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Hard Floor Care

Choose Wisely

April 04, 2012
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When it comes to floor care, our list of knowledge has expanded.

Many cleaners now realize that the installation of carpet and hard flooring can impact cleaning results, customer satisfaction, liability and profit.

One area that is often overlooked that impacts cleaning is floor covering specification.

Architects and interior designers are trained to specify a floor covering that is aesthetically pleasing and within the budget of the project.

In many cases, that''s about all that is considered during the specification phase, which leads to cleaning problems, high costs and unhappy customers once a property is occupied.

Your best source of accurate information regarding specification, installation and maintenance is the floor covering manufacturer.

Manufacturers have online resources, written materials and a technical support phone line; this is where your research should begin.

• Porcelain and ceramic tile

A solid subfloor is required, and if a shine is desired, a glazed tile should be purchased.

Applying a topical finish to most ceramic or clay tile is the wrong way to get a shine and often leads to poor appearance and higher maintenance costs.

These are great floors where you have heavy traffic, moisture and where regular cleaning is required.

They are brittle and will crack or break if hard objects are dropped on them. With most clay tiles, the biggest problem relates to the cleaning of the grout; the tiles are normally cleaned fairly easily.

If a cement-based grout is used, a penetrating/impregnating sealer should be applied following installation.

• Stone

Granite, marble and slate, along with many other common and precious stones, are now being installed as floor covering materials in high-end homes and in all types of commercial buildings.

These floors look beautiful and expensive and are low maintenance when properly installed and sealed — and as long as abrasive soils and liquid spills are removed promptly.

A hard and stable subfloor is required to prevent cracking.

Preventive maintenance is critical, as restoring stone flooring is time-consuming and costly.

In most cases, topical coatings should not be applied, although a penetrating sealer should be applied shortly after installation.

• Concrete and terrazzo

The most widely used floor covering in the world is being transformed from a gray slab into a modern, upbeat floor covering through the use of hardeners, diamond polishing, dyes, etches, stamping, coatings and other innovative, decorative concrete techniques.

Terrazzo products, both epoxy and cement-based, are seeing growing use in commercial buildings due to low maintenance costs.

Though they can be up to 50 percent cheaper to maintain than other floor surfaces, concrete and terrazzo are not maintenance-free.

• Wood, bamboo and cork

Wood and wood-like products such as cork, bamboo and palm are becoming popular in high-end homes and offices.

Wood and wood-like flooring should not be installed in areas where there are extreme fluctuations in temperature or humidity, as this will cause shrinking, cupping, crowning, cracking and other problems.

Wood and wood-like floors do not like moisture from below or above; bamboo and other similar non-woods like grass, palm and bush floors are even more sensitive to moisture.

In most cases, I would not recommend direct glue down of any wood or wood-like flooring over concrete.

• Laminates

These planks or blocks are extremely sensitive to moisture, so if the backing material is particle or press board, moisture can cause swelling along the ends and edges.

Manufacturers consider these floors to be maintenance-free; however, topical coatings and repairs are being made with secondary sourced products.

I''d say these floors should not be installed in high-traffic areas where moisture is present or where sand or grit are common and regular maintenance is lacking.

• Linoleum

Modern day linoleum is considered a green/sustainable floor covering and is seeing renewed use in schools, public buildings, offices and homes.

True linoleum is not the same as vinyl or rubber sheet goods, as these floors do not like a lot of water or high-alkaline cleaners.

These floors should not be left bare; they need a special topical finish applied to protect them from wear and staining.

• Rubber

We are seeing an increase in the use of rubber flooring due to low maintenance costs — no stripping or topical finish is recommended — environmental preference, comfort under foot and a variety in design options that include textured surfaces, bright colors, standard and oversize tile, sheet goods and planks.

These products don''t like strong chemicals or stripping and should not have a topical finish applied.

Great for high-traffic areas where occupants do a lot of walking, rubber is also used in high-tech manufacturing, health clubs and for seamless floors in healthcare and cleanroom environments.

• Solid vinyl tile

Solid vinyl tile is much the same as a rubber floor, but normally needs a topical coating applied to obtain a shine.

Less expensive than rubber and scratches easily for normal wear if not protected with finish, solid vinyl tile is a soft floor covering that will telegraph subfloor imperfections.

• Laminated vinyl tile

Also referred to as luxury vinyl tile, this is a softer, thinner product and generally doesn''t require a topical finish or burnishing.

This product is often installed over the top of an existing floor covering.

If the subfloor isn''t perfectly smooth, imperfections may telegraph to the surface of the new flooring.

I would not recommend these products for extremely high-traffic areas, as the wear layer and pattern can walk away over time.

• Vinyl sheet goods

A good product with several varieties available, vinyl sheet goods normally need a topical coating for wear protection and shine.

However, some of the new products on the market come with mineral coatings that don''t need refinishing or burnishing.

The subfloor must be smooth, moisture-free and vapor-free and seams must be well sealed.

• Vinyl composition tile

The old standby, vinyl composition tile (VCT) is long wearing when properly installed and maintained.

Most manufacturers recommend a topical coating with burnishing, scrubbing and stripping when the appearance deteriorates.

Maintenance costs for VCT are higher than finish-free floors.

• Vinyl asbestos tile

Vinyl asbestos tile (VAT) may be found in older buildings, but hasn''t been sold or installed for over 30 years.

Avoid stripping; a light scrub and recoating is the recommended procedure.

VAT can be polished or burnished if adequate coats of finish are present.

Don''t let the finish wear down; keep four to six coats on the surface at all times.

• Exotics

Exotics include such things as leather, hand cut mosaics of stone or wood, precious gemstones and wood planks made from logs that were pulled from the Amazon River and reclaimed materials from old buildings.

Just because someone sells it doesn''t mean it will be a good floor covering.

Many of these exotic floors are difficult and expensive to maintain.

Intended for low-use areas, these specialty floors would be better used on the wall than the floor.


Bill Griffin is president of the International Custodial Advisors Network (ICAN) and owner of Cleaning Consultant Services Inc. ICAN is a non-profit association comprised of industry consultants with a wide range of expertise in building management, indoor environmental and service disciplines. This network provides free janitorial and building maintenance consultation service to the industry through the Cleaning Management Institute (CMI). Comments to Griffin are welcome: (206) 849-0179; WGriffin@CleaningConsultants.com.

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