Flooring Fundamentals: A Guide to Biodegradable Floor Cleaning

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated April 19, 2022
A couple cleaning the kitchen at home
Photo: PeopleImages / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images


  • Bleach and ammonia can cause respiratory problems.

  • Many products around the house can effectively clean your floors.

  • Avoid applying too much water or concentrated vinegar to treated wood.

  • Hide the smell of vinegar with your favorite essential oils.

  • Always test your cleaner in an inconspicuous area before using it.

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It’s time to clean the floors again, but the last thing you want is to smell the harsh scent of bleach or ammonia in the air hours after wiping away stains and dirt. Biodegradable floor cleaners offer the same level of cleanliness as harsher cleaners—all without the lengthy paragraph of ingredients that leave you wondering what exactly you’re putting on your carpet. Here’s everything you need to know about eco-friendly cleaning methods for different floor types.

Tile and Vinyl Floor Cleaners

You can use a steam mop to clean ceramic, stone, porcelain, and vinyl tiles with nothing but water. Most steam mops come with washable microfiber or cotton mop heads, earning them bonus points for reusability. You can also add a little squirt of mild, biodegradable detergent to your water for stubborn grime. 

If you like your cleaning products to have a little more oomph, try this recipe to create a biodegradable tile floor cleaner:

Vinegar and Water 

  • 1/2 cup vinegar 

  • 1 gallon of warm water

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this recipe will help keep your floors clean without harsh chemicals like ammonia or chlorine bleach, which can cause respiratory issues or allergic reactions. Spray on, wipe, and walk away—it’s that easy!

Grout Floor Cleaners

Grout is a porous flooring, meaning anything you put on it could seep into it and enter the subflooring—or worse—the baseboards. This can lead to mold problems and rotting. Avoid cleaning grout tiles with bleach or vinegar, as both are corrosive to grout and any finishes used to preserve your floors. 

Instead, make a grout-friendly biodegradable floor cleaner with one of these recipes:

Baking Soda, Hydrogen Peroxide, and Dish Detergent Paste

  • 1/2 cup baking soda

  • 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide

  • 1 teaspoon liquid dish detergent

  • Squeeze bottle or Tupperware container

Make a paste with baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap to clean grout. Put it in a squeeze bottle or sealable container, and apply it directly to your dirty grout. Scrub with a gentle brush, let it sit, then wipe clean. This mixture is safe to touch and breathe in, and it’ll make your grout sparkle. However, test it on an inconspicuous spot before applying it to the whole floor.

Cream of Tartar and Lemon Juice

  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar

  • 3–5 drops of lemon juice 

  • Small container 

Cream of tartar and lemon juice are two peas in a pod when whitening surfaces. Mix the ingredients until it’s slightly runnier than toothpaste, then apply the solution directly to stubborn stains. Wait around 10 to 30 minutes, and then wipe away.

Carpet Cleaners

Most new carpets already have some stain-guard technology in the fibers, but older carpets or heavily worn, high-traffic areas may need a stain-guard protector before you clean. While you can’t DIY this process, you can look for a green carpet cleaner certified by the EPA’s Design for the Environment Program.

Between professional carpet cleanings, keep a vacuum schedule to spot-clean as necessary. Vacuum the carpet once per week for each person and animal living in a room, and try out one of these at-home biodegradable carpet cleaners:

Soap and Water

  • 1 cup warm distilled water

  • 1/2 teaspoon mild, biodegradable detergent

Mix the solution together, wait about 5 minutes, then blot a clean towel onto the carpet, being careful not to scrub the stain. Repeat these steps until the stain disappears. 

Baking Soda and Vinegar

  • 1/4 cup baking soda

  • 1 cup white vinegar

If you’re into all things biodegradable, you likely already know that baking soda and vinegar work as eco-friendly drain cleaners. You can also use these same ingredients to spot-treat your carpets. This solution works especially well on grease stains, as the chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar helps absorb and remove grease.

Sprinkle baking soda over the stain, pour a little bit of vinegar on top, then follow with a little more baking soda. Leave the product on the stain for 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the size and severity of the stain, then gently blot it away. You can also wait for it to dry and then vacuum it up.

Sealed Hardwood Floor Cleaners

A woman mopping corner of hardwood floor
Photo: Grace Cary / Moment / Getty Images

The best way to clean hardwood floors is to mop using low moisture and low heat to prevent the wood from drying out. Skip the steam mops when cleaning hardwood floors and instead go for one with a machine-washable mop head. There should be little to no moisture on the flooring once you wipe it away. You can also try out this biodegradable hardwood floor cleaner:

Vegetable Oil and White Vinegar

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 cup white vinegar

  • 16-oz. spray bottle 

Vegetable oil isn’t just for cooking and salad dressings; you can use it in combination with vinegar to clean your floors. Vinegar alone or in too high of a concentration will dry out your floors and ruin finishings, but mixing vinegar and vegetable oil together into a spray bottle will actually help preserve your floor’s finish. Mix the ingredients in the bottle, shake it, and then spray it on your floors. Wipe it up with a microfiber cloth to clean pesky dirt.

Engineered Hardwood Floor Cleaners

Many of the same solutions you use on your hardwood floors will work on engineered flooring. Engineered hardwood flooring is more moisture-proof than hardwood floors—thanks to its water-resistant top layer—but it’s still susceptible to water damage. 

As such, you’ll want to avoid using too much water or any liquids that are very alkaline or acidic, as they can seep into the layers and cause warping. Here’s a biodegradable cleaner for engineered hardwood floors you can make on the go:

Water and Castile Soap

  • 2 cups warm water

  • 2 drops of Castile soap 

  • 5–10 drops of essential oil (optional)

  • 16-oz. glass spray bottle

You can use this recipe on engineered hardwood, regular hardwood, and laminate floors for a gentler solution than one with vinegar or rubbing alcohol. The key is to avoid using too much water to clean your wood floorings, so don’t saturate the wood or spray too much water to clean the floors. Just mix all the ingredients together, spray lightly on surface areas, then mop it up. 

Note: If you opt to add essential oils, use a glass spray bottle since some oils break down plastic over time.

Laminate Floor Cleaners

Much like hardwood, you’ll want to stay away from excessive moisture and steam with laminate flooring. Many hardwood cleaners are safe for laminates, so check the cleaning solution to see if you can use the same products. 

At the same time, if you’re planning on DIY-ing your solution, you may need to tweak the ratio of certain ingredients. Here are two easy biodegradable laminate floor cleaner recipes to try:

Vinegar, Rubbing Alcohol, and Water

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar

  • 1/2 cup 70% rubbing alcohol

  • 1/2 cup distilled or boiled (but cooled) water

  • 16-oz. glass spray bottle or laminate floor mop

This recipe is easy to make: Put all of your ingredients into the spray bottle or mop and get cleaning! Spray a thin layer of the solution onto your laminate surfaces and either wipe it up or mop thoroughly to clean. You can hide the smell of vinegar and rubbing alcohol by adding a few drops of your favorite essential oils to this cleaning solution. 

Dish Detergent, Vinegar, and Water

  • 2 cups warm distilled water

  • 1/4 cup distilled white or apple cider vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon Castille soap

  • 16-oz. glass spray bottle

  • 5–10 drops of your favorite essential oil (optional)

This DIY recipe is an all-purpose cleaner, but it’s also great for cleaning laminate flooring. Add all of your ingredients into the spray bottle and follow the same approach as you would with the vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and water recipe. A little soap goes a long way, and this amount of soap is small enough to where all you have to do is use a mop to wipe it away.

Keep Your Floor Green-Friendly With a Pro

Eco-friendly floor cleaning goes much further when homeowners put these systems into place from the very beginning. At the same time, if you’re making the switch today, you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure you’re using the safest products on your floors. 

Contact a floor cleaning service near you to chat about eco-friendly floor care and the best products to keep your floors looking great for many years to come.

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