Dear Home-Ec 101,
I was looking on your site for information on the best (and hopefully most efficient) way to scrub floors. I found posts on your site about linoleum and mopping, but the only thing I found on scrubbing was a sentence saying that scrubbing floors required significantly more water. I have tile floors in my kitchen and bathroom and 3 young children. They are always dirty, and I have a baby who is crawling on them.
Thanks so much!
Tiled-In Toddler Town
When scrubbing tile, you want to avoid harsh cleaners. Acids usually won’t affect the tile, but they can damage the seal protecting the grout and if the grout is unsealed, they can damage the grout itself. Strongly alkaline cleaners (like bleach) can also damage the sealant.
Before starting, check to see if your grout is sealed. Don’t worry, there’s a very simple test for this. Just sprinkle a drop of water on the grout, if it beads, the grout is sealed and you are on easy street -well as easy as life with three young kids ever is. If the grout darkens where the water was applied, the grout needs to be sealed, pronto. Since it has to be cleaned first, I’ll address how to seal grout in a future post.
You should NOT need to scrub your flooring often. This should only happen a couple of times a year at most or if you’ve slacked for a while and the dirt has had a chance to get comfortable with help from sticky friends like hair spray or spilled food. I have a steam cleaner I use for routine cleaning.
Before starting, sweep or vacuum the room thoroughly. You’ll save a lot of work getting rid of the loose dirt, first.
To scrub a tile floor, you’ll need:
- at least one bucket -I like having a second for rinse water, or I just use the sink or tub in a small bathroom
- mild detergent, preferably pH neutral, but something like the plain original Dawn dish soap will do
- warm water
- a scrub brush
- several old towels
- two rags
- something to kneel on, unless you truly hate your knees and have no plans to wear shorts or skirts in the next week or so
Fill your bucket with warm water, add just a squirt or two of detergent. You don’t want it sudsy, when you are scrubbing, you’re mostly relying on physical energy to remove dirt rather than chemical. (We’ve talked about these mechanisms in the past, in relation to laundry).
Dip one of your rags in the bucket and wring it well, this is to address smudges on the baseboard and everything else you notice while on your hands and knees (it’s amazing what a different perspective can reveal sometimes). Keep this in easy reach.
Mentally divide the room into smallish squares, no more than a couple of feet across. Dip your brush into the soapy water and gently scrub in circular motions, be sure to try to pull dirt away from the corners rather than pushing into them. Rinse your brush often to prevent just transferring dirt from one area to another. The bristles of the scrub brush sweep up and trap the dirt which is then rinsed away. (This is why I have a separate bucket for rinse water, you don’t want to just keep dipping your scrub brush back into dirty water and potentially picking up the same dirt to reapply it to the floor)
Wet your other rag with plain water and squeeze to remove most of the water. Use this to wipe / rinse your finished square. Wipe up any excess water with one of your old towels and move on to your next area. Don’t skip the rinsing step, soap can leave a sticky film behind that attracts dirt. Your freshly scrubbed floor will look dirty even faster with that invisible accessory.
Keep moving from one section to another. Usually, I work from one corner toward the door, but I have an exception for the bathrooms because I have boys. When it comes to the bathroom, I always save around the toilet for last, as the idea of spreading even very dilute urine around skeeves me out a bit.
Remember that while your tile floor shouldn’t be damaged by water that your baseboards and cabinetry may not be as durable. Work quickly along the baseboards to prevent water from damaging the wood or cabinetry and wipe up any excess water quickly.
It’s not rocket science, but it is work. Again, this is not how you should clean your flooring on a weekly basis, scrubbing should be reserved only for very deep cleaning as scrub brushes themselves can damage the sealant protecting your grout.
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