How to Mop Your Floor the Right Way

Man Cleaning a Kitchen Floor With a Mop and Bucket
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Traditional damp mopping remains the best way to clean many types of flooring. While Swiffer-type pads combined with sweeping are great for daily cleanup of dust and light soil, only a good, thorough weekly damp mopping with a proper cleaning solution can really provide the deep-down cleaning a floor needs.

While damp mopping is by far the best method for cleaning vinyl sheet flooring, vinyl tile, and ceramic or porcelain tile, it is not a good idea to use water on any type of wood floor, on plastic laminate floors, cork, bamboo, or any other type of flooring where the manufacturer discourages contact with water. Properly sealed woods or laminates may tolerate an occasional damp wipe, but heavy mopping with water is not advised for these floors.

Materials You Will Need

  • Vacuum cleaner or broom and dustpan
  • Mop (string-, rag-, or sponge-type, as needed)
  • Mop buckets (2)
  • Mopping solution
  • Rag or paper towels (as needed)

How to Mop a Floor

Most people imagine they already know how to mop a floor, but a key mistake often made is to neglect using a second bucket for rinse water. It is very common to use only a bucket of wash water and to rinse the map in the same water used to wash the floor. The better method is to use two buckets—one for a solution of water and detergent, and another with clean rinse water.

Gather Supplies

Choose a mop based on your floor type. If you have a floor with a lot of texture, such as some ceramic tile floors, you'll want the more classic white-string or rag mop. If you have a smooth floor, a sponge mop will work well. A simple household cleanser is best as a mopping solution. Products advertised using phrases such as "mop and shine" are generally not the best choice, as these can lead to a build-up that yellows over time.

Because you will be alternately washing and rinsing as you move across the floor, make sure you have two mop buckets. Or, you can use one bucket for wash water and fill a sink basin with fresh water to rinse. Mop buckets with built-in wringers work well if you are using a classic string or rag mop, but any bucket with a handle will work fine if you are using a sponge mop.

Prepare the Floor

In order to prevent your floor from becoming a sticky, muddy mess, sweep or vacuum the floor thoroughly before ever touching the mop to the floor. This is a good time to prewash sticky or gunky spots that you notice when sweeping or vacuuming. This can also be a good time to make a quick pass over the floor with a Swiffer-type cleaning pad, as it may pick up fine dust and light dirt that sweeping and vacuuming missed. The less grime there is on the floor when you start mopping, the fewer times you will need to change wash water and rinse water.

Fill the Buckets

As your mother often told you, use hot water to get things really clean, and this applies to mopping your floor. Steaming hot water both in your wash bucket and rinse bucket will clean your floors better and quicker.

In an effort to really, really clean the floor, you might be tempted to double up on the amount of detergent or mopping solution you mix into the water in the wash bucket. This is not a good idea, as extra-concentrated wash water will not clean any better, and it will just be harder to rinse. Always follow the instructions on the mopping solution label.

Dip, Wring, Wash, and Rinse. Repeat

Dip your mop in the bucket and wring it out with a wringer or by hand. The mop should be damp, not sopping. Too much water dripping from the mop can damage a floor or leave the floor with an extended drying time. Proceed across the floor from one end to the other, moving backward so you are always standing on the unmopped floor to prevent tracking.

Mop in straight lines if you are using a sponge mop. For rag mops, mop in a figure-8 motion to use the design of your mop most effectively. When you encounter tough or sticky spots, rub back and forth rapidly over the spot, applying downward pressure to remove the grime.

After scrubbing each small area of the floor, rinse your mop thoroughly in a bucket or sink basin containing plain hot water. Wring out the mop, dip it back into the wash bucket to apply more cleaning solution, then wash the next section of floor.

Keep an eye on both the wash water and rinse water. When they become visibly gray or dingy, empty the water and mix up a new solution in the wash bucket or add fresh water to the rinse bucket. Using dirty wash water or rinse water only spreads muddy water over the floor and complicates the rinsing process.

For hard-to-reach corners and edges, you may need to squat down and scrub the floor with a hand sponge or paper towels.

Final Rinse

Done correctly, your floor should now be quite clean, with little or no detergent residue left. But for an extra clean, you can mop over the entire floor a final time using nothing but clear hot rinse water. If your rinse water gets at all dirty or sudsy, you will know the final rinse has been necessary.

Wrapping Up

When you've mopped and rinsed every section of the floor, thoroughly rinse out your mop and mop bucket and allow them to dry completely before storing them away. Let your floor dry completely before walking on it.

Very few modern vinyl or ceramic floors require any kind of wax or polish. In the rare case where you want to use a shine product on the floor, do this work soon after washing is complete, before any additional dirt or dust can accumulate.