There’s a Difference Between a Dry Mop and a Wet Mop — But You Really Only Need One

published Feb 17, 2021
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Credit: Rikki Snyder

Do you ever stop to think about why you clean the way you do?

Most people clean the way their parents cleaned. There’s a lot of wisdom and experience passed down when you carry on the practices you learned as a kid. But when you have to clean something that wasn’t part of your household growing up (or you just never really took much interest in how to clean until you had to clean things in your own home) you start to pay more attention.

Cleaning floors is one of these chores you might have second thoughts about. With so many types of flooring, so many different cleaning tools and products, and a great deal of inconsistent or even conflicting information, it’s hard to know what’s the best way to clean your floors.

But there’s one component to hard-floor-cleaning that isn’t up for debate: the need to clean them with both dry and wet methods. Dry mopping and wet mopping, as we often call them, have less to do with tools than with techniques. And understanding what they are, and when to do each, is an important part of an efficient, effective floor cleaning regimen.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

What is a dry mop or dust mop? And how do you use it?

A so-called “dry mop” is a mop that is used with no added moisture. The classic dry Swiffer would be considered a dry mop, as would this O-Cedar Sweeper Dust Mop. A dry mop is used to pick up debris like dust and pet hair from the floor. Microfiber or electrostatic dry mops are especially good at attracting dust and hanging on to it so that you aren’t just moving dust around on the floor.

Dry mopping is important because it rids your floors of not only visible dirt, but of the smaller particles that will wear down the finish of your flooring over time. This may not be an issue with floors made from tile, but on wood, laminate, luxury vinyl plank, or even linoleum floors, fine bits of sand or dirt that stay on the floor and are moved around by walking can gradually scratch off the finish and eventually dull the floor and leave it unprotected.

To address this, the dirt on your floors should be removed regularly and somewhat frequently, especially in high-traffic areas. Depending on how many people live at your house and whether you wear shoes inside, dry mopping may need to happen as often as once a day.

In addition, dry mopping in some form or another (more on that below) should always be done before wet mopping. If you wet mop before cleaning up loose dirt, you’ll end up with a trail of wet sludge following every sweep of your mop. Furthermore, if you don’t dry mop before wet mopping, you will end up rubbing all that tiny abrasive debris over your floor and could damage the floors inadvertently while you’re cleaning them.

Credit: Rikki Snyder

What is a wet mop? And how do you use it?

A wet mop comes in many forms. There are string mops that can be wrung with a built-in tool, spin mops, and spray mops. String mops and spin mops need to be used with a bucket filled with water or a floor-cleaner solution (whether it’s store-bought or you’re mopping with a vinegar mixture). You dunk the mop in and wring out some of the water, and then run the mop along your floors. Dipping and re-wringing your mop frequently help you avoid mopping with a dirty rag. You’ll also need to replace your water with a fresh batch when it gets dirty. Spray mops are a bit handier to use. They have a built-in canister that sprays a floor cleaning solution right in front of where you’re going to mop. You can replace the mop head if it gets too dirty as you’re cleaning.

A wet mop is used to introduce a cleaning solution (or sometimes just water) to rid the floor’s surface of any stuck-on dirt and sticky messes. It’s important that some floors (those with “seams” like wood floors, laminate floors, and LVP floors) aren’t allowed to get too wet, so special care must be taken in these instances to ensure that the mops are only just damp, not soaked, and that liquid isn’t allowed to pool on the floor.

Do you need to own both a dry mop and a wet mop?

In a word, no. You don’t need both a dry mop and a wet mop and there are a couple reasons.

The “dry mopping” technique can be done with other tools you probably already have: To get dirt, dust, and fur off your hard floors, you can use a vacuum cleaner or a broom instead of a dry mop. However, you might want to consider owning a dedicated dry mop if you need to routinely lift pet hair from your floors. Running a microfiber dry mop or a Swiffer sweeper over your floors will attract fur and dust and it’s easier and quieter than always reaching for even a vacuum cleaner.

The other reason you don’t need a dedicated dry mop is that you can own one mop that allows you to switch out dry- and wet-mopping pads. Wet pads will have a flatter profile, more like a towel or sponge, to apply your cleaning solution and scrub at stuck-on messes. Dust pads will have more material (think about a shaggy rug vs low-pile carpet) to grip and grab dry debris, like a hand duster would.

When you know the reasons for using your tools, you’re empowered to use them to their full potential and your full advantage. Without extra tools or wasted storage space, you’ll get the clean floors you dream of.