Cleaning Lady: What NOT to buy

I occasionally get asked about products. Thing is, I don’t really have any particular products I’m rabid about – I like Fabuloso because it cleans, it smells nice and its CHEAP at Home Depot. I like Pine Oil cleaner because it can disinfect, deodorize and cut grease like a mofo. Plus I can also get it in bulk super CHEAP at HD. (HD, Fabuloso and Pine-Sol have not paid me for mentioning their products) I’d just as soon use another brand or generic if it is available and cheaper than the stuff I already buy. Sometimes I use dishwashing liquid and I’ve even used automatic dishwasher detergent to clean things. I once had a couple who only let me use Dr Bronners and Bon Ami for everything. Generally I don’t use scrubs at all as they are hell on the hands and a pain to rinse off. I have been known to use bleach-based cleaners especially in toilets because they are the bomb at getting it clean and disinfected super-quick. But they have nasty fumes that aggravate my asthma so no more of that. (also be advised that Pine Oil cleaner will defat your skin which isn’t painful but makes your epidermis peel off like a weird sunburn for a week. I have photographic proof)

However, there are SOME products I will not use. Not only that, if I think my client is using them, I will do everything in my power to get them to stop. I feel its part of my job to let people know the truth about things and cleaning products are no different. Listen and learn, my children, listen and learn.

 

Murphy’s Oil Soap

I’ll start gentle and nice: do not use Murphy’s on your hardwood floors or your wood furniture. Just don’t. If you are confused as to why, just look at the label. This is soap, made from oil. Oil that does not mix entirely with water (because its in soap, not detergent or solvent) So whenever you use soap (and I’ve ranted against soap use in the shower/bath) you leave behind a kind of weird sort of oily residue that may or may not also contain dirt, depending on how exactly you mixed your solution. Soap does not actually strip oil very well. It will dissolve some fats, especially fats that have been contaminated with dirt but overall, soap is a very ineffective and inefficient cleaner for most surfaces. Oil based soap even more so. (by the way, Dr Bronners is a soap. It’s an oil-based soap but because of other ingredients, its actually more effective at cleaning than most oil-based soaps. but that’s not saying a whole lot)

Wood is a natural surface but in the vast majority of cases, wood isn’t in its natural state when it is a household object of any use. Wood is almost always coated in either paint or some type of varnish/urethane. The coating of wood protects the wood from superficial damage over time from sun, humidity and dirt. So when you are cleaning your floors or your furniture or bookshelves you are usually not cleaning wood. You are cleaning urethane or paint. If you use soap, especially an oil-based soap, you are leaving a residue on the surface that might still contain particles of dirt.
Now what do you think happens over time as you use oil based soap? It builds up. On your shiny urethane or painted surface. It builds up with oil and often smears of dirt too. Because really, oil and water only mix so well and most of the time people use too much soap anyway. The reason there are directions for mixing things like Murphy’s is because the soap needs to attach to water in order to do its job and then leave. If there is too much soap, there will not be enough water to carry the excess soap away. Soap already leaves a bit of oil behind anyway but when you do not mix it properly (and it must be mixed in blazing hot water to really work) you not only leave oil behind, you leave soap too. Sticky sticky soap.
Obviously, if you use too much water, you will not get the dirt to vacate the premises and you are more or less wasting soap and putting water on your nice wood floor. Not good. So if you ARE using Murphys or Dr Bronners or any other soap-based cleaner, always be sure to mix it exactly according to directions (I usually skimp a tad on the soap anyway) but the only time you should be using soap-based cleaners for your house is if you need to scrub stone, brick or certain kinds of tile.

In any case, stop using Murphy’s or ANY oil soap for your finished wood. IF you have bare wood and are interested in oiling or waxing it, Murphys can possibly clean it a bit between stripping sessions but its not really necessary then either.

WHAT TO USE INSTEAD:

To clean a hardwood floor, figure out if you have pre-formed laminate sub flooring (like Pergo) or just urethaned wood.

 

Pre-formed laminate can only be cleaned by solvent-based cleaners. Windex, Clean-up, even very watered down automatic dishwashing detergent will do the trick. But really all you need is some vinegar and water. Laminate floor doesn’t realy get a lot of dirt embedded in it. Because it doesn’t get pits and micro-cracks like urethane does, dirt mostly vacuums away. Anything left behind can be wiped with a soft cloth and some glass or all-purpose surface cleaner. Or, vinegar and water.
A solvent based cleaner will NOT build up and it will NOT dull over time. Unless you are really grinding stuff into your floor, whacking it with metal objects (don’t laugh, I know people who practice their throwing star technique over their laminate flooring… or sword fights) or deliberately scoring it with a key, there’s no reason to believe you need anything more than a basic wipe down of your floor. If you HAVE used an oil-based cleaner, I’m sure you noticed the dulling that resulted. If you are one of the unlucky people who learned all this the hard way there is nothing to be done except go to HD and buy some laminate floor stripper and redo the finish. You’ll end up spending a pretty penny (stripper, cleaner, refinisher) but once you do it, you should be golden for a while. And I know you won’t make that mistake again. Learn from this my friends; learn.

 

Now, if you have a urethaned floor, you can also use solvent based cleaners to avoid the build up and dulling. However, urethane decomposes over time and ends up with cracks and pits and peeling which means things can get under the urethane and possibly in the wood itself. That is to say, urethaned wood can, over time, be progressively harder to keep clean. That’s when you might want to OCCASIONALLY use a detergent to clean it. You can even scrub it. However, HOWEVER, the problem is that any water you put on the floor will actually speed the degradation of the urethane. The longer the water is on the floor the more it will compromise the urethane. So if you’ve really got some serious dirt to battle, I still recommend avoiding detergent until you know for sure that nothing else will get it out. You can try dry cleaners like borax or baking soda. Sprinkle it on, rub it in a bit then sweep and vacuum it out. Wipe with a DAMP cloth then immediately dry. You can try solvent-based cleaners without any water – glass cleaner, counter cleaners, anything that smells like petrol. Just be sure to wipe it dry.
IF YOU MUST mop your urethaned floor, then be assiduous. Make sure your detergent solution is properly mixed (although the less detergent, the better) and that you are wiping all the excess water off in a timely fashion. This is tedious and back-breaking labor. If you insist on doing it this way, you are probably one of those stubborn old-fashioned people who thinks Donna Reed was the ultimate in womanhood (and I hate to burst your bubble but that perky happy always perfect housewife thing she did was an ACT. She was probably a really sweet lady but she was also an actress. Nobody could be Donna Reed in real life, not even Donna Reed) OR you are someone who has a cruel brain that convinces you the only way to clean something is to torture your body. (modern life has given us so many advances, please give them a try)

But for all that is holy in this world, if you love your beautiful wood floor, DO NOT use Murphy’s Oil Soap (or any oil based soap) to clean it!! EVER.

(if you still are skeptical, peruse the authorities: Flooring companies and consumer advisors)

Swiffer (wet-jet spray)

Now that you understand how cleaners work and the differences therein, you will understand why Swiffer is an evil evil thing and must never be used.
I have used a lot of cleaning products during my time. I’ve learned a lot about the physics and chemistry of cleaning. To this day, I do not understand what Swiffer’s wet-jet spray is. Is it a solvent? Is it a soap? Is it a detergent? Is it some combination?
Its’ impossible to tell because it has every bad quality of every one of those things and none of the good. I’ve seen floors that have been wet-jetted beyond recognition. Globbed on, nearly transparent swirls that have clear swipe marks and still contain bits of dirt and detritus. I have gotten on my knees and actually tried to figure out what in blazes goes on when this hellacious compound is applied as directed. I have not made any discoveries of note. All I can do is guess. Therefore, I am certain wet-jet spray is made of shellac, acid and probably the ground up tails of kittens. It leaves a bizarre sort-of shiny glaze wherever it goes. That shiny glaze can build up with only three applications (depending on how evenly you spread it) but it can also leave a murky dull coating that contains fur and dirt and old food that you swear you never ate and it will do both at the same time.
I have never seen a floor that was actually cleaned by using a wet-jet spray device. Never. I’ve spent hours stripping that ghastly chemical soup off of a perfectly nice floor using only dishwashing detergent. I don’t know what effect wet-jet spray has on the floor over time and honestly I don’t want to know. I only know that the madness must stop. Don’t use it. Ever. On anything. Just don’t. Now that you know how to keep your wood floor clean, beautiful AND safe, you can go forth and Swiffer no more, my friend.

 

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17 thoughts on “Cleaning Lady: What NOT to buy

  1. Someone wet mopped my new engineered hardwood floors without drying it. She used vinegar, water and fabulosa. She used a lot of fabulosa and when I clean with the pro series of Bona in the spray bottle I am still getting barefoot prints. Will the fabulosa ever come out? She ruined my 30 year warranty plus vinegar and water is also not recommended.
    Do you have any permanent suggestions?
    Thanks.
    Ann

    • I use Fabuloso on nearly everything but using it on engineered hardwood is not a great idea unless you water it down. Using vinegar and water is an old fashioned thing for when people had actual hardwood floors of oak and such – not pine which is a softwood. Certainly not engineered floors because they are laminated plastic wood pressed poly.
      I use Bona for SHINING the floors, not cleaning because Bona is made with plastic/acrylic polymers to put a shine on. it doesn’t really clean anything. So now you have a mix of fabuloso and Bona stuck to your floor. Most products touted to clean wood floors are either oil-based or acrylic based or petroleum based. All of which doesn’t clean so much as it leaves a shiny layer on top. They are really for dusting or light cleaning. If you have residue on your floor, believe it or not the best thing you can do is use ammonia and water or windex to strip all the residue off. It may take several tries to get it all. Once you strip the cleaner off, your floors will be dull but light. Then you can use wood touted products to put the shine back on. I personally prefer petroleum based products like Johnson liquid floor wax because they are easier to strip later and they soak into the wood rather than just leave a layer on top. But a well kept floor does fine with acrylic based shiners too like Mop & Glo or Future. The problem with petroleum based products like Johnson Floor wax is that its hard to put them on evenly. I usually do it by hand over the course of several visits. Over several months, cracks and peeling varnish starts to disappear. But you have to be diligent about keeping the floor clean and applying new wax every other week.

  2. I hate Fabuloso, the smell gives me an asthma attack, it smells like your covering odors rather than sanitizing, and like noted above it leaves behind a sticky (and smelly) film.
    Pinesol is the better choice

    • they are different products with different uses. Fabuloso is a general cleaner that gets rid of dirt. It does a fairly decent job of it too if you mix it right. Pinesol is a disinfectant only if you put it on straight and let it sit for about 3-5 minutes before rinsing. Its very difficult to rinse and tends to leave a coating unless you rinse it very well with super-hot water. I save the Pinesol for toilets and bathtubs and use diluted Fabuloso for everything else except kitchen. Feel free to clean however you want but these are factual statements here.

    • More importantly, this post (and the comment above) is about cleaning wood floors. Pinesol strips oils and it does it *very well*. You do not want to put Pinesol on your wood floor. If you really doubt me, I suggest you try this experiment: put Pinesol in a dish, straight, then dip your hand in it. Wait about 5 minutes then rinse it off. Most likely, the skin on your hands will start peeling a few hours later. It won’t matter if you use lotion afterwards, it will still peel. Because PineSol (the original formulation. straight no dilution) dissolves the fat in your skin. Still want to use it on wood floors?

  3. Enjoyed reading your article. My question is so do you recomend using fabuloso multicleaner on laminate? I have been using that expensive spray that is specifically made for laminate floors for 7 yrs the floors look okay but i dont clean them as often as i would like because of the odor from the special cleaner. Also when using that laminate floor spray you have to make sure no dust or dirt is on the floor first have to vaccim it first and be sure to go with the grain. If you dont go the right direction it look terrible. What perportion of vinegar and water do you use on laminate? I use vinegar full strength in the bathroom.

    • NO. Laminate has a special coating on the top and if you use nearly anything other than the recommended cleaner, you will have streaks, swath marks and other sad sad remnants. The only other way of cleaning I have found is to use a floor buffing mop (the poofy things on a stick) and spray glass cleaner. If there’s ANY water left on the laminate it will show as swaths. If you don’t dry the cleaner off as soon as possible, it will show as streaks. You should be able to keep the floor nice by regular vacuuming and once or twice a year buff with glass cleaner. If you find a spill then just spot clean it as best you can but be sure to always always dry whatever you put on there.

  4. I take the lid off and put in whatever I want to clean with. Vinegar being one of my favorites. I love my wet jet for keeping my MIL entertained and the floor mostly clean but solution is too expensive anyway.

    • I have never thought about refilling the bottle with other stuff but that is actually a pretty brilliant idea. The only caution I would give is that (as far as I remember) the wet-jet spray allows you to really douse an area if you keep pushing the button (did they change that recently?) so I’d be worried your MIL would soak your floor! but on tile or lino it’d be great to give to someone like a child who wants to “help”! Love it!

  5. Just moved into a old (1940s) duplex with wood floors. I have no idea if they are unsealed/sealed. It’s a rental so I doubt the landlord did anything beyond what they had to. I mopped my floor with a fine mist of very very diluted citra-slov cleaner + H20 mix (4 drops for 1/2 gal). And now it’s slightly dull with a residue. Did I just ruin my floors???? My mom has always used diluted citra-solv for her old hard wood floors, so I didn’t think anything of it.

    • Because the floors are so old, its very likely you have floors that were originally sealed and have not been maintained properly. They probably have micro-cracks and peeling and the varnish or urethane is very degraded. When you mopped with citra-solv that was so diluted, you probably loosened the residue and dirt that was there and just moved it around but didn’t actually clean it. There’s no way of really knowing what the residue on your floor is but I’d bet it’s old cleaner and shiner. You’re going to have to strip, clean and reshine without further damaging the floors.

      The best thing is either ammonia – properly diluted – or a solvent (like citra-solv) that is again PROPERLY diluted. You will have to mop and rinse many times until the water rinses close to clear and does not leave bubbles in the bucket but because water itself can damage the wood underneath, you’ll need to dry the floor as soon as you rinse it. I recommend making this a project and doing it over the course of several weeks. Give the floor time to truly dry between washings.

      Once you clean all the residue and dirt, the floors will still be dull because of the degradation and age. Then you can put a shine on with any of the following: Johnsons’s liquid wax (petro), Brona (petro and acrylic), Future (acrylic) or Olde English (Oil) PLEASE follow the instructions but remember: whichever product you choose, you have to stick with that specific product because several of them do not mix and you will end up with a nasty chemical soup on your floor and have to start all over again. I like oil-based products most for wood that is in seriously bad condition and has little to no sealant on it. Petro products are good for that too. Acrylics are better for floors in good condition that just have old sealant. The acrylic products will help reseal the old varnish/urethane over time. If the floor has no degraded sealant on it, then you really don’t need to put shiner on it. Bear in mind, oil and petro shiners will trap dirt faster and you’ll have to occasionally wash with cleaner again BUT the shine is warmer and protects the wood better. Acrylics are better for keeping the shine on but don’t help a dried out wood base. Acrylic and oil are enemies – don’t try to mix them.

      • Oh thank you so much for the info and advice! I did find out the floor is sealed with urethane. The floor is old but in good condition, part of the reason I panicked. So I will do the cleaning regime you recommended and then try the Bona floor polish. I had called a flooring company in panic also today and they recommended an alcohol based cleaner and then Bona floor polish (spot test first!) so fairly similar. I think I’m going to avoid citrasolv, because even diluted properly I think the d- limonene solvent does more harm than good to the floor sealant.

  6. Thanks for telling @ Swifter. I intuitivery knew that the product was nota effective or worthless. Thanks for confirming!

  7. Question….what do you recommend for leathered marble, honed marble and also kitchen cabinets? We just finished building our dream home and the honed and leather finish is different than I’m used to. Curious if you know of a safe product that works well. Cabinets, in my old home, I always had used pinesol watered down or just vinegar and water. My cabinets are espresso stained not laminate covered so I want to be careful how I clean.
    Thank you!!!

    • wow I had a very long detailed comment for you and it got deleted *cry*

      First you need to know whether your marble is sealed or not. If it is, you need to be careful and only use products that will not degrade the sealant. Whatever the manufacturer recommends is probably best. Any old mild detergent that does not contain bleach or grit and do not use anything but a soft cloth as well.

      Non-sealed marble is a bit different because leathered finish is buffed to close the top pores but honed is not. So you need to be careful not to use anything that would wear away the stone itself AND you need to be careful about stains with your unsealed honed finish. Again, I recommend a very mild gentle soap and a very soft cloth. HOwever, I also caution you to be sure to rinse and dry assiduously if your marble isn’t sealed. You can use slightly acidic cleaners if you want but understand they will wear away the stone over time. Honed marble is going to be a bit of a pain to clean anyway if its not sealed because of its porousity. The best thing you can do is to use dry cleaners like baking soda – brush it in and vacuum it up then use plain water to rinse the residue and then dry it immediately. BUT in any case, there shouldn’t be much to worry about – one of the beauties of marble is the fact that it really doesn’t get dirty by itself. Most of what goes on it can be wiped away with just a soft cloth.

    • When it comes to wood cabinets (I have them too) the secret is clean them regularly and dry them immediately. In the kitchen they will accrue grease build-up but if you clean them often (once or twice a month) then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Wash with basic detergent, rinse and dry and then shine them back up occasionally with some Brona or Johnson’s or Pledge furniture polish. Do not use any of those products regularly to clean because they all have build-up over time. They are just for shining and protecting the finish. Honestly, I just grab my kitchen sponge and go at whatever latest spill has happened on my cabinets. A little Ajax dish detergent, a little wiping with a damp paper towel and they are fine.

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