How to deep clean vinyl floors
March 29, 2009 11:03 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to deep clean vinyl floors?

We have a vinyl floor in our kitchen - you know the kind that's supposed to look like individual tiles but is actually a rolled out sheet of faux tiles. It's a rental, not my choice of floors but it'll do. I'm kind of lax about regular cleaning though I've been trying to be better and at least use a Swiffer Wet Jet every other week on account of the baby crawling all over the floors. It's hard to ignore the state of the floors when the evidence is smeared all over the knees of your child.

Occasionally I do the old hands-and-knees service with a bucket and a scrub brush. However, it seems to me that there's a layer of grime that I'm not getting to. I've heard all kinds of things to try: ammonia, borax, vinegar, isopropyl alcohol but really have no idea what I need to do to strip the floors of grime. Hopefully this is the kind of thing I can do once or twice a year and then return to my swiffering for more regular maintenance. And then, once I really have them clean, do I seal them somehow? With what?

Ideas? The less toxic the better.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read this recent thread ?
posted by hellogoodbye at 11:29 AM on March 29, 2009

You will need a commercial stripper to get to the real dirt. Then you'll have to reseal them.

I have vinyl floors as well and I have not done the stripper yet because it seems like a huge pain in neck. There are tutorials on the internet.

I use ammonia to get up the ground in dirt. I find that it works the best. I use ammonia at least once a month because there is so much traffic and dirt builds up around dining chairs and traffic patterns. I clean my vinyl flooring with a string mop with a bucket of hot water and I add Lysol all purpose cleaner or Spic and Span to the water. (The new "green" Clorox all-purpose cleaner works beautifully as well. I need to buy more.) I spot treat and pour ammonia on certain areas that are really grungy. I let the ammonia sit for a while and then mop the entire floor. What really gets up the grime is ammonia and a Scotch scrub sponge. I love the idea of the Swiffer wet jet, but it never cleaned my floors that well. The corners remained dirty and I felt dirt built up faster.

As you know ammonia has fumes that are noxious, and my sister always complains when I use it, but it's the only thing I've found that cuts through the grime.
posted by Fairchild at 11:35 AM on March 29, 2009

What you probably have is a build up of acrylic wax. You should never use a wax product on vinyl floors. This usually is a result of years of using a product like Mop & Glo. Mop & Glo is a mixture of wax stripper and wax product. The theory is that you clean the floor and put on wax at the same time. Instead, what you really get is a deposit made up of a slurry of dirty wax that binds to the floor and cannot be easily removed by normal cleaning. Acrylic wax is not really a wax but a plastic coating. Mix it with dirt and you have a dirty plastic film stuck to your floor.

What you need to do is strip all the wax from the floor. That will remove the film of grime that you are seeing. Thereafter only clean using water and detergent like Spic and Span.

Stripping the wax layer is not easy. You need a powerful wax stripper like this that you can get at the home improvement center. Acrylic wax is removed by an alkaline solution. Ammonia is weakly alkaline and what is found in Mop & Glo. Ammonia probably won't be strong enough if you have a lot of wax build up. So you need the more powerful product that contains potassium hydroxide.

Save your back when stripping or cleaning the floor. Get a long handled stiff brush at the home improvement center used for cleaning outdoor house siding or decking. Get a big sponge mop for cleaning up the mess. Mix and apply the stripper according to the product instructions. Apply liberally to a 3 foot by 3 foot section at a time and let it soak for a while like a paint stripper. Use the long handled stiff brush to loosen the wax. Then use the mop to clean up.

This is a big project and will probably take all afternoon. The good news is that you only have to do it once to remove the dirty wax. Then you only have to clean once every couple of weeks by going over quickly with your sponge mop and Spic and Span. That should only take 10 minutes.
posted by JackFlash at 11:51 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm into cleaning, and even worked as a janitor when I was in college. And I've lived in my share of apartments with cheap, worn-out kitchen floors. Some floors are designed to hold onto dirt and to look dirty when they're clean.

I agree with the deep-cleaning advice already given. I also think you'll want to apply a thin, even coat of acrylic (I like Future) once your floor is pristine, because the vinyl has probably lost some of its gloss and developed a lot of tiny scratches, and the roughened surface holds onto dirt. The acrylic makes the floor smoother and shinier. Like glossy paint vs. flat, the smooth shiny floor will be easier to keep clean with just water or a mild cleaning solution. You won't need to renew the acrylic, except in high-traffic areas.

Spic and Span contains TSP or a TSP substitute. A strong solution might strip the acrylic, but I think it's too strong for regular mopping.
posted by wryly at 12:25 PM on March 29, 2009

Response by poster: Yes, I have seen the previous thread but it doesn't really answer my question about deep cleaning. IT seems to be more about cleaning techniques generally. I"m actually fairly good at the regular cleaning but this stuff just seems beyond your standard mop and bucket of cleanser.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:29 PM on March 29, 2009

Response by poster: So we used straight ammonia and a stiff brush and that seemed to work pretty well. I don't know if it's the best way, or if we should have done some sort of sealant after that but it's already a huge improvement.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:00 AM on April 10, 2009

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