Cleaning Self-Adhesive Floor Tiles

Vinyl, Cork, Linoleum, and Rubber

Woman wiping the floor in bathroom
Westend61 / Getty Images

There are many advantages to self-adhesive floor tiles. They tend to be relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and low maintenance. The cleaning methods used on different materials will vary, and some processes of maintenance and disinfection can harm the installation that you are trying to protect. That is why it is important to know the products that you buy, and understand how different agents will interact with them over time.

Cleaning Considerations

The main thing to understand about self-adhesive tiles is that these floors are made up of lots of individual pieces which are pressed together by pressure and glue. While this creates the illusion of a single, solid surface that stretches out beneath you, in truth, there are still seams that exist between every individual component in the collection. Those are vulnerabilities that can be exploited by liquids and humidity over time, allowing water to penetrate down to the subfloor and cause damage.

You should never immerse self-adhesive tiles in water for mopping purposes. Depending on the type of material, damp cleaning may be acceptable, but you have to make sure that you do not leave puddles behind that can slowly work their way down past the surface of your installation. That can lead not only to damage, but also the formation of mold which can in turn negatively affect the air quality of the entire environment.

Vinyl Tile Flooring

Often vinyl flooring materials will have a paper backing that can be removed to reveal an adhesive coat that allows them to be stuck to nearly any surface, even existing flooring installations. The tiles themselves are impervious to almost all stains and penetrations, but you always have to be careful about the seams between pieces. Sealing can help but will fade over time.

Vinyl flooring will wear out over an 8- to 12-year span. While it is resistant to staining, maintenance will require you to use a careful hand and to avoid harsh chemicals that can cause long-term discolorations. It should also be kept out of direct sunlight, as this can cause a yellowing effect.

Cork Tile Flooring

Even though cork is a relatively soft material, it is still considered resilient due to its multi-functional capabilities, including the fact that it can be sealed against most stains and discolorations. This chemical sealant is a clear protective coat that needs to be applied after installation, and then periodically every year in order to maintain the integrity of the surface of the floor.

Naturally absorbent, and suffering from the same tile issues that vinyl has, cork should never be immersed in water for mopping purposes. You will just want to sweep or vacuum the area with a machine that does not have a beater bar. This will keep loose dirt from accruing, which can both stain and wear away the surface seal. A dry mop solution is also acceptable; otherwise, spot cleaning with a sponge should be enough for getting rid of stains. Just make sure that you never use a hard bristle brush on these materials as they will scratch with relative ease.

Linoleum Tiles

This all-natural resilient flooring option is available in self-adhesive tile form and has many of the properties of vinyl. Although it is not quite as resistant to water as man-made, manufactured materials, it is an all-natural and environmentally friendly option that will be proof against most common staining factors. That means that cleaning it will only require you to sweep or vacuum on a regular basis. Damp mopping will also work on occasion, but you have to make sure that you wipe away any lingering moisture, and never immerse the floor completely in water.

Note: While it is more susceptible to liquid than vinyl when properly maintained, linoleum also has a longer life cycle than that material, and can theoretically last through decades of use.

Rubber Tile Flooring

Rubber tile flooring materials are often installed without glue and are held in place by their inherent weight and the traction between adjoining pieces. However, some lighter products will have adhesive backing in order to provide a firmer hold on the floor and the surface beneath it.

While rubber tiles do suffer from the same seam problems that vinyl, cork, and related materials do, the inherent hold between individual pieces that are pressed up against one another can serve to provide a barrier against the downward trespass of unwanted moisture. That allows you to damp mop them with greater confidence, although you still don’t want to completely immerse a rubber floor in water.

At the same time, the inherent antimicrobial and stain resistant properties of these products mean that cleaning shouldn’t require more than periodic sweeping and or vacuuming to keep them free of debris.