Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Marble and concrete care: The hard facts

September 19, 2010

When talking about the future of floor care, you would expect to hear industry experts talk about new products and procedures and how they will revolutionize the way floors are cleaned.

Surprisingly, the most dramatic changes impacting the industry right now might not be the new products on the scene, but rather the emerging trends in floor surfaces that will have a dramatic impact on the way industry professionals clean.

Marble and concrete: Floors of the future
Gone are the days of the standard carpet and tile. Today’s buildings feature wood, marble, concrete, terrazzo and even rubber floors.

As two of the most popular future floor surfaces on the market, marble and concrete are as diverse as they are attractive.

Concrete has been used as an exterior surface for decades and is considered one of the longest-lasting construction materials available. Most recently, concrete has made its way back into buildings as an alternative flooring surface, but this concrete looks nothing like its outdoor counterpart.

Interior concrete floors feature intricate designs, smooth polishes, and come in an endless variety of colors. According to the American Concrete Institute (ACI), the demand for decorative concrete is growing for several reasons:

  • Affordability: Concrete is cheaper than other stone surfaces, yet achieves the same look.
  • Improved air quality: Concrete doesn’t harbor allergens or dust, helping to alleviate allergy or asthma problems.
  • Easy maintenance and architectural appeal: Each concrete floor can be designed to fit the needs of the building and no two floors look the same.

Marble is a beautiful, natural stone that has been used in both commercial buildings and homes for years, and comes in varying degrees of hardness and color palettes.

Like concrete, marble has recently become an alternative flooring option for high-end buildings.

Marble’s surface is usually polished for low-traffic areas or honed for high-traffic areas, and requires more attention when cleaning, as certain abrasives can scratch the surface.

Industry expert Rick Gelinas of Excellent-Supply, a carpet cleaning and marble restoration supply company, has observed the growing popularity of these upscale alternative hard floor surfaces.

Gelinas said this trend is popping up in newer, more lavish office buildings in New York and Los Angeles, but eventually the general population will see more options in hard flooring.

Like most trends, it may take some time before marble and concrete become mainstream materials, but Gelinas said that it’s important to know in which direction the industry is heading towards.

Cleaning challenges
These new floor surfaces add an aesthetic element to building designs, but present challenges to the cleaning industry. Proper care of concrete and marble differs drastically from traditional floors in office buildings.

Alternative floor surfaces require different cleaning practices, chemicals, machines and additional employee training to clean these types of hard flooring.

Gelinas noted that architects and designers usually don’t consult maintenance personnel when making decisions on flooring materials, and commonly they are just expected to know how to take care of a specialty floor.

Alternative flooring, according to Gelinas, is going to require special care and cleaning methods, specified training, and distinct cleaning equipment.

In addition to new flooring trends, the floor care industry has to deal with a myriad of external challenges, ranging from extended business operating hours and longer shifts, to budget cuts and strict safety regulations.

According to recent news reports, 80 to 90 percent of total floor care costs are from labor, which only adds to the need for proper training in new hard floor services. Mistakes equal less productivity and higher costs.

Tools of the trade
Proper care of alternative floor surfaces requires three main components: Knowledge, training and the right tools.

Knowledge and training are pertinent to caring for concrete and marble because there’s so much room for error, especially with marble flooring. Once cleaning professionals better understand how to care for these floor surfaces, the maintenance routine is fairly simple.

The Marble Institute of America (MIA) is one educational resource that provides information on caring for marble floors. Building managers and cleaning professionals can also seek information from stone suppliers and installers, or restoration specialists.

Cleaning equipment completes the floor care equation — most stone surfaces only need light routine cleaning with occasional polishing or buffing. Key equipment for hard floor care includes:

  • Diamond finishing machines are ideal for marble flooring because they don’t scratch the surface.
  • Scrubbers efficiently clean polished concrete.

Once workers un-derstand the floor surface and how to care for it, they’ll be able to select the right tool for the job.

New products on the horizon
Even though these new surfaces are creating additional challenges for the floor care industry, solutions are available.

Some manufacturers have designed floor care products that reduce labor costs and increase productivity, efficiency and safety.

Multi-purpose machines and micro-fiber are two products that can help accomplish this.

Multi-purpose machines increase productivity and efficiency by combining several floor cleaning functions into one machine.

Depending on the machine, it can strip, scrub, polish, buff or wax a variety of surfaces; other machines can wash and dry a floor in a single pass.

Several companies offer equipment that can be used on both carpet and hard floor surfaces.

Because multi-purpose floor ma-chines condense the cleaning process, they decrease labor and save time — cleaning professionals do not have to constantly alternate between machines and are able to clean more floor space in less time.

Microfiber is still relatively new to the United States, but has been popular in Europe for years as an alternative to traditional cotton cloths and mops.

Microfiber flat mops are made of densely-constructed polyester and nylon fibers that are approximately one-sixteenth the thickness of a human hair, and can hold up to six times their weight in water.

The positively charged microfibers attract dust, which is negatively charged, and are able to penetrate the microscopic surface pores of most flooring surfaces.

According to a report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entitled Using Microfiber Mops in Hospitals, these characteristics make microfiber an effective mopping material.

Ergonomics an ally in hard floor care
Another area of future growth in the floor care industry is ergonomics. With work-related injuries on the rise, cleaning professionals need to use equipment that does not cause unnecessary stress or strain on the body.

Today, companies offer ergonomic alternatives designed to meet a worker’s physical needs, as opposed to forcing the body to adhere to the machine. Examples include ergonomic handles, which eliminate the forceful grip required to operate machines such as battery burnishers, and floor care machines — such as scrubbers and polishers — which offer adjustable handles to ease back strain.

Coping with change
Changes to the floor care industry are inevitable and it’s important to remain open and adaptable. Cleaning professionals can’t survive on the mentality that things will remain the same indefinitely.

The increasing popularity of marble and concrete flooring are just a small part of what’s to come.

If the JanSan industry is going to grow as a whole, cleaning professionals need to adapt readily to the trends that are sweeping through the industry, and ensure that training is a vital part of their cleaning itinerary.


Dennis Jurecki is vice president, Cimex USA, a manufacturer of cleaning equipment and originator and patent pioneer of the “Three Brush System.” For more information, visit www.cimex-usa.com.