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How to keep your floors clean and safe for your family

by in Hardwood Maintance
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During the winter on Cape Cod we can get a lot of rain, sleet, and snow so we usually use salt to keep it all from freezing. Salt crystals can act like sandpaper to a floor, dulling a floor's surface or damaging a finish. And once the surface is damaged, the underlying materials can be damaged or stained by water and other foreign matter that soaks in. First line of defense: Immediately remove water droplets that may contain salt. For that, I keep a Swiffer-type mop handy, outfitted with rectangles of old terry-cloth towel, which I can wash and reuse. To pick up salt that's dried onto floors without scratching the finish, you'll first need to spray the floor with warm water, or water mixed with a splash of vinegar. Let the liquid sit for a minute or two, and wipe it up with a dry towel on your mop.

Here are a few tips and tricks to keeping your floors happy during the harsh New England winters!

 1. Leave It Outside

The most obvious method is to stop dirt from even entering the house. Try to make it a family habit to remove dirt from shoes before coming inside or even better, keep your shoes at the door way completely. Put a rack in a closet or near the door to keep your footwear off your floors.

 If you don’t have a welcome mat on the outside of every door (even the door leading from the garage), it’s time to make that investment.  Dogs track all types of unwanted materials in the house from their outside ventures. Get some baby wipes or an old towel near the door to quickly wipe off some dirt and debris before they come bounding in the house and all over your furniture!

  1. Brooms and Vacuums

An regular old broom is all that you need for any non-carpeted rooms. You can use one of those wet mops, but unlike a broom, be careful what type of floor covering you use it on. Regardless, make this a regular routine. High traffic areas should be handled almost daily. By sweeping these spaces regularly you’ll keep dirt and dust from hopping from one room to the next.

A great universal tool in the battle to keep your floors clean is your vacuum. They can be used on any surface by simply minding the settings for either carpets or non-carpeted spots.

Vacuuming should be done every week, maybe more if you have pets.

  1. Vinegar

Our grandmothers had it right when they cleaned the floors with vinegar. While it may smell a little foul, especially during the times of the year when it’s too cold to open the windows, you can cut the harshness of the vinegar smell by diluting it with warm water and some strong smelling essential oils. The oils won’t do hard to your floors and will make your house smell amazing! One caution: don’t take this route on natural stones or marble.

The key to cleaning with vinegar is mixing the right proportion of the smelly stuff to a bucket of water. Another way of dispersing this natural cleaning solution is a plastic spray or squirt bottle. Just spritz the area you’re about to clean and mop up the mist.

If you’re cleaning tile, add a cup of white vinegar to a gallon of warm water. If your floor is Linoleum or a Laminate, only use a half-cup of vinegar. Hardwood floors require a little extra attention; to that same gallon of water, just add a tablespoon of vinegar. Also, your mopping technique needs to be modified. You don’t want to drench your mop. You only want to apply a lightly damp one to a hardwood surface. And when you’re done, make sure the wood is completely dry as standing water can destroy many types of floor as well as your finish.

There are many inexpensive, easy-to-use natural alternatives which can safely be used in place of commercial household products. Here is a list of common, environmentally safe products which can be used to keep some of those harsh chemicals out of your house and away from your family. There’s also some recipes for household cleaners:

Baking Soda - cleans, deodorizes, softens water, scours.

Soap - unscented soap in liquid form, flakes, powders or bars is biodegradable and will clean just about anything. Avoid using soaps which contain petroleum distillates.

Lemon - one of the strongest food-acids, effective against most household bacteria.

Borax - (sodium borate) cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens water, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors.

White Vinegar - cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up.

Isopropyl Alcohol - is an excellent disinfectant. (It has been suggested to replace this with ethanol or 100 proof alcohol in solution with water. There is some indication that isopropyl alcohol buildup contributes to illness in the body. See http://drclark.ch/g)

Cornstarch - can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs.

Citrus Solvent - cleans paint brushes, oil and grease, some stains. (Citrus solvent may cause skin, lung or eye irritations for people with multiple chemical sensitivities.)

Wood Floor Cleaner and Polish:

If you’re looking to add a bit of shine to your wood floors, give this easy recipe a try:

1 gallon of hot water

3/4 cup of olive oil

1/2 cup lemon juice


This formula does double duty. The hot water and lemon clean the floor, and the addition of olive oil leaves your wood floors with a nice, natural sheen. Simply apply it to your floors with a mop that you’ve wrung out fairly well; then let it dry on its own. No need for rinsing – once it dries, your floors will look great!

Disinfecting Floor Cleaner:

This recipe is great for the bathroom and any other areas of your home that need good, regular, disinfecting.

1 gallon of hot water

1/4 cup of Borax

Mix the water and Borax in a mop bucket, stirring to dissolve the Borax. Borax is a great disinfectant and will clean up even the grossest messes. You don’t need to rinse your floors after mopping with this combo, either.

All-Purpose Floor Cleaner and Polish:

For vinyl and linoleum: mix 1 cup vinegar and a few drops of baby oil in 1 gallon warm water. For tough jobs, add 1/4 cup borox. Use sparingly on linoleum.

Wood: apply a thin coat of 1:1 vegetable oil and vinegar and rub in well.

Painted wood: mix 1 teaspoon washing soda into 1 gallon (4L) hot water.

Brick and stone tiles: mix 1 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon (4L) water; rinse with clear water.

Most floor surfaces can be easily cleaned using a solution of vinegar and water.

For damp-mopping wood floors: mix equal amounts of white distilled vinegar and water. Add 15 drops of pure peppermint oil; shake to mix.

Tub and Tile Cleaner: For simple cleaning, rub in baking soda with a damp sponge and rinse with fresh water. For tougher jobs, wipe surfaces with vinegar first and follow with baking soda as a scouring powder. (Vinegar can break down tile grout, so use sparingly.)