Over at Smibbo, our resident cleaning lady has a few choice words to say about a few choice soaps. After giving us a rundown about how the stuff even works, that is. I have never been so enlightened about cleaning before, and I'm so lucky she agreed to share her knowledge bombs with me.
What not to use:
Murphy’s Oil Soap
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 you should use instead:
To clean a hardwood floor, figure out if you have pre-formed laminate sub flooring 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 or ask the experts and consumers)
BONUS TIP: NEVER USE: Swiffer (wet-jet spray)
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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