Grime and Misdemeanors
Eco-friendly mops that will leave your floors—and conscience—spotless.
SOME FOLKS DREAD THE BLEAK, DARK days of Boston winters. Me? I’ve always dreaded the arrival of spring. Bright, sunny days shed way too much light on my dirty floors. After a friend’s four-year-old asked if he could help me clean, I decided that it was time for a change. This spring, my floors will shine like the State House dome!
Taking advantage of the surge in eco-friendly cleaning products, I searched for mop systems that were both clean and green. The proving ground: my apartment in Watertown, with white oak floors in the dining room and ceramic tile in the kitchen and bathroom.
DAY 1: With its absorbent fabric strips, the Libman Wonder Mop proved to be the best at soaking up spills. But it faces the problem inherent to all traditional mops: If I don’t rinse and wring it often, I’m spreading dirty water around. The mop does have a built-in plastic wringer sleeve, but I twist too hard and the sleeve cracks. (The instructions say twisting gets easier with use.)
The Wonder Mop scores points for its machine-washable head, which Libman claims can handle up to 50 washes. $9, Lowe’s, 729 Bridge St., Weymouth, 781-340-5964, lowes.com.
DAY 2: The least eco-friendly of the mops I tested, the Swiffer WetJet, is basically a high-tech disposable diaper system for floors. A button on the handle sprays cleaning fluid over a pad that soaks it up and collects dirt. As it sprays, the WetJet makes a whirring sound, except when the batteries are low; then it sounds like a wheezing cat. Even after mopping 50 square feet of tile, the pad absorbs half a cup of juice with ease.
When done, the floor shines, but I feel guilty about tossing the pad. Moreover, the recyclable cleaning cartridge runs out of fluid after about 500 square feet. (Note: There’s an Internet rumor that Swiffer WetJet fluid harms dogs who lick the mopped floors. Officials at Procter & Gamble assure me this is an urban legend, and even the ASPCA backs them up.)
The starter kit includes a plastic mop, two cleaning pads, a scrubbing strip, and a cartridge of solution. Not included: four required AA batteries. $20, CVS, 1249 Boylston St., Boston, 617-262-1354, cvs.com.
DAY 3: The Method OMop offers most of the Swiffer’s convenience, sans the green guilt. Method makes a variety of floor-cleaning solutions; I use the almond-scented “Wood for Good” one.
Mopping the floor of my dining room entails pushing the OMop with one hand and squirting the cleaning solution with the other, taking care not to let the liquid pool. The pad successfully collects dirt and dust, and the floor gleams afterward. The OMop doesn’t handle spilled cranberry juice so well, however. Later, I peel off the pad and throw it in the wash. After air-drying, it looks like new. The starter kit comes with a steel-and-plastic mop, a micro-fiber pad, three compostable dust cloths, and a bottle of biodegradable solution. $30, Target, 7 Allstate Rd., Dorchester, 617-602-1921, target.com.
DAY 4: While perusing Internet chat groups for mopping tips, I see myriad references to the Cuban Mop, an apparent favorite among grandmothers. There are no bells or whistles here: It’s just a wooden T-frame and a few washable cotton cloths. (Imagine swishing a wet towel around with a tall croquet mallet.) I test it out in my bathroom, soaking the cloth in a homemade, all-natural solution of white vinegar and water.
While less snazzy than the OMop or the Swiffer—the head doesn’t pivot, and the cloth can’t scrub away tough stains—the cloth grabs a lot of hair, dust, and dirt. To dry the floor, I just replace the wet cloth with a dry one. $13, cubanfoodmarket.com.
CLEANNESS: ** 1/2
DAY 5: “The floor isn’t going to wash itself,” my mom used to say. And I’d reply that when I grew up, I’d move into a house with self-cleaning floors. No such luck, but I find the next best thing in the iRobot Scooba, a 10-pound robot mop that washes floors by itself.
The setup isn’t entirely simple —the user manual is 27 pages long—but I’m happy to do the legwork required to watch a robot clean my kitchen. Scooba has a two-chamber tank design: one for the cleaning solution that it spits out, and one for the dirty water that it sucks up. While it’s packaged with a Clorox cleaning liquid, Scooba also works with the greener option of diluted white vinegar. Certain models come with one or two “Virtual Walls”—devices that emit beams the robot will not cross.
While I paint my toenails on the couch, Scooba’s four-step cleaning cycle (vacuuming, washing, scrubbing, and drying) commences. The manufacturer acknowledges that Scoobas tend to get stuck under the base cabinets of old homes. “In New England, people tend to build floors on top of each other, which means higher floors and lower kickboards,” says Nancy Smith, director of marketing at Burlington-based iRobot. But other than a few tricky crannies, Scooba handles my kitchen tile with aplomb. After 45 minutes, the floor is spotless. The problem is that I then have to clean the Scooba itself, which is a pain—the brush roller is full of my wound-up hair. But cleaning a robot is more fun and less time-consuming than cleaning a floor. Robots are cool. $300–$500, Sears, 100 Cambridgeside Pl., Cambridge, 617-252-3500, irobot.com.
GREENNESS: MEDIUM (USES ELECTRICITY)
* Now the floor is dirty and wet
** Seemed clean at first, but the heels of my socks say otherwise
*** Look at that shine!
**** I’d eat off these floors (but then I’d have to mop again)
The federal government doesn’t regulate the meaning of “green” or “eco-friendly,” and manufacturers don’t always include a full list of ingredients on their packaging. If you don’t have time to call every product’s manufacturer and investigate their ingredients’ toxicity, here’s a general rule of thumb: If it says “danger” anywhere on the label, the product probably isn’t very green. In the meantime, here’s a brief list of cleaning products deemed safe and natural:
Safe for most floors, appliances, and even walls, Shaklee’s Basic H2 is both biodegradable and powerful. On its website, the company claims that the cleaner can handle “everything from spilled milk, to bug guts on the window, to splattered spaghetti sauce.”
Seventh Generation lists the ingredients of all its cleaning products. The company’s Free and Clear All-Purpose Cleaner utilizes a coconut-based surfactant.
The best way to ensure a safe cleaning solution is to make it yourself. A mixture of one cup of white vinegar and a gallon of warm water worked well on my kitchen floor. It stinks a little at first
, but the vinegar smell disappears when it dries. C.N.