The Single Best Cleaning Tip I Learned from My Italian Mom

updated Sep 29, 2021
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When I was a kid, floor-washing day in our house meant that we’d come home from school and turn the corner to find our mom sliding around in socks, wielding a giant Swiffer mop wrapped in a towel-turned-rag, scrubbing our tile floors until they sparkled in the natural light that flooded our fishbowl of a suburban New Jersey kitchen.

The most vivid part of this memory, though, is the unmistakeable whiff of my mom’s preferred cleaning agent: white vinegar. If we’re being honest here, the whole process made the kitchen smell like a pepperoncini pepper from the big house salad at our favorite Italian joint. I never thought anything of it, though. Until now.

Credit: Cat Meschia

Living on my own nowadays means that I call my mom a lot while I try to figure out how to adult. Most recently, one of those calls was the result of my coming to the conclusion that the convenient wet mop pads I was buying from the drug store weren’t quite getting the job done. My apartment floors still seemed filthy! Here’s the conversation that finally convinced me to clean my floors the way my mom does.

Tell me how you do it again?

“The first thing I do is vacuum the floors before I clean them. Then I take a bucket of water and put in about a cup of white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar would probably smell better, but I use white vinegar. Then I put a titch of Murphy’s oil soap in, so it doesn’t smell so bad. Afterwards, just light a candle so your house doesn’t smell like a salad.”

Who taught you this?

“My mom always did it this way. And she learned from her mother-in-law, my Nanny LaSala, who always did it this way too. She told me that just using soap leaves a scum and makes your floors dull, but vinegar makes your floors really shiny. I always thought this was what you were supposed to do — is that weird?”

Not weird!

“I don’t really like to use chemicals either. This is bad to say, but if you dropped a piece of food on my floor and you went to pick it up, you could probably eat it. That’s how clean my floors are.”

I want to be just like you.

What’s the best cleaning tip you’ve ever gotten from your mother?