We tend to clean too seldom and too harshly. Especially when it comes to wood floors, try to keep dirt out in the first place. Use doormats. Remove boots and muddy or salty shoes at the door. Vacuum often with a floor nozzle, as carpet beaters and brush rollers can damage many kinds of flooring. Clean up spills and sticky areas immediately, using a mild cleanser and nothing abrasive.
LINOLEUM Be sure your vacuum is set to hard surfaces, as a carpet beater brush may damage the surface. The old standard cleaning solution was equal parts warm water and white vinegar. A small amount of dish soap or mild detergent in water also works. You can buy cleaning solutions meant specifically for linoleum (not vinyl). Never use alkaline products such as ammonia or bleach. Don’t use combination clean-and-wax products.
Use a damp rather than wet mop, working in 4’ sections before rewetting the mop. Scrub stubborn spots with a soft-bristled scrub brush. Rinse with cool water; if you used a vinegar solution, there’s no need to rinse. Dry the floor with a terry towel or terry mop head. Don’t put furniture back until the floor is thoroughly dry. By the way, latex-backed floor mats will stain linoleum.
RUBBER Wash regularly with cool water, adding a small amount of ammonia if necessary and rinsing with clear water. For a dirtier floor, add a mild vegetable- or oil-based soap, or Ivory Liquid, to the wash water. Rinse. Avoid naphtha, turpentine, and pine-oil cleaners on rubber. You can use a water-based emulsion floor polish according to the floor manufacturer’s directions.
CORK Use a damp mop only sparingly and never let water sit on the floor. Use a cleanser recommended by the manufacturer, rinsing and immediately drying the floor with a dry mop or towels. Once a year, clean and buff the floor with a recommended paste or liquid wax.
VCT (vinyl composition tile) The floor should have been sealed with multiple thin coats of acrylic floor polish within days of installation. (In high-traffic or dirt-prone areas, a stain-resistant sealer may be applied before the polish.) Damp-mop using plain water, a weak vinegar solution, or, occasionally, a non-alkaline floor cleaner formulated for resilient flooring. Rinse and allow the floor to dry. Buffing or burnishing will restore gloss; additional coats of floor polish may be added as needed. Do not steam-clean vinyl tile floors.
CERAMIC TILE Sweep or vacuum and damp-mop regularly; a cup of vinegar in a gallon of warm water is safe and eliminates odors. Occasionally use a cleanser meant for tile and rinse thoroughly, then dry the floor with towels. Typically, it’s the grout between tiles that gets dingy, especially if it’s a light color. Grout should be sealed right after it has set, and once or twice a year after that.
When grout looks dingy, try using a pencil eraser on it. You can make a paste of baking soda and water, applying it to grout lines with a toothbrush (let it sit a few minutes on tough stains), then scrubbing. Rinse with clean warm water. Other things to try (on white grout only): a 50/50 mix of hydrogen peroxide and water, using a toothbrush to scrub the grout lines. Or try a strong bleach and water solution, being sure to rinse well. These solutions may bleach colored grout.
TERRAZZO Older terrazzo floors have a cement matrix and are subject to staining and etching. Never use bleach or acidic cleansers, only those that are pH-neutral. It’s best to use cleansers specifically formulated for terrazzo, which are available at flooring retailers. Don’t use an oily mop or any kind of oil, which may discolor the terrazzo.
Modern interior terrazzo is made with synthetic resins and not as apt to stain. New terrazzo floors should be treated with a penetrating sealer.
Regular cleaning involves sweeping or vacuuming followed by wet-mopping with plain water or a diluted neutral cleaner. Ensure the floor is uniformly wet and let it sit for a few minutes so the dirt dissolves, but don’t let it dry (because that just redistributes the dirt). Rinse thoroughly with clean water, or use a squeegee. Change the rinse water when it gets dirty. When the floor is dry, buff it (if you have a polishing machine) to restore the shine. Once a year or so, you’ll need to use a scrubbing machine with a stronger solution of cleanser.
Slate These floors need regular upkeep because their cleaved surface holds dirt and the stone can be stained. Oils clog pores and make the slate slippery. If your floor was treated with a penetrating sealer, it can be cleaned with water as needed, or by using a mild cleanser every two or three months. First vacuum with a brush attachment or use a soft-bristle broom. Then dust-mop (no oil!), going in one direction.
Now dilute about cup mild detergent in warm water, or use a specialized slate cleaner. Do not use anything acidic. Mop the floor (not too wet), rinsing the mop often and changing the water as necessary. You can also use a steam mop. Rinse if you have any cleanser residue. Dry the floor with a soft cloth or towel, then let the floor air dry.
If the floor was simply coated with polish or wax, these need to be stripped and reapplied, perhaps twice a year or more in a busy kitchen. Look for a tutorial online.
Use a natural or microfiber mop daily to remove dust and pet hair. When the floor is dirty, damp-mop with a flat mop, a microfiber pad, or a microfiber string mop wrung out until it is barely damp. Mop going with the grain of the floor. Use a hardwood floor cleaner sparingly, either diluted in the bucket of water or sprayed in a mist onto the floor before you mop each section. Follow instructions on the label; some products do not need a rinse. If you do rinse, keep the water clean and use a clean, barely damp mop. Buffing is optional, but a quick dry-and-buff with old cloth diapers or similar soft white cloth is a good idea.
Don’t use vinegar, oil soap, paste wax, or acrylic polishes on varnished or polyurethaned floors. Don’t allow standing water or use wet mops. Do not steam-clean wood.
Note that shellacked floors should never be washed with water, which will cloud the finish. Use dry mops and dusters. Shellacked floors are often waxed for protection, and the wax must be stripped periodically. Shellac can be reapplied without prior stripping—but only to a sound and clean, wax-free surface.