How to Clean Vinyl Floors So They Sparkle
You have kids or pets (or kids and pets) and just can’t seem to keep your floors clean. Most homeowners feel the pain: there’s always pet hair, milk spills, nail scratches, dropped globs of squeezable yogurt and applesauce, maybe even a ton of hidden puffed cereal crumbs.
Luckily, your flooring is vinyl, and that protects it from a lot of harder and longer-lasting damage, and most of the time, a wet mop is all you need to keep it clean. But after a while, even vinyl flooring needs a deep cleaning, especially in those high-traffic areas.
So, how to clean vinyl floors to make them shine?
We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll break down tips and methods on how to keep your vinyl floors clean, whether you’re in need of a deep clean or just looking to tidy up daily.
What Is Vinyl Flooring?
This is an important question for cleaning vinyl floors. You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of vinyl – vinyl records, vinyl clothing, vinyl gloves, and vinyl flooring.
It’s just one of those versatile materials that manufacturers find multiple uses for, and flooring just happens to be one of the most common, for very good reason.
Let’s start with the basics:
Vinyl is not natural. It’s actually a type of plastic made when combining ethylene (which is found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in salt). Combined they make Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)- aka vinyl.
One of the reasons it’s such a common product in manufacturing is because it’s incredibly durable, which, of course, is what makes it so great as flooring.
So how is vinyl flooring made?
Essentially by heating vinyl powder and rolling it into flat sheets that are added to a wear layer and film. Machines press these layers with immense heat and pressure before manufacturers add a colored and textured polyurethane layer.
There are, of course, different types of vinyl flooring, so the process and level of protection vary depending on the type of vinyl flooring.
Vinyl vs Linoleum vs Laminate flooring – What’s the Difference?
With the level of innovation in flooring today, it can be hard to tell the difference between materials, especially since they’re all made to mimic hardwood.
Even more so because, at one time, they were all sold as sheets that you simply stuck over your flooring (very common in cheap apartments).
But there are quite a few differences among vinyl, laminate, and linoleum flooring today, and that makes a difference in how you approach cleaning (and trust us when we say it can be disastrous to use the wrong commercial cleaners on your floors).
So here’s the difference:
Vinyl: The backing, core, the printed vinyl layer, and the wear layer. The highest quality vinyl has a thicker wear layer and a waterproof core.
The main difference between vinyl and other types of flooring is that there are several ways to install it. You can glue it down, loose lay, or interlock each piece (also known as floating). Vinyl is also typically less maintenance than other types of flooring.
Linoleum: A lot of people like linoleum for the fact that it’s cheap, easy to install, and lasts a long time. But it also happens to be quite eco-friendly, since it can be made of things like linseed oil, powdered cork, and wood flour (not the kind of flour you can bake with).
Laminate: Also contains a backing layer, core made of fiberboard, the print layer that makes it look like wood and stone, and a wear layer that keeps it safe. What separates laminate is that it’s typically laid directly on top of existing flooring.
They’re all great flooring options, but vinyl tends to be a great choice to withstand liquids. Not to mention it’s a little less high-maintenance than some of your other choices.
What do I need to know about my type of flooring?
Vinyl flooring is one of the most economic flooring options on the market (especially if you’re handy and can install it yourself).
But there are a few different types of vinyl flooring that make a difference in their ability to last and stand up to years of wear and cleaning.
Vinyl Plank Flooring
Vinyl planks are often called “luxury vinyl flooring” because they more closely resemble wood, are more durable, and often contain a waterproof core (so, it’s easier to clean vinyl planks) and a thicker wear layer.
These planks also tend to be quieter and more sound absorbing than other types of vinyl.
Vinyl tile flooring
Vinyl tile typically comes in squares that replicate ceramic tile (usually about 9 or 12 inch squares). It’s a bit more economical than most tile flooring, and is really easy to install.
Sheet vinyl flooring
Sheet vinyl is of course, vinyl that comes in a sheet of around 6 to 12 feet wide. This is more of a traditional vinyl. And it is typically what you’ll find in apartment buildings because they’re easy to install and they can be water resistant.
No-wax vinyl flooring
Most vinyl is “no wax,” which might seem strange because it appears a bit shiny. It’s usually the lightest type of vinyl, and the thinnest type, which means it really shouldn’t be used in areas of high-traffic or with a lot of exposure to dirt and grime.
Why rugs, doormats & floor protectors are your best friends
Though vinyl is extremely durable, if you want to make any flooring last for years to come, your best bet is to add an area rug or some other kind of floor protection.
It seems strange to cover up faux hardwood floors when you spent all that time and money ripping up ugly and dusty (puke green) carpeting for a more upgraded wood floor look. But rugs are a great accent to any room, and will keep those high traffic areas from getting dents and scratches.
How to deep clean vinyl floors
Okay, so, how do you clean dirty vinyl floors?
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to maintain a clean vinyl floor. In most cases, a simple dust mop or a damp mop with hot water can go a long way.
But there are probably areas you’re not cleaning all the time – like behind the fridge or under the furniture – that’ll trap more dirt than other areas.
Maybe you’re entering a new home that’s been on the market for a bit (rare today, but okay) and there’s some leftover grime and dirt from the previous owner.
Or, maybe you just have kids that like to drop their food and drinks. And cats that like to carry their food around the house (and eat in the most random places).
No matter the case, there is a way to deep clean them. Actually a few ways. Let’s look at the use cases for some more context.
How to remove stubborn scuffs
If it’s a scuff you want to remove (which might not happen often, since most vinyl doesn’t scuff easily), then you’re in luck.
You can simply use a melamine to buff out a scuff, or a paste made from baking soda and plain water to use as an exfoliant. Even something as soft as drops of baby oil can remove scuffs from vinyl floors.
How to remove ink, lipstick, and hair dye stains
Getting ink, lipstick, and hair dye on any floor is a nightmare, but it tends to be less of a nightmare on vinyl.
To get liquid and paste-like stains out of your vinyl, use isopropyl alcohol (or rubbing alcohol) to remove the stain.
It’s a pretty simple process. Just spray the isopropyl alcohol onto the stubborn stain, and wipe. It may take a few tries, and it may need to sit on the surface for a bit to really soak in, but it should come up (results may vary depending on the type of vinyl).
How to remove crayon, paint, and marker stains (we see you, parents)
So, paint and marker are actually pretty easy to remove from vinyl. That wear layer on vinyl flooring can stand up to a lot, and it’s unlikely to soak in things like crayon and even marker or paint.
To remove it, you can use just use a semi-dull putty knife. A dull or plastic putty spatula means less of a chance of gouging the planks or taking off some of the wear layer. (and please be safe with even semi-dull items!)
If you have a large area to cover, you can simply spray on something like a goo remover, let it sit for a few minutes, and you should be able to wipe it off with a damp sponge.
How to remove food stains (likely from the infamous ketchup or tomato sauce)
Food stains, particularly running food stains like ketchup, tend to build up in cracks. They’re very acidic, so even when they don’t run into the cracks, their acidity has potential to eat through protective wear layers on vinyl.
The best thing you can do is of course to prevent food from dropping. If you can’t, the next best thing is to clean it up ASAP.
If you don’t spot it for a while because it’s hidden behind the toilet (how did that get there???!!!) then you can use a hardwood and tile cleaning solution that you’d typically use on real tile or hardwood.
This is perfectly fine for vinyl, since it’s still a delicate yet powerful chemical that’ll remove stains and grime.
The best way to apply the cleaner is to spray it onto the surface (after mopping) and spread/ mop with a microfiber mophead. It’ll help push the cleaner into the deeper grooves of the vinyl. But remember to read and follow the specific instructions for your particular cleaner.
What to do about discoloration
Discoloration often happens to vinyl when it interacts with the rubber backing of rugs for a really long time, especially if that rubber gets wet (like with a bath mat).
When it comes to stain removal, a lot of people turn to bleach, but this is too acidic for your vinyl floors.
The best way to remove these stains is with baking soda and lemon juice. Just create a paste with the two ingredients, spread it with a putty knife, let it sit for 15 minutes, and buff off with a rag.
This may take you a few times, depending on how bad the stain is. If it’s really bad, you might want to let the paste sit on the stain overnight.
Once you scrub away the stain, just make sure to use a vinyl floor sealer. The lemon and all that scrubbing will affect the wear layer of the vinyl, and you want to protect it after scrubbing.
What is the best thing to clean vinyl floors with?
Well, this kind of depends on who you ask. Some DIY home cleaners say a bit of warm water and a cup of vinegar, or apple cider vinegar, is the best thing to clean hardwood floors.
This is because if your regular cleaning routine uses the wrong, abrasive cleaners, after a while, your floors will start to look like they’re covered in a dull film.
Some professional cleaners will actually buff out your floors like they might while cleaning carpet. Competing professional cleaners say anything that scratches at the surface (such as a bristle brush or scrub brush) of the vinyl is a no-go, since over time it’ll wear down the surface.
Their recommendation is typically to use the same kind of cleaner you would on tile and real hardwood floors (a mild cleaner that isn’t acidic).
Luckily, vinyl is durable enough to tolerate most cleaners, yet easy enough to maintain that you really don’t need anything more than some dishwashing soap and a mop.
Best for everyday cleaning
Clean floors on the daily? For a simple clean, you can just use a spray mop (or get on your hands and knees with a microfiber cloth, if you prefer) with some warm water and a homemade vinyl floor cleaner mixture of rubbing alcohol or apple cider vinegar and scented floor cleaner.
The rubbing alcohol or vinegar acts as a quick drying agent and grime remover, and the scented floor cleaner hides the smell of those cleaning agents.
Oh, and make sure you mop with the grain to get into those small crevices.
Roomba® Robot Vacuum
No matter how you clean your vinyl floors, you have to remove dirt by sweeping them first. If you don’t whip out that broom, you’re just pushing the dirt and grime around and burying it deeper into the crevices.
That’s where you need your handy dandy Roomba® robot vacuum. Not only will your robot vacuum pick up immediate messes so they don’t even have time to set into your vinyl, but they’ll take the burden of sweeping your floors before a deep clean.
Braava® Robot Mop
Instead of chasing your toddler with a mop every day, you could just let a Braava® robot mop do it. Our robot mop will clean all of the floors across your home daily, or on your schedule.
Our Braava jet® m6 robot mop will even learn your routine to focus its cleaning time on your high traffic areas and after your most active periods throughout the day or week.
Best for grime & buildup
A gold old fashion string mop with some dish soap can really cut through grime and build up on your floors (think behind the refrigerator).
You can also add vinegar solution and lemon oil to your mop water for quick drying, grime removal, and a little bit of a fresh scent. Typically lemon cancels out that very acidic scent of vinegar.
Can I Steam Mop Vinyl Flooring? (Please don’t.)
An important cleaning tip for cleaning vinyl plank floors? Whatever you do, do not use steam mops. Steam cleaning is tempting because of its reputation for sanitizing. But the hot steam can penetrate the layers of your vinyl and cause them to bend and warp as well as loosen the glue that holds them together.
Some luxury vinyl plank flooring can withstand steam cleaners on a low heat setting, if it has a waterproof core, but even that’s a bit of a risk. The high heat and excess water may still cause the wear and textured layers of your planks to separate from the rest of the flooring (no one likes a bubble in their floor.)
Which Vinyl Floor Cleaner Should I Use?
This really depends on the type of vinyl you have in your home, and the extent of the grime or depth of the stain.
The most common cleaners are apple cider vinegar or a simple and gentle floor cleaner paired with warm water and a mop.
Another option is a floor cleaner made for hard surfaces. All you have to do is fill your Braava jet® m6 robot, and let it do the work for you. (No mixing, no measuring, and no rinsing.)
It’s a streak-free, fast-drying solution that removes dust, dirt and grime. It also leaves nothing behind. No residue, no stickiness, and no build-up – just a gleaming floor.
Can I use dish soap to clean vinyl floors?
Absolutely! Remember that vinyl is just another form of plastic, meaning it’ll stand up to most things. Dish soap is a gentle cleaner, so feel free to use it.
Just don’t use any kind of bristle brush, because it’ll damage the surface of your flooring over time.
Will vinegar damage vinyl floors?
Not at all. White vinegar is not acidic enough to eat through the protective top layers of a vinyl floor, but it is enough to cut through dirt and grime. Feel free to use it.
The beauty of apple cider vinegar
One of the reasons apple cider vinegar makes such a good cleaner for vinyl flooring, is that it’s acidic enough to penetrate through grime without damaging the wear and tear top layer of your floors.
This makes it one of the most popular choices for regular vinyl floor cleaning.
What NOT to do when I clean my vinyl floors
Your vinyl floor can stand up to a lot (believe us, we’ve watched quite a few flooring tests – with knife drops and all), but there are a few things that are just… bad, such as:
- Don’t use any steam or intense heat, as it’ll warp and bubble the vinyl.
- Don’t use wax to polish floors – that’s a lot of sticky residue, causing your floors to be a magnet for dirt.
- No hard scrubbing since it can leave scuff marks, take the shine away, and even void your flooring warranty (if you have one).
- That means avoid using steel wool or any other hard scrubbing tools that will scratch your hard floors. Stick with soft brooms, soft cloths, etc.
- When moving heavy furniture, lift – don’t drag.
- Do not use bleach, ammonia, or abrasive cleaning products as they are far too acidic even for this type of plastic.
It may not seem like it at the time, and you may not notice any difference in your floors for a while, but over time these acts will damage your vinyl floors.