Winter brings more into your home than just snow and ice. In addition to slushy footprints, there’s a good chance that you and your family are tracking in salt, sand and ice melt. Avoiding these substances in parking lots and walkways is almost impossible, so what’s a person to do? You might start by thinking of the clean-up process as a little science experiment.
The salt that we scatter on sidewalks in winter is actually made up of calcium chloride pellets. Calcium chloride is an inexpensive substance known for its effective melting properties, with certain solutions having the ability to prevent freezing at as low as – 62 degrees Fahrenheit. It also happens to have a high pH, one greater than 7.
Because calcium chloride is so acidic, it tends to attract water, which means it loves our snowy boots. You may think you’re in the clear once wet footprints have either evaporated or been wiped away, but unsightly white streaks will likely appear in time. And if salt isn’t properly cleaned, it can slowly destroy a floor’s finish or permanently stain carpet.
How to Remove Salt Stains with Vinegar
Your first thought may be to grab a bucket of hot soapy water or scrub hard at the stubborn stains with a brush. But the best way to remove stains is to neutralize the highly acidic calcium chloride with a low-pH cleanser. You can choose a floor neutralizer for this specific purpose, but our favorite solution is one we’ve already discussed at length in a previous entry—vinegar. With its pH of 3, vinegar won’t just remove tough, baked-on stains from your oven. When used the right way, it’s your best bet for keeping floors clean.
Since vinegar itself is fairly acidic, it’s best not to apply it directly to just any surface. Stone, for example, can be eroded by acidic substances and is not ideal for cleaning with vinegar. The key to using vinegar to remove salt stains is to dilute it. To avoid wear and tear on your flooring, try mixing four to five ounces of vinegar with about a gallon of warm water. Use a generous amount of vinegar solution to mop floors or gently scrub carpets. Allow it to rest for three to five minutes, then use clear warm water to mop stains again.
While vinegar is perfect for vinyl or tile flooring, you’ll need to modify the process if you have a hardwood floor. It’s best not to use a mop since excess or standing water can cause damage to wood. Spot-treat hardwood floor stains with a rag soaked in the solution, then use another clean, dry rag to wipe up the stains and any vinegar residue.
You can also use vinegar to clean salt stains off of concrete. Since calcium chloride tends to bond more strongly to concrete than interior flooring materials, you’ll need to create a stronger cleaning solution. Mix one part vinegar with five parts water, put down a generous amount of cleaner, wait three to five minutes and then mop it up with clear water.
More Winter Foot Traffic Tips
A certain amount of moisture and staining is probably unavoidable when it comes to your home and winter foot traffic. You may need to lay down a strict no-shoes-in-the-house rule and put out additional absorbent mats to catch any water and salt. It’s a good idea to place one for wiping outside the door and then one or two more to cover your foyer. You can also try leaning shoes toes-up on the lip of a boot tray so that excess moisture drains off.
Do you have a question about removing stubborn salt stains from your home’s floors? Let us know in the comments below, or contact your local National Property Inspections team.