Cleaning Techniques for Various Floorings

The average home contains a wide variety of flooring surfaces, all needing different cleaning techniques and products. When you are planning furnishings, try to install the same type of flooring in adjacent rooms to make life easier. Wherever possible, get detailed cleaning instructions from the manufacturers. Write, asking them to recommend specific cleaning products and techniques for your particular flooring. Some carpet makers will also supply guidance on stain removal.

Always use the cleaning products and procedures recommended by your flooring manufacturer. If you have new flooring or carpets, find out what these methods are. Write to the manufacturer, if necessary.

Clean floors as often as you can: embedded dirt is difficult to remove and can cause permanent damage.

Wipe up all spills at once: they can stain, they can be dangerous, and they can cause permanent damage.

Make sure you have door mats front and back.

The basic floor cleaning techniques which are suitable for many different smooth floorings, are:

Sweeping. Always clear a floor before you sweep, and sweep towards the middle of the floor. Always empty your dust pan immediately after use.

Vacuum cleaning. See notes on vacuum cleaners. Suitable for carpets and smooth floorings.

Damp-mopping. See previous notes on floor mops. In general, use a little washing-up liquid in a bucketful of warm water; if necessary, damp-mop with clear water to rinse. Work towards an exit, and try to choose a time when your floor will have a chance to dry undisturbed.

Polishing. This is often not necessary for today’s floors – for example, many vinyls have a shiny clear ‘wear layer’. Some floors:

– bare wood and cork, stone, slate, brick and unglazed ceramic tiles such as quarries

– cannot be satisfactorily polished unless first sealed; see note on sealers, below.

There are two main types of floor polishes, so always read directions and recommendations on packs very carefully. Water-based emulsion polishes contain acrylics and/or wax and are suitable for most types of floor. They dry to a soft shine. Before applying polish, damp-mop and rinse off as described above under damp-mopping. Then apply polish with a damp clean cloth or mop: a dry cloth soaks up too much of the polish. The polish will take about half an hour to dry and should be left undisturbed for this time. You can apply a second coat about a day later if you wish.

You will not need to polish again for about six weeks; in between times, simply damp-mop. But after about six applications of polish you will need to strip away the polish build-up, as this can make your floor seem very dingy or even discoloured. Half-fill a bucket with cold water and add a quarter of a cup of floor cleaning powder, and one cup of ammonia. Scrub the floor with this solution, using a soft brush, then rinse thoroughly with clean water. Allow to dry, then re-apply polish as above.

Solvent or spirit-based wax polish can be solid or liquid. The liquid types actually clean off traces of old polish and dirt as you put them on, but do not use these polishes on vinyl sheet or tiles or on cork tiles with a vinyl coating. And never apply a water-based polish to a floor previously polished with a solvent-based polish or the other way around. Sweep the floor before you apply a solvent based polish, then apply the polish on a clean dry cloth and allow to dry for at least half an hour before buffing up with a second clean dry cloth. Or you can use an electric polisher if you have one.

Sealing. Many floors are easier to keep clean if they are initially sealed. Indeed it is essential to seal bare new wood , and bare cork. Use a polyurethane or oleo-resinous seal, carefully following the directions on the pack. Sealers may need renewing periodically, and should always be applied to scrupulously clean floors. Special sealers are sold by flooring specialists for stone, slate, brick, concrete and unglazed ceramics such as quarry tiles, and will make these floors easier to keep clean. But always try out on a small test area first, as some sealers can change the colour of these floors. When sealed, all types of floor can be polished with a water-based emulsion polish or with a solvent wax polish. Do not seal vinyl floors.


Here are some notes on how to treat particular floor surfaces commonly found around the home.


Sweep. If necessary, scrub over with a solution of warm water plus washing-up liquid, using a cleaning powder if floor seems very badly soiled, but do not over wet. Rinse off, if necessary, then use a dry mop to dry the floor as much as possible. You can buy special sealers for brick and stone floors, which will make subsequent cleaning much easier. Sealed floors can be polished with a liquid solvent wax polish, or an emulsion polish.

Ceramic tiles

For glazed tiles, simply sweep, then damp-mop occasionally, but never polish. Always mop up spills promptly as these can make the floor dangerously slippery. Unglazed types include quarry tiles. Sweep, and damp-mop as for 112 brick flooring above. White patches sometimes appear on newly laid tiles. Wash with neat vinegar, leave to dry for about one hour, then rinse. You can seal quarry tiles if you wish, using a mixture of half white spirit and half linseed oil, applied very sparingly, or a special floor sealer. Sealed floors can be polished. Red coloured wax paste polishes are available to restore the colour to old floor tiles.

Cork. You must find out which finish your cork floor has, as this affects the way to treat it. Unsealed cork tiles must first be sealed with an oleo-resinous floor seal, or with polyurethane, and they will need at least three coats. Always follow carefully any directions on the can. In general each coat of varnish will take around <S to 10 hours to dry, and you should aim to apply each coat within 24 hours of the last. When the seal is completely dry, floors can be damp-mopped, and polished if you wish with an emulsion or solvent polish. Waxed cork tiles can be swept, then polished with a liquid solvent-based wax polish. A little of this polish can also be used to remove any stubborn marks. Polyurethane-coated tiles can be swept and damp-mopped. Polish, if vou wish, with a water-based emulsion polish, and a little of this can be used to remove stubborn marks. Vinyl-coated tiles should be swept, damp-mopped and then polished with a water-based emulsion polish, but never use a solvent-based polish.


Don’t confuse this with modern vinyls which have largely replaced old-fashioned lino in the shops. Many people still call vinyl ‘lino’. New lino may benefit from sealing: follow maker’s recommendations. In general, lino floors can be swept, then damp-mopped, but do take care not to overwet the floor. Use either a water-based or solvent-based polish depending on which has been used before. You can use a little polish on a damp cloth to remove stubborn marks, or try rubbing gently with a cloth moistened with a little turps or white spirit.


Sweep, then damp-mop, with a bucket of warm water plus a squeeze of washing-up liquid. Rinse, and use a dry mop to dry off floor. Always wipe up stains and spills immediately as these can stain badly if left.

Stone and slate floors

Sweep and damp-mop with a bucket of warm water to which has been added a squeeze of washing-up liquid. You can buy special sealers for stone and slate floors, but always test a small area first, as a sealer could cause discolouration. Sealed floors are easier to clean and can be polished if you wish with an emulsion or a solvent-based liquid wax polish.

Vinyl sheet and tiles

Sweep and damp-mop as necessary. Polish if you wish with a water-based emulsion polish- do not use a solvent-based polish – see notes on Damp-mopping and Polishing. Sometimes stubborn marks can be removed with a soft clean india rubber or you can use a little polish on a damp cloth. Beware of the following, all of which will harm a vinyl floor surface: paint stripper, nail varnish remover, white spirit and paraffin. Leave small spills to evaporate, otherwise you may simply spread the damage; but mop up large spills immediately and throw away the cloth in the outside dustbin.


Bare wood must fust be sanded smooth and clean, then stained and sealed either with oleo-

Left: hard-wearing sisal has been chosen for this busy dining area; regular vacuuming will help to retain its tough good looks ami prevent a build-up of dirt underneath Above: ij you have large areas of carpet in your home, it is worth while to invest in a carpet shampooer, which forces the shampoo loam deep into the carpet pile. See text for full details on shampooing carpets resinous floor seal or with polyurethane least three coats, following the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Once sealed, wood can be swept and even damp-mopped, but do take care not to get it too wet. As the scaler becomes worn, renew it, or water can penetrate through to wood fibres and make them swell. You can polish scaled floors with a water-based or solvent-based polish as you wish. Waxed wooden floors should be swept, then polished with solvent-based liquid floor polish which will also clean as it polishes. A little polish, or white spirit should remove stubborn marks; use very fine steel wool if necessary – working parallel to the grain.


Regular cleaning is essential as enrbedded dirt and grit will actually harm the carpet pile. Vacuum at least once a week, more often if necessary. First clear the floor as much as is possible but do not drag heavy furniture over the carpet. Shag pile carpets are best cleaned by a cylinder type vacuum cleaner or a carpet sweeper as the long pile can become entangled in upright vacuum cleaners. You can buy a special ‘shag-rake’ which is very effective for fluffing up the carpet pile.

Wet-cleaning. Once or even twice a year, your carpet may need wet cleaning, to shift stains and remove ground-in dirt. If the carpet is valuable, or is badly soiled, is flattened, has been flooded, or has colours which are likely to run, it is best to call in a professional cleaner, who may use a shampoo system or the newer method of ‘steam’ cleaning often called ‘hot-water extraction’. Your cleaner will advise you on which method is the most suitable for your carpet. New or newly-cleaned carpets can be chemically sprayed to resist subsequent soiling or staining: consult a professional cleaner. Rugs and carpet squares can be taken away for factory cleaning, but fitted carpets must be cleaned ‘on site’.

Alternatively, you can tackle wet-cleaning the carpet yourself. It is now possible to hire machines for steam cleaning from many drycleaners and hire equipment shops. Always follow the directions very carefully: do not exceed temperatures recommended and never make the cleaning solution stronger than the instructions specify.

Shampooing, however, is the method familiar to most people. Use a proprietary carpet shampoo of the ‘dry foam’ type. When these shampoos are dry, they can be vacuumed up with any remaining dirt. Never use a solution of washing-up liquid, as this will simply reattract dirt. follow the instructions on the shampoo pack.

There are various ways of applying the shampoo. You can use a small sponge or brush, but it is difficult not to over-wet the carpet in the process, or to distribute the shampoo evenly.

You will get better results if you use a carpet shampooer, a special upright appliance with a container for the shampoo solution, and foam rollers at the bottom. As you push the container back and forth, the shampoo comes out of the bottom as a foam. You could buy one of these and share it with friends; it would certainly pay for itself in time if you have large carpeted areas in your home. Or you can hire electrical versions of this machine from many hardware stores and these are even more effective. If you have shaggy long pile carpets, check that the machine you intend to hire is suitable for them – the pile can become entangled in some types of electric machine.

Before shampooing always test for colour fastness. Rub a small patch of the carpet in an out-of-the-way spot with a cloth wetted with the shampoo solution. If the colours of patterned carpets appear to run, transferring themselves onto the cloth, you should call in a professional 115 cleaner. Plain carpets may transfer a little colour onto your cloth, but you should nevertheless still be able to carry out a satisfactory home shampoo, provided that you apply it evenly.

Choose a time for shampooing when the room can be left unused for at least six to eight hours afterwards – or better still, overnight. You will need to remove heavy furniture and you should get help with this. Never drag furniture over the carpet. For pieces that cannot be removed, cut little pieces of aluminium foil to place under their feet. Make up the shampoo solution exactly as directed on the pack. Mix it in a large bowl, jug or bucket before you pour it into your shampooer. If you prefer to mix shampoo in the machine, insert shampoo first, then add the water. Shake gently to mix. Vacuum thoroughly, passing the vacuum cleaner at least five times over each strip of carpet. Treat any spots with I tablespoon of white vinegar to I litre of shampoo solution. Then open any windows and start shampooing opposite the door, working on strips of carpet about 30 cm wide. Push the shampooer back and forth several times, then leave pile sloping in the right direction. As you move to a fresh area, allow a slight overlap. Always take care not to overwet the carpet.

When you have finished, close the door, leaving carpet to dry for at least six to eight hours. Avoid walking on it while it is wet. When it is dry, vacuum all over very thoroughly. This is very important. You will be removing the freed dirt plus the remains of the shampoo, which would simply re-attract dirt if left in the pile. Then get help with moving back the furniture.


In general these can be cleaned with a vacuum cleaner or carpet sweeper. Occasionally, turn them over and clean the back as well as the front. However, there are so many different types of rugs now available that it is dithcult to give more specific advice. Keep any cleaning instructions that come with the rug. Some types are washable: these may include cotton shag piles, acrylic long piles, and fiokati white wool rugs from Greece. Wash by hand in warm water with mild detergent and spin dry if possible. Then dry over two lines, to support the weight. When dry, fluff up the pile with a clean stiff brush. Other rugs, made in the same way as carpets, can be shampooed as described above, but oriental carpets of any value should always be sent away to a specialist cleaner. Many rugs from overseas such as the numdah embroidered felts and dhurries cannot be washed or shampooed but can be dry cleaned. Fur rugs should not be vacuumed; shake them gently outside from time to time. Some rugs without a backing can be gently shampooed with a sponge and a solution of carpet shampoo, but you must avoid wetting the skin. For fur rugs with a backing try sprinkling with fullers earth. Leave the powder on for a few hours then brush it out.

Mattings e.g. rush. Vacuum thoroughly as often as possible; if you can, lift to sweep up or vacuum dirt that collects underneath. Sponge or scrub dirty matting with a solution of warm water and washing-up liquid, then sponge over with clean water and allow to dry. Treat greasy marks with warm water into which you have dissolved a little washing soda.

Carpet stain removal: general advice.

Treat all stains as quickly as possible to prevent a permanent mark. Don’t panic. Plot up liquids with a clean absorbent cloth, or use white tissue or toilet-paper: do not use coloured paper napkins. Do not rub stain in. Specific action for particular stains is listed under the Stain removal chart. Remember to test all methods on an unseen part of the carpet before using them on a larger area which shows. 116

Cleaning Techniques for Various Floorings

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