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Hard Floor Care

Greening Floor Care

September 19, 2010
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While there has been a definite surge in the marketing and use of green floor finishing and cleaning products in recent years, it can be argued that many of the products and techniques being used are not environmentally friendly or sustainable.

What is common among most floor finishing technologies is that they require multiple coats of chemical finish, annual stripping of the finish, quarterly scrubbing and recoating treatments and weekly — sometimes daily — buffing or burnishing.

Significant Waste

Multiple coats of finish applied to the floors, even if it is a green floor finish, results in many pounds of chemical, water and packaging waste each year.

When the finish degrades — sometimes even much more quickly than the non-green products previously used — the finish must be stripped from the floors often to be dumped down the drain.

Some states have seen the potential harm in this and now require special procedures for disposal of this waste.

Between annual stripping and recoating procedures, floors are often scrubbed and recoated with more coats of finish on a quarterly schedule.

In cases like dialysis clinics and laboratories where harsh chemicals are often spilled on floors, stripping and refinishing may be required four or five times each year.

The resulting water, chemical and packaging waste is quite substantial for even a small building.

Additionally wasteful is the amount of energy used to run the machines necessary for stripping, top-scrubbing, buffing and burnishing.

Also, when the pads used for these tasks become worn, they are thrown in the trash, creating additional solid waste.

It All Adds Up

The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE) has a calculator available on its website to help facilities estimate the amount of chemical products used for floor care and cleaning measured in pounds.

It also helps to estimate the percentage of hazardous material associated with those pounds of product.

According to the data provided by this calculator, the average building uses more than 1,000 pounds of chemical products annually for every 50,000 square feet of hard surface flooring.

Of those 1,000 pounds, an estimated 18 percent is considered hazardous to human and environmental health.

It would take a sophisticated calculator to compute the total amount of waste resulting from conventional floor care in the United States alone.

The tasks of buffing and burnishing are also detrimental to environmental health and sustainability because of their effects on indoor air quality (IAQ) and cross contamination.

Buffing floors creates fine dust particles that are released into the air and spread to multiple surfaces in the immediate area and throughout the facility via air-handling systems.

The contaminants that were once only on the floors are spread throughout the facility and kicked up directly into the air breathed by workers, employees, customers and visitors.

If not immediately inhaled, the contaminated particles are deposited on other touch-point surfaces and spread to people''s hands, necessitating extra cleaning.

The common person might ask why buffing or burnishing is even necessary in facilities.

Shiny Floors: An American Tradition

American''s have long had an obsession with shiny floors.

The impact of shiny floors on the perception of cleanliness in a facility is undeniable.

Just because a surface is shiny does not necessarily mean it is clean.

However, hospitals, schools, universities, shopping malls and office towers have long been graded on the sheen of the floors by the public and inspectors.

For years the mantra of health care facility inspectors has been "shiny floors equal higher scores."

It is a simple fact that most conventional or green floor finish products simply do not retain a shiny appearance without frequent buffing or burnishing.

Many retail environments, such as grocery and discount stores, burnish floors daily.

Hospitals, universities, schools and office buildings typically buff or burnish floors weekly.

The amount of general foot traffic common to these environments often degrades the shiny appearance of the floor finish within a week, a day or even just a few hours.

Common cleaning procedures do not do enough to restore the shine to the floors, so buffing or burnishing must be done.

In many schools it is common to apply a few coats of finish prior to the start of the school year and then again during winter or spring breaks.

However, in most cases the finish receives no additional maintenance other than daily cleaning and the finish lasts a very short time.

That type of practice is not very effective for truly protecting the floors or making them easier to clean.

While the solution may be inexpensive, it is essentially a waste of chemicals, water, labor and money.

While these facts regarding common floor finish products may open one''s mind to the associated environmental hazards, one might also wonder what alternatives are available.

Available Alternatives

One breakthrough technology that was developed several years ago is ultra-durable, water-based urethane.

Water-based urethane finishes have been common to wood floor finishing and concrete coatings for several years; however, many of those urethane formulas have a tendency to yellow, and a relatively high solvent content makes them ineffective for finishing other types of flooring or for use in environments like health care facilities or schools.

Ultra-durable, water-based urethanes have been developed specifically for common flooring such as vinyl composition tile (VCT), sheet vinyl, linoleum and terrazzo as an alternative to conventional finishes.

These products are specially formulated against yellowing and have little or no solvents.

Ultra-durable urethane (UDU) finish maintains a lasting shine with common cleaning procedures and does not require buffing or burnishing.

Stripping is also not required for recoating or repair.

A simple wet screening and scrubbing process using minimal water and cleaning chemicals is all that is required to prepare the floors for recoating.

UDU requires only a single coat for a shiny appearance equal to that of four to six coats of conventional finish.

With a much longer lifecycle, typically 18-24 months, recoating procedures are done much less frequently.

Historically, many floors finished with UDU last two to three years, or even as long as five years without additional treatments.

The result is substantial reduction in pounds of chemical and packaging waste over time.

Because buffing, burnishing, stripping and frequent recoating is not required with UDU finish, facilities can achieve significant savings in water, energy, pads and machine expenses.

Labor needs are also reduced, so considerable savings can be achieved in a short period of time.

In addition to the indirect savings previously mentioned, many users of UDU have realized direct labor and material savings within the first year of implementation.

Another notable benefit of UDU finish for environmental health and safety is its high slip resistance.

UDU has a coefficient of friction greater than 0.80, exceeding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standard for ramped surfaces and far exceeding the ADA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for common floors.

In addition, because stripping is no longer required once UDU is implemented, the risk of worker''s compensation and liability claims due to slips and falls is greatly reduced.

Stripping floors is an extremely hazardous task for workers and even non-workers who might accidentally walk on a floor that is being stripped.

While some brands and primitive formulas of UDU finish may have caused some headaches for early adopters, ongoing development and advancements have made UDU a truly viable alternative to conventional finishing.

Newer formulas have eliminated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odors, improved durability and made application, repair and removal much easier.

UDU finish is no longer just a beta or specialty product.

It has been proven over the past several years to make a significant difference in many facilities throughout the country and is ready to help even more in the months and years to come. CM

Mike Gunderson is vice president of sales and marketing for Ultra Durable Floors, a Minnesota company that provides products, training and support for hard surface floor care with a focus on ultra-durable floor finish technology. For more information, visit or send your request to

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