)
Repeat the dip-wring-wipe and dry steps until you've finished the entire floor. Yes, it will take a while if you have a really large floor. I've done whole houses like this, and it can also be really tiring. But I actually find it harder on my body to use a mop to wash an entire house, believe it or not.
Above is my bucket, after I've finished the floor. I should probably add that if your floor is REALLY dirty, you can change the water in the bucket part-way through the job. As many times as you want to or need to.
My floor - all clean and dry. Hard to see in this photo, but my floor is not a perfect, shining surface. I live in a building that's about 80 years old, and the floors have seen a lot of wear and tear. I NEVER use floor wax - it only attracts dirt, and adds another chore to your life. My floor may not have a glossy sheen, but it has a soft glow, and reminds me of the lives that have been lived in this place, long before I came along.
*Okay, a confession. The e-mail was received in October 2009. Yes, I realize the date on this post is June 14, 2007. I am apparently a time-travelling blogger, alright? Cool, eh?
Actually, I saved a draft for a post on kitchen floors on this date, and didn't actually publish the post until October 2009. My bad. But anyhow - it doesn't matter as far as the content is concerned, just wanted to explain why the photos were of my new apartment (with cats), and not the apartment I was living in in 2007.