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From strip to shine: Selecting chemicals that save

September 19, 2010
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For many organizations and businesses, up to 85 percent of the cleaning operation’s budget is committed to labor.

In the face of rising operational costs and decreasing budgets, cleaning managers and building service contractors (BSCs) must search for ways to cut costs, especially when it comes to time-consuming floor care tasks such as stripping, scrubbing and finishing. The right products, specifically formulated to match the task at hand, can help immensely.

Product manufacturers are listening. There are new, specifically formulated products on the market that aim to significantly reduce the time it takes to clean, strip and finish hard floor surfaces, thereby increasing worker productivity.

Combined with proper training and maintenance programs, organizations can reap the benefits these products offer.

Stripper savings
Floor care professionals face a variety of demands when stripping floors. Generally a time-consuming task, workers are challenged to do the job faster and more effectively.

Ideally, workers should be able to remove all of the old finish on a floor in one pass.

Typically this means using powerful floor strippers that have a strong, overbearing odor that causes customers and building occupants to complain.

However, newly formulated products now exist that are low-odor, but are still powerful enough to allow stripping crews to quickly and effectively remove multiple coats of finish.

This is especially beneficial for businesses that are open 24/7 or those that only offer workers a short time frame in which to maintain the floor.

Manufacturers are finding ways to formulate strippers with increased power, but there are still some key ingredients to look for in a good stripper.

Ingredients such as monoethan-olamine (MEA) help increase the strength of the stripper and unlock the zinc crosslink in the finish.

Glycol ethers, such as ethylene glycol butyl ether, swell the polymers and also improve the performance of the other ingredients.

Together, these ingredients work to strip the finish.

Once the proper stripper is selected, always follow manufacturer’s instructions. Carefully follow all safety instructions, paying particular attention to the need for safety goggles, gloves and other required personal protective equipment (PPE).

Only use as much stripper as the manufacturer requires. You may need less than you think, which could save you money.

For example, if there are only one to five coats of finish on the floor, you can dilute some strippers to up to one part chemical, 18 parts water.

If there are more coats of finish on the floor, a higher concentration of stripper is required to remove all the finish.

When stripping more than 11 coats of finish, use stripping brushes to eliminate clogging of stripping pads.

Make sure to blockade areas to be stripped because floors will be very slippery until dry. Use protective pads to absorb and contain solution within work areas.

Liberally apply solution uniformly to floors with a mop, starting with the edges to allow for more soak time.

If splashing occurs, wipe off surfaces with a clean rag dampened with water.

Let the solution dwell at least five to 10 minutes, depending on the number of coats of finish on the floor (see instructions). The more coats of floor finish on the floor, the longer the dwell time.

Do not allow stripper to dry on the floor or you will disrupt the process. Add more solution as needed.

Machine or hand-scrub floors thoroughly using an appropriate stripping pad or brush. If you are scrubbing floors with 11 coats of finish or more, it may be necessary to apply water to help pick up the stripper and finish solution.

Pick up all the stripper/finish solution with a clean mop, wet vac or autoscrubber. When stripping floors with extreme buildup (11 or more coats of finish), repeat the process if necessary.

Finally, rinse floors with clean water to remove any residue not picked up by the wet vacuum or autoscrubber.

Let the floor dry completely before applying sealer or finish.

Finish in record time
When specifying floor finish, cleaning professionals save by choosing a high-solids floor finish.

A high-solids finish will require fewer initial coats and typically only one coat is needed to achieve a glossy finish.

Three coats provide the same floor protection and appearance level as about five or six coats of standard finish — a definite labor saver.

High-solids finishes are typically marketed as such. This type of finish tends to be thicker, which is why fewer coats are needed to achieve a nice, smooth finish.

However, if not applied properly, floors could end up looking streaky, scuffed or dirty.

A floor that needs to be re-stripped saves no time.

Similar to the stripping process, make sure to blockade areas to be finished because floors will be slippery until they are dry.

Containing the liquid will keep facilities cleaner and safer, and workers will spend less time tending to runover and related problems.

After stripping, use a clean mop to apply a maximum of three medium coats of finish.

After 24 hours, additional coats may be applied to achieve a more glossy finish, but be sure to allow 30 to 40 minutes of drying time between them.

Temperature, humidity and ventilation may affect drying time.

Allow finish to cure for 24 hours before burnishing or applying extra coats, and make sure to apply no more than three coats in 24 hours.

By following these procedures, there is decreased opportunity for mistakes and “do-overs.”

Preventive maintenance
To maintain the best appearance of finished floors, dust mop or sweep daily.

Clean floors with a mop or automatic scrubber and a cleaner according to label instructions.

If floors are cleaned regularly, you can extend the time between finishing.

To enhance the appearance of floors, spray-buff with a red floor pad and 175- to 1,500-rpm equipment; dry-buff using a medium to aggressive pad and 1,000- to 1,500-rpm equipment; and ultra-high-speed burnish using a medium to aggressive pad and 2,000-rpm equipment.

To recoat floors with finish, first dust mop or sweep floors. Clean floors with a mop or automatic scrubber and a cleaner according to label instructions.

Blockade the area and apply one to two uniform coats of finish with a clean mop.

Allow finish to cure 24 hours before burnishing.

Cuts in cleaner costs
Depending on traffic and type of facility, floors may need cleaning daily, more than once daily, or a couple of times a week.

Instead of dragging out a heavy mop and bucket each time to clean floors, especially if workers are cleaning more than once a day, look for a daily cleaning system that incorporates lightweight microfiber mops.

Less cleaning solution (and a lot less water) is required to clean floors when using absorbent microfiber materials.

No wringing of mops is necessary — just change the mop head between rooms or areas as needed.

This quick switch saves workers time and strain because they are not bending and lifting heavy buckets and mops.

Another way to save is to use a daily cleaning program that includes a dispensing system. Dispensing systems deliver the correct chemicals in proper dilution every time, reducing waste.

Proper procedures: The only way to benefit
While the process of stripping, cleaning and finishing have improved, efficiencies in caring for floors will only be achieved if workers are trained to follow proper techniques when using these products and chemicals.

Training staff regarding proper dilution ratios can dramatically decrease the amount of product used. Use chemical dispensing technology to control chemical use through proper dilution ratios.

A well-designed, closed dispensing system can save money, time and make chemical mixing safer for employees and the environment. This also assists in maintaining a healthier environment for cleaning workers and building occupants.

Help cleaning staff to minimize mistakes, spills and waste. For example, mistakenly using the same mop to apply stripper and floor finish can cause major problems.

Try using color-coded cleaning tools to make it easier for staff to identify the proper tool for the job, and to reduce cross contamination.

Finally, train workers to always follow label instructions. Insist that protective gloves, goggles and other required PPE is worn, particularly when an employee is handling concentrated products.

Being aware of and adhering to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations is also a must.

Todd Morrison is associate product manager of Floor Care for JohnsonDiversey. For more information, visit

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