Help me unf*ck my kitchen floor
September 1, 2020 12:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I make this old grease-stained kitchen floor look better?

I'm in an apartment rental where the kitchen floor has seen better days. Photos available here, with a close-up of the grimey spots.

Thus far I've tried a combination of degreasers + magic eraser + brillo pad. There's been a big improvement, but there are still gross patches that won't budge. From an aesthetics perspective, there is also a dullness to the floors. They are matte and dust/dirt cling to them like nobody's business.

In summary:
1) How to remove these stains from the floor without permanent damage?
2) What are these floors made of?
3) Should I apply some kind of "tile shine" product to help restore them to their former glory?
posted by joeyjoejoejr to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That's commercial vinyl tile (CVT), getting old (curling a bit at the edges). Sand it; colors go all the way through. Well, 1st, clean with ammonia, which is an excellent grease cutter and cheap. Never, ever, mix any sort of ammonia and any sort of bleach - literally deadly chlorine gas. Ammonia has gotten hard to find for this reason. Use a, probably kind of fine. Always wear a mask when you sand stuff, the vinyl should be fairly inert, but you don't want it in your lungs.

Then I might poly it. Also, you can get canvas, fold and glue the edges neatly, paint it, poly it, and it makes an easy rug that wipes clean. Folded (hemmed if you have a machine) edges less likely to curl and trip you.

I used to be a small-time landlord, would have been amenable to a good paint job with deck paint, cause that floor is old and poorly maintained.
posted by theora55 at 12:38 PM on September 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think the vinyl tiles have lost any 'no wax' finish, and now they're worse dirt magnets. You can clean the remaining grime with Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner: shake can well, spray tiles thoroughly, in sections; leave on for five minutes, then scrub and wet mop. Mop 'n Glow or Armstrong's Shine-keeper will make the vinyl look glossy (but not 're-seal' this flooring).
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:38 PM on September 1, 2020

Those appear to be of a vintage where they could very well be asbestos tiles. Don't sand them. I don't freak out about asbestos much (we had an asbestos rock as decor when I was a child -- really), but if they're deteriorating, they should be replaced.
posted by sageleaf at 12:57 PM on September 1, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Agree that asbestos is a concern here. Asbestos is fine so long as it's encapsulated, but sanding it is a big, big no-no. Test first.

Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, until you know for sure about the asbestos.
posted by ashy_sock at 1:07 PM on September 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The best de-greasing heavy duty cleaner is tri-sodium phosphate or TSP. It's a powder, sold in my local hardware store in a box the size of a paperback. True TSP, though very effective was discontinued years ago due to environmental concerns (phosphate) and the new formulations (usually still called TSP or reformulated TSP) are the next-best formulation and still very effective. Adhere to the directions scrupulously, measure well, and make sure to put the bucket or pan you use on folded newspaper because a concentrated ring of soapy water under the bucket will lighten the floor. Work carefully, wipe up drips, and wear rubber gloves. Rinse. Since this floor seems to have lost any sheen or slick surface, you might want to try a wax or wax substitute to reduce staining in the future.

TSP is a miracle cleaning product, useful for walls, woodwork, greasy cabinet doors, etc. It epitomizes the concept of grease fighting.
posted by citygirl at 1:08 PM on September 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Disclaimer: Because this is an apartment rental (and due to asbestos concerns, thanks for that callout) any major home renovation projects such as permanent sealers or sanding are out of the question for me.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2020

Best answer: I'm having trouble opening your photos, unfortunately. So I'm flying a bit blind.

But based on some similar grease and grime issues in my own apartment (I also rent), I can offer:

1. Borax is a safer alternative to TSP. I used a Borax solution to clean the walls around my stove - which had seen a good deal of grease spatters over the years - and it was pretty dang miraculous.

2. You can get a steam mop for fairly cheap off Amazon, and it is worth it. The cheaper models do call for a little elbow grease - but not for scrubbing. The one I have (linked there) has a kind of "pump action" to propel the steam through the mop head, and this pump action is supplied by you pushing the mop back and forth. It's only annoying right when you start, because it's like you're mopping and nothing's happening for several seconds - and then the steam starts coming out. I've lifted super-sticky spots (dried wax spatters, even!) by getting the mop steaming and then pushing it s-l-o-w-l-y over the spot. Steam mops usually come with a couple reusable fuzzy fabric covers to go over the mop heads, which you remove and wash after you're done (and you can get just the fabric covers separately so you can stock up on spares).

3. I also once tried mopping with a solution of Oxy-Clean and that did an AMAZING job. That was more for general grime.

I'd try a regular mop with an Oxy-Clean solution for the whole floor, then a spot treatment with a Borax solution. And then after that, save the rest of the Oxy-Clean and borax for your laundry, and either just stay on top of plain mopping, or invest in a steam mop for everyday.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:26 PM on September 1, 2020

More asbestos floor info at Inspectapedia and here's a blog post with a similar pattern that tested positive for asbestos.
On preview, providing those links in case you wish to pursue with your landlord. Include pictures of the cracks if you do.
posted by sageleaf at 1:31 PM on September 1, 2020

It's not a guarantee, but if the tiles are 12"x12" there's a good chance that they're OK as far as asbestos goes. If they're 9"x9" they're probably hot.

The tiles probably never had a no-wax coating. Vinyl tile is typically intended to be waxed. Most likely what it really needs is to be stripped and re-waxed. I have no idea how you'd do that on a residential scale (I'm sure there's a way; I'm just not that kind of housekeeper).
posted by Kriesa at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2020

Yuck. I have an answer to the top-line "look better" question, which is to cover it up. I recommend this jute rug for kitchens -- I've had it for 4+ years and it really hides all sorts of spills and stains, and it looks beautiful. It looks like in your space, a long runner, something about 2-2.5 feet wide and 6-8 feet long, will be best.

Put a rug pad under it so it doesn't slip and also so the natural fibers don't stain your vinyl. This one is great.
posted by amaire at 1:40 PM on September 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I was going to suggest hands-and-knees scrubbing with ammonia as well (well-ventilated). I did that once at my folks' house and it made an astonishing difference. Then once it's clean you could use something like mop-and-glo that has stuff in it to make the floor shiny.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:52 PM on September 1, 2020

Have you tried straight undiluted bleach on the dark spots? (Rubber gloves, old clothes, eye protection).

I agree with theora55 (with a typo). It looks like Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT) which is often used for commercial applications because it is cheap. VCT is a composition of vinyl chips embedded in compressed limestone dust. The limestone matrix is relatively porous compared to pure plastic and that is why it becomes mottled without regular maintenance.

VCT requires at least three layers of commercial floor polish which must be renewed regularly to seal the surface. Unfortunately in your case this has been neglected and allowed grime to penetrate into the matrix.

I would try pure bleach or TSP with a green scrubber pad (rubber gloves, old clothes, eye protection). Green is for heavy duty cleaning. If you can get it clean to your satisfaction, make sure you apply a sealing floor polish. Look for VCT certified products.

VCT is the stuff you always see in the movies with the guy in the dead of night running the floor polishing machine in the hallways of some government building. They clean and recoat the surface regularly.

You can rent a floor polisher and then then get a large green scrubbing pad that you set on the brush to really scrub the floor. But that is a big tool that takes a bit of practice to get used to.
posted by JackFlash at 2:14 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Once you have it as clean as possible, I can personally recommend this floor polish. I've used it to restore the shine to badly oxidized fiberglass, worn flooring, even an old crusty boat. I swear, three or four coats of this stuff could make a sheet of sandpaper glisten.
posted by peakcomm at 4:18 PM on September 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm with amaire - forget trying to clean and shine, it's a losing battle given the material. Find a nice rug and cover them up.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:49 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is advisable, but someone I know put down temporary vinyl sticker tiles like this. (It looked good.)
posted by pinochiette at 5:22 PM on September 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

a big tool that takes a bit of practice to get used to

Can confirm. I got one to sand down our hardwood floors before oiling them and to burnish the oil afterwards, and they're not the slightest bit intuitive until they suddenly are at which point they miraculously become really fun to drive.

If you remember the first time a bicycle suddenly stopped being this insane wobbly uncontrollable beast for long enough to get a glimpse of its potential for pure undiluted speed and smoothness, it's a bit like that.
posted by flabdablet at 9:54 PM on September 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Look for the most damaged tile and carefully pry a corner just up enough that you can tell if the colour goes all the way through. Linoleum tiles in my area were dark on the back and decorative on the front. That may give you some clues as to composition.

Scrubbing bubbles or Saniflush toilet bowl cleaner can also be used to strip woodwork. It is (or was) powerful stuff. If you try using that take the full precautions of rubber gloves and appropriate foot wear and watch out for stripping the quarter round that edges the walls at floor level. This is very much what I would go with, after having tried the stuff you did. Test somewhere inconspicuous first.

Cover up rugs only work if you have light usage. If someone is going to drop a pot of spaghetti sauce upside down on it, or trail food from the high chair they are poor choice.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:16 AM on September 2, 2020

I'm also in the clean a rental home's aged, damaged floor well, without overextension/ noxious-fumes exposure camp. Synthetic rugs are kinder to bare feet than they used to be; some are stain-resistant or machine-wash. Many "indoor-outdoor" types wipe off with a damp cloth, and rinse off in the yard or shower. (Some Flor carpet tiles rinse off in the sink.) If you go the small-rug route, use a separate gripper pad.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:24 AM on September 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Disgusting floor update. Here are the steps I ended up taking to clean this up:

1. Mopped the floors with TSP substitute and hot water. IMO, hot water was *key* to melting off the stubborn grease.
2. Spot cleaned with TSP and brillo pad. (In hindsight, the brillo pad was too abrasive or perhaps I used too much pressure.)
3. Rinse floors with hot water.
4. Applied five coats of floor polish. (Also in hindsight, I should have put down a floor sealer before the polish. Whoops.)
5. Profit??? Pictures here.

Unfortunately there are still some spots where dirt was caked in, but it looks 1000X better than it did before! It remains to be seen how long until grime builds up again. Planning on purchasing outdoor rugs to help protect the floors. I may need to do a strip and seal six months down the road when the polish wears off.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, wow. Toggling between tabs with "before" pics and today's shots, and what a payoff -- thank you for updating with photos and steps!
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:07 PM on September 7, 2020

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