DIY Floor Cleaners Put to the Test
I have two young kids. And I have floors. So you might as well call me King Sisyphus. He’s the guy in Greek mythology who was eternally condemned to rolling a huge boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again—the very symbol of futility and frustration. On the bright side, at least my floors are the perfect testing ground for inexpensive DIY floor cleaners. And since these homespun formulas are natural (but not all with non-toxic ingredients), it’s no problem if the kids want to get on there and start kicking that boulder back down while the floors are still wet.
About the Test
The solutions were tested on a variety of flooring surfaces, as appropriate, including ceramic tile, laminate, vinyl and hardwood (polyurethane finish). I have no stone floors in my house, so I can’t vouch for cleaning performance on slate, marble, travertine and the like. If you have natural stone, check with your flooring supplier or installer before using any new cleaning solution; solutions with vinegar and other acidic ingredients can pit or etch some types of stone. If you have polyurethane-finished hardwood, don’t use any solution with oil, wax or oil-based soap, which can prevent a bond when recoating the finish, sometimes precluding the recoat option altogether.
1 cup white vinegar
1 gallon warm water
Mop solution onto ceramic tile, laminate or vinyl floors. Rinse if desired.
White vinegar diluted with water is a well known all-purpose cleaning solution and is appropriate for several types of hard flooring (except stone, as noted). The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (of UMass Lowell) recommends adding a bit of peppermint extract to the solution for a touch of minty freshness. But I found that the vinegar scent, which isn’t so pleasant, pretty much disappears after the floor is dry.
When mopped onto tile, laminate and vinyl, it’s hard to say whether the vinegar added much cleaning power over plain warm water. However, when I sponged-scrubbed some dirty grout on the tile floor, the vinegar solution was slightly better than water alone. A vinegar and water mix is reported to have no ill effects on hardwood floors, which my test seemed to support. However, with polyurethane, there’s little need for cleaning solutions, so I will stick with a towel dampened with plain water—and my belief that the less stuff you can use on wood floors the better.
1 part water
1 part white vinegar
1 part 2% isopropyl alcohol
Few drops liquid dish detergent
Mix ingredients and pour into a spray bottle. Spray solution onto floor in fine mist. Let sit for several minutes, then wipe up with a microfiber cloth or microfiber mop.
This formula comes from a Hubpages contributor (“mamatron”) and is specifically formulated for cleaning laminate flooring (Pergo, etc.). It looks like a clever combination of a few popular DIY floor cleaning ingredients, and requires no bucket or rinsing.
While this cleaner and application seemed to give my laminate floor a slight sheen and glow, without streaks or spots, the cleaning performance was marginal, and the small amount of liquid on the surface (as opposed to mopping or sponging) meant it was less effective on really dirty areas. Having to wait for a few minutes between spraying and wiping was inconvenient and required cleaning the floor in stages rather than all in one go. That said, people who don’t have old, beat-up, low quality laminate (like I do) might have different results.
Sprinkle Borax on a damp sponge, wipe floor to remove stains and dirt, then rinse with water.
This application comes directly from a box of Borax (the “all natural laundry booster”). IMPORTANT: Since this article was originally written, the safety of borax has come into question, so proceed at your own risk.
When applied directly to the sponge or sprinkled onto the floor, Borax worked wonders on the dirty tile grout, brightening it almost instantly. I tried the same thing on a few stubborn spots of the laminate with decent but mixed results. It had little effect on stains on the vinyl floor, probably because these are deep into the plastic “wear layer” on top and possibly nothing will get them out. In any case, I would check with your flooring supplier before using straight Borax on laminate or vinyl, as it’s a little gritty at first and could be too strong for their glossy plastic surfaces.
Overall, the Borax is a good, non-smelly and fume-free option for stains and tough spots, when applied directly (and scrubbed, if necessary) with a sponge. Mopping with a diluted solution of Borax and water (which I’ve seen recommended) didn’t do much, and it requires rinsing.
The main advantages of all of these DIY floor cleaners are that they’re cheap, don’t have harsh fumes that burn your eyes and leave no unpleasant chemical or floral scent in the air. For everyday cleaning, you’re probably just as well off using warm water alone as any of these solutions. But for removing stains and scuffs (and cleaning grout), a commercial soap or cleaner applied locally will save a lot of effort and may be the only way to get rid of some stains.
No time to spend mopping your floors? Hire a professional cleaner to do the job for you.
Updated February 15, 2018.