Avoiding Dirty Mop Water

String mops and buckets are still common tools in a janitor’s closet, but their effectiveness is being called into question: Are they in fact re-depositing dirty water on the floor rather than aiding in its removal? For many, the answer is “yes” — even when soiled water is changed frequently.


The traditional string mop and single-chamber bucket with wringer are an antiquated cleaning combo, says Mike Gosson, president and owner of Parish Maintenance Supply Corp., Syracuse, New York. 

It’s a system that, by design, forces the user to dunk a dirty mop into the cleaning solution, thereby contaminating the water.


“When someone mops the floor, and they immerse the mop back into a single-cavity bucket, the contaminant goes back into the solution, and any grease and oil that was picked up will flood to the surface,” says Christopher Meaney, vice president of sales and marketing for ABCO Cleaning Products, Miami. “When [a user] re-immerses the mop, the mop will absorb [the soil], so the last thing that comes out of that bucket is dirty water.”


Dirty: A Four-Letter Word

But is a little dirty mop water such a bad thing when mopping a floor? After all, mops are for cleaning floors, not high touch points. According to distributors the answer is a resounding “yes,” as the effect of dirt on floors goes far beyond appearance.

“It’s not just about cleaner floors, it’s about safer floors,” says Meaney. “In a restaurant environment, for example, any organic contaminant, oil, or grease will seal out the porosity of a quarry tile and create a condition where the static coefficient of friction is going to diminish, so you’re going to have a higher likelihood that the floors will be slippery, especially when they’re wet.”

Using dirty mop water can also aid the spread of soil to other areas of the building.


“The problem with dirty mop water is it allows the dirt to be tracked throughout the rest of the facility,” says Scott Uselman, director of sales for High Point Sanitary Solutions in Houston. “Just like cross-contamination with hands, the same thing happens with feet. They take that dirt from the surface and track it onto the carpet.”


Using dirty mop water can also increase the custodial staff’s workload by making it more difficult to clean the floor the next time around, or by requiring additional cleaning processes to undo damage caused by mopping.


“If you’re working in a building that has floor finish, all you’re doing is putting a skim coat of dirt back onto the floor, and very quickly that floor finish is going to discolor,” says Meaney. “That’s going to force the custodial staff to strip the floor because of the aesthetics.”


Welcome Cavities

Fortunately there are products available to address the problems associated with dirty mop water. One of the most popular is the dual-chamber or dual-cavity bucket. These buckets consist of two chambers or compartments; one for the clean solution and the other for the dirty water after the floor has been mopped. A removable wringer attaches to the chamber used for dirty water.

“The clean water compartment transfers water into the soiled water compartment as you use it,” says Gosson. “As you pass the mop through the wringer and evacuate the water, you’re actually doing a transfer from one chamber to the next.”


The advantages of using dual-chamber buckets are more sanitary, hygienic floors, as well as environmental benefits and cost savings.


“You never mop a dirty floor with dirty water,” says Gosson, “and you’re looking at a significant savings in water and chemical usage. There’s less water used because you’re not discharging soiled water as frequently.”


The average single-chamber bucket holds a little under five gallons of water, which is good for cleaning roughly 1,000 square feet. However, a comparable five-gallon, dual-chamber bucket can clean 3,000 square feet. That’s approximately a 66 percent reduction in water and chemical consumption, says Gosson.


Ditch The Bucket

When it comes to reducing water use, bucketless mops with built-in chemical reservoirs are a suitable alternative to traditional mop buckets for quick interim cleaning.

“The concept of a bucketless mop is to reduce the amount of liquid that’s deposited on the floor,” says Meaney, “especially during high-frequency hours when you have a lot of foot traffic. Usually the cleaning solution comes out of the base of the mop in a spray pattern or mist, and then you allow for a quick dwell time.”


Bucketless mops are lightweight and can be filled with a neutral floor cleaner or disinfectant to reduce cross-contamination, says Uselman.


Even though janitors aren’t dunking the mop head into a bucket of solution, they still need to change mop heads frequently. Visual cues, such as a streaky floor or a dirty-looking pad, can indicate that a pad change is overdue.


Gosson suggests changing mop heads every 400 square feet in healthcare facilities and between 600 and 800 square feet in general cleaning applications.


“These mops only have the capability of retaining a certain amount of soil, and then you have to remove the pad and replace it with a fresh one,” says Gosson.


Distributors suggest using washable microfiber pads with bucketless mops or, in some instances, disposable microfiber pads.

“If you don’t have the capacity to rinse out or launder mops, you can use disposable microfiber,” says Gosson. They are also preferable in critical areas, like high-tech manufacturing plants, that don’t allow reusable products.”


In fact, distributors recommend using microfiber mops in conjunction with all alternative mop buckets.  For instance, ABCO Cleaning Product’s dual-chambered bucket and microfiber mop work together as a system.

“We’ve worked with a third party to develop a mop fiber technology that absorbs more than a conventional mop and at the same time releases grease, oil, and liquid more easily than a conventional mop,” says Meaney.


To help ensure cleaner water, regardless of the product or system used, distributors recommend janitors follow these three steps:


• Dust mop first

• Change soiled water frequently

• Don’t use too much chemical


And in addition to these tips, distributors encourage end users to seriously look at new mopping innovations. Cleaning products have greatly evolved since mops and wringers were first introduced more than 100 years ago. It’s probably time for an upgrade