Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Sticking it to scuffmarks

September 19, 2010

Imagine you are in charge of cleaning an airport.

Twenty-four hours a day there are hundreds of people — travelers, airport employees, and visitors welcoming home or sending off their loved ones — to clean up after.

Like in most public facilities, there are the usual messes you’d have to deal with: Discarded newspapers in waiting areas, overflowing trash receptacles, sticky food containers, and bathroom mishaps, to name but a few.

But because airports cater to people with luggage — lots of it — there’s one other floor-related headache you’d have to be constantly mindful of suppressing: Scuffmarks.

Now, we’re not talking about little blemishes here and there that are hard to notice.

We’re talking about big, long, black treads of caked-on wheel residue for as far as the eye can see left on your polished, shining airport floors.

When most people — those outside the JanSan industry, anyway — are trying to catch their flights, the No. 1 concern on their minds is probably not how dirty their luggage wheels are making the floors they’re hurrying around on.

It’s your responsibility, then, as the one in charge of an airport’s cleaning and maintenance department, to do whatever it takes to win the battle against scuffmarks.

But how are you supposed to keep the airport floors scuffmark-free when people are constantly walking on them with their luggage — which just means more scuffmarks for you to get rid of?

Luckily, someone already thought of a simple solution that works like a charm and is creative, to say the least.

Simple and cheap
Steve Bertone, president of American New York Cleaning & Restoration Ltd. — the cleaning company that services Albany International Airport in Albany, NY — was tired of attempting to maintain polished floors that always get ruined by scuffmarks.

Here’s what he came up with to make his life — and his employees’ lives — a whole lot easier:

  • Step 1: Grab a long-handled mop and remove the mop head.
  • Step 2: Take a brand new tennis ball out of its container and cut a hole in one side.
  • Step 3: Stick the mop handle into the hole you just made in the tennis ball.
  • Step 4: Run the tennis-ball-on-a-stick contraption over a scuffmark and watch it magically disappear before your eyes.
  • Step 5: Designate one or two employees as stick guys (or girls) and put them in charge of removing scuffmarks as they make their usual rounds.

Voila! Scuffmark problem solved.

Works like microfiber
Bertone figured a tennis ball would be a good candidate for a scuff remover because it’s made of material that’s similar to the feel of non-abrasive microfiber, which is known to work wonderfully for cleaning, polishing and buffing delicate materials.

Also, relative to the other pieces of JanSan equipment an airport cleaning staff needs, tennis balls are relatively inexpensive.

To keep up with the cleaning demand, Bertone started ordering bags and bags of tennis balls so there would always be some on hand in the airport’s stock room.

“Turnover for the tennis balls is high,” Bertone said. “On average, it takes about a week to 10 days before the ball gets too dirty to do a good job. So keeping sacks of them makes sense.”

Because there are other cleaning duties to attend to, Bertone couldn’t assign all his staff to the scuffmarks.

“I designated two cleaners as ‘stick guys’ who wipe away the scuffmarks while they perform other jobs at the same time,” he explained. “They go back and forth with their sticks, all day long.”

Easy on workers
Julio Salas, one of the two scuffmark cleaners of the Albany Airport, had been removing the marks with his shoes for his five years on the job — which he said took a toll on his legs by the end of each day — before Bertone came up with the tennis ball idea.

“It’s like magic,” Salas said. “It’s easy to do, especially when the floor wax is smooth and hard. I would recommend it to others.”

And not only is Salas’ job a little bit easier, it’s also a little bit friendlier as passersby often stop and inquire about what he’s doing.

“It’s a real conversation-starter,” Bertone said. “People want to know what Julio is doing. They’ve never seen anything like it, and they like to talk about it.”

Novelty aside, the ball-on-a-stick idea really gets the job done: The floors of the airport shine.

Source of pride
John A. O’Donnell, chief executive officer of Albany International Airport, says that he receives many rave reviews and comments on how clean and well-kept the terminals are.

“We are very proud,” he said, of the overall appearance of the airport.

Indeed they are. The airport’s director of public affairs, Doug Myers, seems to beam with appreciation for the halls and walkways of the airport as he walks about, discussing its history and its dedication to travelers and employees.

Likening the airport to the outside world, he said — as he bent down to pick up a lone piece of trash — “If everyone in the rest of the world picked up a discarded piece of paper they saw laying around, everything would be so much cleaner.”

Until then, people like Bertone will continue to devise unbeatable floor-cleaning strategies for the airport that will lead to a healthier, safer and more aesthetically pleasing airport experience.

And if we’re lucky, maybe he’ll also brainstorm some magical contraption that will ensure no flyer ever again will lose his/her luggage, miss a flight, or have his connection cancelled.

Ashley Sterne is associate managing editor of CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management® magazine. She can be reached at