Which mop is best?

Which mop is best?

Which mop is best?

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Dec. 15 2004 5:29 PM

Top Mops

Which one is best?

Illustration by Nina Frenkel

I grew up in a spotless house. In spite of the fact that my mother had a full-time job, our windows were clean and the grout in our bathrooms was mold-free. Magazines were never allowed to make themselves at home on our coffee table. We had few knick-knacks. Gifts from our family back in Russia were carefully tucked in a drawer. "These things collect dust," my mother would say.

I had to take her word for it. The accumulation of dust was for me a theoretical phenomenon until I moved away from home and realized the extent of my domestic incompetence. Like many people, I find cleaning, especially mopping, so loathsome that I put it off for ages, even if it means I can no longer receive guests. I've thought about scraping together the money for a cleaning lady, but in New York City a cleaning lady is most likely to be an immigrant woman of a certain age—in other words, for me, a mother figure. I would be almost as uncomfortable letting one of these women view my apartment in its raw state as I would be inviting the real Mrs. Blair to lift the dust ruffle and see what's seething under my bed.

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But enough! I want to live differently. I recently searched the marketplace for gadgetry that would be an improvement over my off-brand sponge mop, and maybe even make the chore more palatable. Mops, I discovered, now divide roughly into two categories. There is the traditional style you swish around in a bucket of soapy water and wring out. These can be either sponge mops (in which the cleaning surface is a sponge) or string mops (in which the business end is a Medusa's head of string or other ropy material). Then there is what I call the new generation of mops, which allow you to do away with the bucket entirely. These have flat heads to which you attach disposable cloths or pads. Either the cloths come soaked with cleaning fluid (kind of like baby wipes), or you rig up a container of cleaning fluid to the mop itself and push a button on the handle to dispense the fluid (it comes out of a nozzle just above the mop's head and falls on the floor just ahead of your mop). When the cloths become sufficiently dirty you throw them out and replace them—thus, there's nothing to rinse or wring. (The cleaning fluids that come with new-generation mops have ingredients similar to other brand-name floor cleaners. If you prefer health-food-store brands like Seventh Generation or some other ecologically friendly concoction, you'll have to buy it separately and pour it on the floor yourself.)

There is also a third kind of wet hard-floor cleaner—the combined vacuum/wet cleaner. These devices, which cost between $100 and $250, spray cleaning fluid and have built-in scrubbers for hard floors. They also double as conventional vacuum cleaners and are about the size and shape of a smallish upright. I didn't test them because, with their much-higher prices, dual function, and large size, they seemed to belong to a different category of cleaning tool, but readers may want to keep them in mind.

Methodology:
Thanks to my landlord's maverick decorating scheme, my apartment has three different kinds of flooring, each more difficult to clean than the next. The kitchen is done in large, smooth, square tiles—the kind in public elementary schools. Another room has vinyl flooring with a textured, slightly dimpled surface. And the bathroom floor is the lowest level of housekeeping hell: tiny beige tiles surrounded by light-colored grout.

On each of these surfaces I subjected the cleaning implements to two tests. One was the orange juice test, in which I poured juice on the floor and let most of it become dry and sticky. Because of my warped, undulating kitchen floor, some of the juice pooled usefully into little puddles, allowing me to also test the absorption capacity of the mops. The second test was the kitty litter test, in which I poured clay kitty litter on the floors and sprinkled water onto it so that it melted and re-hardened into an obdurate mess.

Illustration by Nina Frenkel
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As I tested a given mop, I considered its absorption capacity (can it clean up serious spills?), convenience (how far do you have to bend and how hard to you have to press to wring it out? In the case of the bucketless mops, is it easy to apply cleaning fluid and change the cloths?), the effectiveness of the mop's cleaning surface (is it abrasive enough to scrub off stubborn, gooey material and pliant enough to get into the cracks between tiles?), its ability to reach corners and crevices, and its heft (very lightweight or spindly mops can make it difficult to apply enough pressure to scrub away, for instance, coagulated kitty litter; of course, a mop that's too heavy would be cumbersome, but none of the mops seemed heavy to me, and I suspect I have less upper body strength than the average American). I rated the mops on a scale of 1 to 6 in each of these categories.

I didn't include price in my evaluation because it seemed impossible to compare prices directly—the mops come with varying numbers of replacement cleaning heads, and the new generation mops also come with their own cleaning fluid. The prices range from $8.99 to $21.99 (and may vary slightly depending on where you shop), but, crucially, I did not find that price correlated with effectiveness. 

Results (from worst to best):

Swiffer Wet
Price (kit includes two wet cloths for mopping and two dry cloths for dusting): $9.99
Wet cloth refills (12 count): $4.99
Absorption capacity: 1 (out of 6)
Convenience: 5
Effectiveness of cleaning surface: 1
Ability to reach corners: 5
Heft: 1
Total score: 13

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This rickety thing—not to be confused with the Swiffer WetJet, below—is a disappointment: Its handle is so thin that if you bear down on it while scrubbing, it actually starts to bend. Because of its lightweight frame and smooth cleaning surface, I couldn't generate much friction for scrubbing. It also isn't very absorbent—when I went to clean up the spilled orange juice, the Swiffer Wet just pushed it around the floor. Its advantage over sponge mops is that the head is thin and can slip under stoves and refrigerators. And, of course, the pre-soaked cleaning cloths are disposable. But both of these benefits are offered by the much sturdier Clorox Ready Mop and Swiffer WetJet, below.

Scotch-Brite Butterfly Mop
Price: $12.99
Replacement sponge: $5.99
Absorption capacity: 6
Ease of use: 2
Effectiveness of cleaning surface: 3
Ability to reach corners: 2
Heft: 5
Total score: 18

This is a basic sponge mop with a built-in wringer that you use by pushing a cylinder half-way down the length of the mop's shaft. The wringer is made of lightweight plastic and feels a little flimsy. In fact, the very first time I tried to wring out the mop, the sponge came detached from the handle. Nothing was broken and I was able to snap it back in place, but it made me wonder about the mop's stamina.

Clorox ReadyMop
Price (kit includes cleaning fluid and eight disposable pads): $16.99
Absorption capacity: 2
Ease of use: 6
Effectiveness of cleaning surface: 2
Ability to reach corners: 5
Heft: 4
Total score: 19

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This is a new-generation mop that uses disposable cleaning pads and allows you to squirt cleaning fluid onto the floor by pulling a trigger on the handle. It has the less-than-stellar flat head common to its ilk, but is otherwise a fine contraption. Its quilted pad and heftier build makes it considerably more effective on both juice puddles and kitty-litter sludge than the Swiffer Wet.

Vileda Roll-O-Matic Roller Mop
Price: $8.99
Replacement sponge: $4.99
Absorption capacity: 6
Ease of use: 3
Effectiveness of cleaning surface: 4
Ability to reach corners: 2
Heft: 5
Total score: 20

Of all the mops I tested, this excellent sponge mop was the easiest to wring out—you activate the wringer simply by flicking a handle in the middle of the mop shaft. The sponge itself has a ridged surface that puts up a good fight on textured and tiled floors, and the whole mop has a pleasantly solid feel compared to the chintzy lightweight plastic of the Scotch-Brite Butterfly Mop.

StarMop Pro
Price: $16.95
Replacement pad: $6.95
Absorption capacity: 4
Ease of use: 2
Effectiveness of cleaning surface: 5
Ability to reach corners: 5
Heft: 5
Total score: 21

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This mop, available on the Internet (and advertised in TV infomercials) looks like a new-generation mop, but its detachable pad, which is made of microfiber and looks like dense terry cloth, is reusable—you rinse it when it gets soiled and eventually put it in the washing machine. Infomercials claim that the fabric absorbs dirt so well that it can clean your floors with just water, and that the mop won't streak or leave residue. It's true that this mop, when moistened with water, scrubbed away kitty litter at least as well as the new-generation mops that use detergent. But is your floor clean just because you can no longer see the schmutz? As for the second claim, if you're working with kitty litter or any other seriously messy substance, you're going to have streaks. All the mops I tested left them, and this striver was no exception. That said, this is a pretty good mop. Though it's not as convenient as mops with disposable pads, it was just as good at soaking up an orange juice puddle as the Swiffer WetJet, and it has a nubby surface that works on grout. Its machine washable cloth pad also makes it environmentally friendlier than the new-generation mops.

Swiffer WetJet
Price (kit includes cleaning fluid, batteries, and three pads): $21.99
Absorption capacity: 4
Ease of use: 6
Effectiveness of cleaning surface: 3
Ability to reach corners: 5
Heft: 4
Total score: 22

This bucketless mop edges out the Clorox ReadyMop because of its thick, absorbent cleaning pads, which work almost as well as a traditional sponge mop on spills. Its jet spray is battery-operated rather than manual (you hold down a button on the handle to activate the spray, which is accompanied by an unfortunate whirring noise). This seemed to me a gratuitous touch. Nonetheless, this is the superior mop if you're looking to get rid of the bucket.

NOTE: There have been rumors on the Internet that the cleaning fluid used by Swiffer WetJet is harmful to pets, but these rumors are unsubstantiated. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has stated that Swiffer WetJet's ingredients are safe to use around animals.

Libman Wonder Mop Plus
Price: $8.99
Replacement head: $5.99
Absorption capacity: 6
Ease of use: 1
Effectiveness of cleaning surface: 6
Ability to reach corners: 6
Heft: 6
Total score: 25

I never thought the tiara would go to an old school string mop, but it was by far the best all-around performer. The Wonder Mop's "strings" are actually strips of absorbent, spongy material. It has a sturdy feel and you can bear down on it for efficient scrubbing (kitty litter: no problem). The tentacles have excellent absorption capacity (the orange juice simply disappeared into the mop—it was the only device that didn't spread the juice around even for a few seconds before sucking it up). The strings are also thin, flexible and pliant enough to dig into corners, under the edges of appliances and, best of all, down into the cracks and chips left by broken kitchen floor tiles. I was able to reach surfaces that hadn't felt the tickle of a cleaning implement in years. The mop head is even machine washable, creating less waste and making the Wonder Mop the best value among those I tested.

Alas, even the Wonder Mop is not without drawbacks. It was the hardest of all the mops to wring out (hence its low Convenience score). You have to reach all the way down near the end of the mop, push a sleeve over the mop head, and twist the sleeve with all your might.

I am thus sorry to report that I did not find the ideal mop. Compared to the traditional mops, the new-generation mops, with their smooth, flat heads and thin frames, required more strokes to scrub away the kitty litter and soak up spills. However, as you can see from the results, the new generation mops really are much easier to use, especially for people who live in apartments and don't have large laundry room sinks or backyard hoses. It's kind of a drag to pour your filthy floor water down the bathtub drain or toilet when you're done mopping, and even worse to rinse out the bucket in the bathtub. Plus, there's your lower back to consider: The fact that you don't have to bend to wring out the newfangled mops every few minutes makes cleaning considerably less arduous. Depending on your lifestyle, your physical stamina, and the degree of filth in your apartment, you may actually prefer the first runner-up to the Wonder Mop. Me? I will use the Wonder Mop several times a year for comprehensive cleanings, and for cases of particularly stubborn dirt. But to be perfectly honest, for the light maintenance that I hereby vow to do every week, I'll be using the Swiffer WetJet.