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Best Ways to Clean Floors

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A sad fact of life: No matter how tidy you are, your floors, carpets, and rugs will get dirty. Between whatever you track in on your shoes, crumbs accidentally dropped from the kitchen table, the natural accumulation of dust, and so on, the floors in your home can get quite grimy. But a little maintenance goes a long way—especially if you attack that grime in the most efficient manner for every type of floor.

First up, a quick primer on different types of rugs and carpets. There are two main components to carpet: the fabric or fiber, and what’s called the “pile”—that’s how the fabric is looped or cut. The length of the loops or cut fibers are what determines whether a carpet is low-pile (short fibers) or high pile (long fibers). You can also get flatweave rugs, which have no pile because the fabric is tightly woven with no fibers sticking up.

Depending on what type of flooring you have, here’s the best (and most efficient!) way to clean it.

Most flatweave rugs can withstand regular vacuuming on the front and back of the rug — check the care label or ask the manufacturer if you’re not sure. For delicate rugs, vacuum in small sections using a floor head with little to no agitation.

To tackle spills, spot cleaning is your best bet. Blot wet stains with a paper towel (and do not rub them, since this can cause the stain to bleed or set in). For tougher stains, spot clean using a mild detergent mixed with hot water.

The most efficient way to clean this type of carpet is with a turbo or electric power nozzle. Typically, both nozzles have a standard rotating roller brush that cleans deep into the carpet fibers. Figure out which direction the weaving goes in by petting the carpet, and make sure to vacuum with the grain, rather than against it (this can cause breakage).

Those shag carpets and really woolly rugs feel amazing to walk on, but can be intimidating to clean. (Especially since they can be easily ruined by over-zealous cleaning if you’re not careful!) For the deepest and most fail-proof possible clean, borrow or rent a steam cleaner (many hardware stores offer this service). But for regular, maintenance-type cleaning, you can use a straight suction floor nozzle and gently go over the rug. If your rug is small and you have some outdoor space, you can also take it outside, hang it up, and beat it with a broom handle to get rid of dirt and dust particles (as an added bonus, this is excellent for stress management).

Sweep or vacuum up crumbs (or regular wear-and-tear dust) before mopping hard wood and linoleum.

Photo by Rocky Luten

As with other hard floors, the first step is to vacuum, sweep, or use a dry microfiber mop to pick up any dirt, hair, and dust. In high-traffic areas, do this daily or every other day if you can bear it.

For a deep clean, probably every week or so, mix 6-7 drops of a mild detergent (dish soap is usually fine) with one gallon of warm or hot water. Use the mixture to dampen a mop, and clean the floor in sections. Make sure the mop is damp and not dripping wet, since standing water can damage linoleum. Once you’ve mopped, swap out the cleaning solution for cool water, rinse the mop, and go over the floors again with just water to remove any soapy residue. Finally, use a towel or cleaning cloth to dry your clean floors.

The best way to clean your hardwood floors depends on whether or not the floor is sealed. Not sure? Rub your finger across the floor. If you see a resulting smudge, the floor is probably unsealed, and you shouldn’t use water to clean it since this can cause the wood to swell and warp. No smudge? The floor is sealed, and it’s ok to use some water for cleaning.

First, dry mop, sweep, or vacuum with a soft nozzle to get rid of pet hair, dust, and debris. For unsealed floors, you should then use a specialized unsealed floor cleaner — do some research online, or call your local hardware store to ask what they recommend.
For sealed floors, wet clean using whatever cleaner is recommended for your type of seal. A surface finish will create a protective barrier, meaning water-based cleaners are fine. But wood finished with a penetrating finish can still absorb water. Very generally speaking, if you can feel the grain and texture of the wood when you rub your hand along it, it’s likely a penetrating finish was used.

If you’re not sure what kind of finish is on your floors, try using a simple soap and hot water mix but don’t let any water pool on the floors (to prevent warping the wood if penetrating finish was used). Use a damp mop, not a soaking wet one, and mop in the direction of the wood grain. If a soapy film is left after cleaning, gently buff the floors with a dry cloth to remove the residue.

Make sure you regularly sweep or vacuum your tile floors to pick up surface dirt. Then use hot water and mild detergent to mop. And don’t forget to clean the grout — that’s the porous stuff between each tile, usually made of cement and sand, which can absorb dirt, grease, and other nasty stuff. You can seal grout about twice a year to stop dirt from penetrating it, using specialized grout sealant. But that’s kind of a finicky process, and most grout sealants need between 24 and 48 hours to dry after application, which is definitely not ideal if you need to, you know, walk on your floors.

So, regularly cleaning your grout and tile floors may be the way to go. Mix equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide, and really get in there (using a toothbrush) to scrub out stains. For a less intensive grout-cleaning option, apply a paste of baking soda and water. Leave it on overnight, rub it off the next morning using a nylon brush, and vacuum up the dried, flaked-off paste remnants.

Do you have any floor cleaning tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

Looking for a vacuum that works well for all types of floors? Check out the Miele HomeCare Collection to find the vacuum that is best suited for your needs.

This article was updated in January 2021 to add even more floor cleaning tips.

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