Mops are classified in two main divisions as either wet or dry mops. Wet mops are commonly used to clean kitchen and bathroom floors. They usually have sponge or cloth heads that can be put in water with a detergent or other cleaner (under the general term surfactant) and rinsed when cleaning is finished. Wet mop heads can be easily cleaned themselves, and this should be done regularly to make them efficient in cleaning and absorbing dust. Wet mops should be dried thoroughly before they are stored, and those with cotton strings that fray at the ends should be trimmed occasionally. Mop heads are replaceable when they begin to wear.

The dry mop is also called the dust mop and is characterized by a large, flat head that can be pushed easily over a floor surface. The strings making up the head pick up dust, lint, and hair as the mop glides across the floor. A swivel at the point where the mop head joins the handle allows the mop to be pushed under beds and in other places with limited access. A dry mop can be shaken outdoors to remove dust, but, if the dust clogs the mop, it should be soaked in soapy water overnight. A detachable mop head can be machine-washed. Treating the dry mop with dust mop oil after washing also preserves it and helps the dust cling to the mop head.


The mop is a patented invention that is part of social history as well as the evolution of house wares. Thomas W. Steward, an African-American inventor, was awarded Patent Number 499,402 on June 13, 1893, for inventing the mop. His creation joined a long list of household equipment invented by African-Americans. The roster includes the eggbeater, yarn holder, ironing board, and bread-kneading machine. Steward's deck mop, made of yarn, quickly became well used for household and industrial cleaning. A wringing mechanism made the process of mopping and cleaning the mop easier and faster.

Another pair of inventors, brothers Peter and Thomas Vosbikian, fled Europe just before World War I and patented over 100 inventions in 30 years. In 1950, Peter Vosbikian developed a sponge mop that used a lever and flat strip of metal to press against the wet mop and squeeze it dry. This automatic mop eliminated the need to bend over and wring the mop repeatedly by hand. Its development was aided by the many technological improvements in the plastics industry that grew out of World War II and made absorbent plastic mop heads possible.

Other modifications have made mops even more adaptable to different cleaning chores. In 1999, Scotch Brite released a new wet mop made of natural cellulose and reinforced with internal polyester net. The cellulose does not leave lint like a cloth mop and absorbs 17 times its dry weight.

Raw Materials

Dust (dry) or wet mops consist of the same three basic parts: the mop head including a frame, a mechanical attachment (linking the head and handle) that may be fixed or may swivel, and the handle. The head of a dust mop is typically made of yarn consisting of natural or synthetic fibers like cotton or nylon. The yarn is attached to a carrier substrate, which is almost rigid and holds the shape of the mopping surface. The carrier substrate is fabric, vinyl, or molded plastic. Heads for wet mops are either made of loosely woven yarn or sponge. Like dry mops, the yarn for wet mops may be made of natural or synthetic materials. Sponge mops usually have rectangular heads made of a natural material like cellulose or a synthetic such as polyurethane foam.

The mechanical attachment fixes the mop head to the handle, but the attachment varies widely depending on the type, shape, and use of the mop. The mechanical attachment for a dust mop is made of steel wire, plated metal, or plastic that supports the shape of the head and carrier substrate. It also usually supports a swivel, also made of metal or plastic, that fastens to the frame and handle. Plastic is the most common material for mechanical attachments and swivels on household dust mops, and the plastic attachments are made of durable resins that are injection-molded.

The frame for the wet mop is also made of stamped metal. Steel is commonly used, but it is plated with zinc to protect it from water damage. The mop head does not swivel, but the mechanical attachment linking it to the handle may be a single plate, a double hinged plate that folds like a butterfly to squeeze the mop dry, or a roller mechanism that squeezes the head between two rollers. The mechanism is integrated into the frame along the major axis (the widest portion) of the sponge and has a lever that parallels the handle so the person operating the mop can activate the hinge to squeeze the mop without bending down. Attachments on wet mops also allow for removing and replacing the mop heads when they get dirty.

Handles for dust and wet mops are similar. Dust mops are made with tubular steel or wood handles. Sometimes fiberglass or aluminum is used, but these are less common and much more expensive. Historically, wood handles have also been used in making wet mops, but tubular steel coated with plastic or chrome-plated is the preferred material today.


New designs for mops are driven by changes in technology, consumer demand for products with specialized functions, or internal resources within the manufacturing company. The basic shapes of mops are well suited to their uses, but they do not have to be unattractive to perform their functions. Some mop makers focus on color schemes and other fashion trends in designing new products. New types of fibers and light-weight components are technical improvements that are built into new mop designs.

Since the mid 1990s, static cleaners with disposable cloth covers have been heavily marketed, and they have had some effect on the mop industry. Mops, however, are much more durable and can be cleaned many times before the heads must be replaced. Nylon mops also hold static electricity charges and are just as effective as the static cleaner cloths in attracting and holding dust and hair.

The Manufacturing

  1. The manufacturer's receiving department accepts raw materials and components made by subcontractors. All materials are inspected, accepted or returned to the supplier, logged in, and stored until they are needed on the production lines. Most of the components for mops are made by outside suppliers specializing in producing plastics, metal products, wood handles or tubular metal handles, and sponges. Yarn fibers that are used to make dust and wet mops are ordered in bulk quantities and processed by the manufacturer.
  2. The manufacturer's production area includes many specialized workstations. Yarn for the mop head is cut to a specific length, sewn together by industrial weight sewing machine, and attached to the carrier substrate also by machine stitching. The substrates of molded plastic, vinyl, or heavy fabric are made to the manufacturer's specifications by outside suppliers. Assembly line workers pull frames from bins next to their workstations and fix them to the carrier substrates. Usually, the substrate is fitted to the frame, and the worker stitches it in place. While the substrate forms the general shape of the mop, the frame holds that shape rigid.
  3. At the next work station, the wire metal frames are connected to the mechanical attachments. For dust or dry mops, the attachments are usually swivel devices. The connections between the swivels and the
    Three standard versions of a mop.
    Three standard versions of a mop.
    frames are designed to fit together securely. Usually, connections that are stamped in the metal pieces guide them in place and clip or snap features fix them snugly together.
  4. The other end of the connection is designed to fit the handle. Before the two are connected, the handles are inspected and finished. Wood handles may be sanded or smoothed and painted, and tubular steel is inspected for rough edges or irregularities. Plastic-coated steel handles for wet mops are also checked carefully to make sure that the coating is uniform so water will not damage exposed metal. Mechanical attachments and handles are joined together; again, metal stampings usually lock them in place.
  5. Finished mops are carefully bundled together and taken to the shipping department. Preprinted labels and card paper wrappers or preprinted plastic bags are fastened around the mop heads. Specified numbers of units are packed into shipping containers for bulk distribution to retailers.

Quality Control

Mop manufacturers use an inspector-based system of quality control. At various steps in assembling mops, the inspectors look at materials, methods or processes, and the products themselves to see if there are any visual defects. Mops that have scratches, cracks, or loose threads are discarded. Assembly line workers are not responsible for quality control. The inspectors typically check raw materials and materials from suppliers as they are received. They observe and control processes on the production line and audit quality and quantity of work. Finally, the inspectors check the finished goods including the mops that are packed and ready for shipment.


Mop manufacturers do not generate byproducts, but they usually make a wide variety of dust and wet mops in different sizes and shapes to suit residential and commercial consumers. Mops are also one category of product that may be made by manufacturers of many other small house wares and cleaning products.

Waste is only produced in tiny quantities. The inspection and quality control process prevents inferior mops from being made on the production line. Most waste consists of yarn trimmings and loss of yarn fiber that generates dust. The waste is controlled and disposed, and workers are protected from the dust in keeping with the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Mop production does not result in any hazardous wastes.

The Future

Both dust and wet mops are trusted fixtures in most homes and businesses because their usefulness is proven and they are inexpensive cleaning tools. Manufacturers are always looking for innovative methods of improving their products, especially in the efficiency of performing what most people consider a mundane task. Wet mops and dust or dry mops are surface-specific, so as new types of flooring are developed, manufacturers adapt mops to them. Technical developments are also ongoing in fabrics used as mop fibers and in cleaning media like dust protectants, detergents, and polishes. With such long-standing reliability, mops surely will continue to be needed.

Where to Learn More


Aslett, Don. Do I Dust or Vacuum First? Cincinnati: C. J. Krehbiel Co., 1982.

Moore, Alma Chestnut. How to Clean Everything. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Vare, Ethlie Ann, and Greg Ptacek. Mothers of Invention: From the Bra to the Bomb: Forgotten Women & Their Unforgettable Ideas. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1988.


OCedar Brands, Inc. Web Page. December 2001. < >.

Quickie Manufacturing Corporation Web Page. December 2001. < >.

Robinson, Maisah B. "African-American History. 19 th Century African American Inventors—Part 1." Feb. 26, 2001. December 2001. < >.

Gillian S. Holmes

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