Dear EarthTalk: I have a new linoleum floor, which I chose partly for its ecofriendliness. How do I clean and maintain it without using harsh or toxic chemicals?
—A. J. Maimbourg, via e-mail
Whether you chose linoleum flooring for its no-fuss functionality, the soft feel underfoot, its distinctive look, or its green attributes, you definitely want to take care of your investment in an ecofriendly way for the sake of maintaining it for as long as possible while protecting the indoor air quality in your home.
Real linoleum—as distinct from synthetic versions or vinyl—is made from all-natural materials, including wood flour, rosins, ground limestone, powdered cork, pigments, jute and linseed oil. As such it is one of the greenest flooring options out there today. The GreenFloors.com website reports that old linoleum—including scraps and remnants from the production process—can be recycled to create new sheets of the stuff. And given that it is made from natural materials, linoleum is practically carbon neutral, and the energy created by incinerating it at the end of its useful life is almost equal to the energy needed to create new linoleum.
Given how green linoleum is, cleaning it with harsh synthetic chemicals and maintaining it with polymer-based waxes just wouldn’t be right. Luckily there are alternative ways to help keep your linoleum floor looking good for decades without compromising the environment or shortening your own life span in the process.
Melissa Breyer of the green lifestyle website Care2.com recommends sweeping, dust-mopping or vacuuming your linoleum floor frequently in order to cut down on the amount of abrasive dirt around that can build up and mar the finish. As for actual cleaning, she says to use a damp mop with a mild all-natural liquid dish soap and warm water. Adding a half cup or so of vinegar to the rinse water will increase shine if that’s the look you’re going for. To get rid of scuff marks, Breyer suggests dipping a sponge in jojoba oil and rubbing lightly before wiping up completely. Pencil erasers can also work wonders on linoleum scuff marks.
As for what to avoid, Breyer says to stay away from solvent-based products which can soften and damage linoleum. Typical floor cleaning solutions will leave a sticky residue behind, so sticking with something like Ivory Liquid dish soap is the best bet. Also, the best way to deal with tough stains is not by scouring; instead make a paste of baking powder and gently wipe with a wet rag until the stain fades away.
In terms of wax, there are several greener varieties now available. Livos’ BILO is a paste wax designed for wood, cork, tile and—you guessed it—linoleum. It is derived from beeswax and linseed oil and produces a semi-gloss finish after buffing. Like all Livos products, BILO is made from organic ingredients and is 100 percent biodegradable and safe for humans, animals, air, water and soil.
For those willing to commit to periodic occasional maintenance, linoleum flooring should last decades if not longer. And given its relative low-cost and ease of installation, some consider linoleum the “green flooring for the masses.”
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