Throughout the years, commercial hard floor care has remained an expensive process.
The process of applying, cleaning, burnishing and stripping floor finish all require considerable investments in time and labor.
Current practices continue to uphold the labor component of the maintenance process as the major factor influencing the total cost of hard floor care within a facility.
Additionally, the need to improve the environmental profile of the overall floor maintenance procedure has compelled those involved in the floor care market, from raw material manufacturers to formulators, to develop technology that will achieve desired levels of cleanliness and coating performance without breaking the bank.
As it relates to detergent cleaning compositions, commercial floor care presents one of the more challenging cleaning tasks: Balancing the need for strong cleaners while not harming floor coating compositions.
A typical commercial floor cleaning formulation faces a variety of soils and stains that accumulate directly on the finish present on an assortment of resilient and non-resilient flooring substrates.
Today's commercial floor scrubbing machines also employ a relatively low amount of detergent in the water to clean the floor, but the detergent must be capable of removing and suspending the soils typically found on floors.
This is a challenge because commercial floor cleaning detergents are typically aqueous-based compositions.
The main component of aqueous cleaning formulations is water, which is mixed with active ingredients such as bases, surfactants, builders and, in some cases, a minor amount of one or more organic solvents or small amounts of other optional additives.
Some commercial floor cleaning detergents may rely on a caustic component — sodium hydroxide, for example — to provide the cleaning strength they need.
The appeal of using caustic ingredients derives from the fact that they offer excellent cleaning power for a very modest cost.
Unfortunately, caustic ingredients have drawbacks because they are harsh on the floor finishes applied to protect the underlying flooring substrate.
Using floor cleaning detergents containing too many caustic ingredients to improve the cleaning efficiency with the intent of removing more soil quickly will dramatically shorten the life expectancy of the finish.
Another drawback of using high levels of caustic components is how they will make the cleaning water highly alkaline, potentially causing disposal issues relating to environmental degradation.
Finding A Balance Within The Components
Choosing the appropriate cleaners and coatings is critical to achieving an optimum floor maintenance program in order to extend the useful life of the coating on a floor, formulators that rely on caustic ingredients have been compelled to limit the amount in their formulations.
In the past, minimizing the use of caustic components posed no concerns because cleaning operations were performed at a reduced frequency and involved less aggressive techniques such mopping instead of cleaning with an autoscrubber.
Now, the use of surfactants and, in some instances, solvents could be added to formulations to raise the level of cleaning performance.
These surfactants and solvents offer an exceptional ability to aid in solubilizing soils and stains, while significantly enhancing a caustic-based detergent’s capacity to remove soils and other foreign materials from the floor that had been deposited during exposure to pedestrian traffic.
With the advent of commercial equipment like autoscrubbers and high-speed burnishers to maintain floors, cleaning and maintenance has become more aggressive and more frequent.
Particular attention must be paid to formulating balanced cleaners that are effective at cleaning, mitigate damage to the finish and strive to be environmentally sound.
Conventional detergents are typically formulated from a limited number of ingredients designed to function together and provide efficacy under a variety of water and use conditions.
Builders may occasionally be incorporated into formulations to boost cleaning power in order to compensate for possible hard water.
Other ingredients like phosphates — especially the alkali pyrophosphates like tetra-sodium pyrophosphate and tetra-potassium pyrophosphate — had been used many years ago and performed well as detergent builders, but the use of phosphates today has been reduced or eliminated for environmental reasons.
In some instances, chelants have been used as formulation additives to replace the sequestering power of phosphates and provide effective benefits to cleaning capability.
The process of designing a cleaner should occur in parallel to the design of the floor coating because each should synergistically work together.
The detergent must be able to effectively clean the floor coating by removing soils and other foreign materials while minimizing damage.
Today, formulators are also confronted by a general trend to use more environmentally friendly ingredients in detergents due to concerns of wastewater discharge into municipal sewers.
As a result, formulators have been compelled to find other ways to obtain the performance required for cleaning and maintaining floors, but with more environmentally sound chemistries.
With the demand for sustainable cleaning technologies on the rise, formulators now have more options to help them meet various regulatory standards.
Surfactants and solvents are two key material classes formulators can incorporate to design cleaning compositions.
Currently, there is a strong market preference for surfactants that are readily biodegradable and environmentally acceptable.
While alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are widely recognized as outstanding surfactants in a broad variety of applications — including hard surface cleaning, paints and coatings and emulsification — they do suffer from a poor public perception of their environmental compatibility.
APE-replacement surfactants generally have good performance profiles in select applications and need to be chosen carefully to meet desired cleaning properties.
For example, some biodegradable linear primary alcohol ethoxylates work well in laundry, but may perform poorly in other applications such as hard surface cleaning or freeze-thaw stabilization for paints and coatings.
The newer generation of biodegradable surfactants based on ethylene oxide/propylene oxide alcohol alkoxylates and bio-renewable surfactants based on alkyl polygucosides are designed for use in hard surface cleaning applications with extensions into all-purpose and bucket-dilutable cleaners.
These surfactants have recently been accepted for inclusion in the CleanGredients Database, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Design for Environment (DfE) screening criteria developed in partnership with the GreenBlue Institute.
Products approved by CleanGredients meet strict requirements for aquatic toxicity and biodegradation.
Key criteria for solvent selection should be the effective removal of soils that impact the appearance of floor finishes.
The solvents should have a low vapor toxicity profile so that, when incorporated into cleaning formulations, they can be safely used in confined areas with normal ventilation.
The solvents should also be nonflammable and, when incorporated, should not cause the product to become combustible.
Additionally, solvent options should not soften or destroy the floor coating or surrounding surfaces such as shelving, furniture and advertisement stands.
Solvents selected should have a “solvency” profile that permits easy cleaning of grease and dirt from floors, yet comply with volatile organic compound (VOC) emission regulations.
More importantly, autoscrubbers should be able to readily remove the formulations containing these solvents through their vacuum components or via manual squeegeeing.
Recently, several solvents that are based on propylene glycol ethers have met the EPA’s DfE solvent screening criteria and will eventually be included in the CleanGredients Database.
These solvents, along with the listed surfactants, can serve as a powerful toolbox in assembling effective cleaners for hard floor cleaning and maintenance applications.
Making The Right Choice
Chemical formulators are becoming increasingly aware of the need to match floor cleaners to floor finishes.
A cleaner should not impact appearance properties such as gloss and clarity, while a coating should be resistant to damage from detergents.
The availability of key formulating ingredients to manufacturers provides for the development of an effective system where the design of a cleaner and coating composition can occur in a parallel fashion.
Choosing the appropriate cleaning compositions for the coatings present will ensure the best outcome for your floor maintenance process.