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9 Steps for Maintaining Commercial Stone Floors

How to design a maintenance program that keeps your stone floors in good repair and looking like new.

commercial stone floors

Stone floors are durable and add a unique design element to a commercial space. To keep them in good repair and looking like new, implementing an effective maintenance program is key. From understanding your stone to employing a time-honored polishing technique, below are guidelines to help you design the best maintenance program for your particular
stone floor.

Step 1: Identify the stone

Designing a good maintenance program starts with identifying the stone. Is it granite, marble, quartzite, or limestone? If it’s marble, is it soft or hard? What type of finish does the stone have—is it polished, honed, or flamed? Is the type of stone suited for the amount of traffic it receives? If the answers to any of these questions are unknown, contact a reputable stone supplier or restoration company to help determine them. A complete understanding of your stone’s characteristics is essential for designing a maintenance program.

Step 2: Assess the quality of installation

Once you’ve identified the stone’s characteristics, assess the quality of the installation. Are the tiles flat and even, or does the floor contain lippage (uneven tiles)? The floor should be ground flat, honed, and polished, and if this is not the case, proper maintenance may prove difficult. Are any of the tiles cracked? If so, these tiles should be replaced or, if replacements are not available, filled with a polyester resin to prevent dirt from accumulating in the cracks.

Step 3: Determine the condition of the stone

Before you can evaluate the present condition of the stone, coatings such as waxes, acrylics, or urethane need to be chemically stripped or ground off. A stone floor can appear to be in great shape until the coating is removed, unveiling a pitted, scratched mess. If the floor is in poor condition, you should restore it before implementing a maintenance program. Once the stone is restored to like-new condition, then—and only then—will a maintenance program provide good results.

Step 4: Apply an impregnator

If the stone will be exposed to water, coffee, and other spills, apply a good-quality sealer impregnator to protect the floor. Impregnators are designed to penetrate the stone without leaving a coating on the surface, allowing the stone to breathe.

Step 5: Perform daily maintenance

By far the most important task to include in your maintenance program is dust mopping. The most destructive materials to most stone are sand, dirt, and miscellaneous grit. Eliminating these substances greatly reduces the amount of maintenance needed for the stone, keeps the stone looking new, and extends the time before restoration is required. A stone floor cannot be dust mopped too often. Use a clean, untreated, dry dust mop at least two to three times a day in high-traffic areas and less often in low-traffic areas.

Walk-off mats placed both outside and inside an entrance will prevent a good portion of debris from being tracked indoors. It takes approximately seven steps to remove all the loose dirt from the bottom of one’s shoes, so keep this in mind when deciding what size walk-off mats to purchase. If the grit is eliminated, nothing will be left behind to scratch and dull the stone.

Step 6: Clean with a neutral cleaner

All-natural stone, whether it’s polished or unpolished, should be cleaned daily in high-traffic areas. Use a clean rayon or cotton string mop with cold or warm water and a quality neutral cleaner or stone soap. Neutral cleaners are surfactant-type detergents that have a pH of 7. Acidic and alkaline cleaners should not be used on a regular basis. Be sure to follow the product directions carefully; using too much cleaner may leave a film and
cause streaking.

Step 7: Avoid coatings

To maintain the highly polished surface of most stone, your maintenance program should avoid the use of waxes, acrylics, and other so-called sacrificial coatings. In certain situations, a coating may be necessary, and you should contact a stone professional for advice. But for the most part, sacrificial coatings increase the amount of maintenance required for most stones.

In fact, maintaining a polished surface without using coatings is simple and surprisingly inexpensive.

Step 8: Use the natural polishing process

The natural polishing process has been used for centuries to generate highly polished stones. With the addition of modern technology, this traditional process is simple, inexpensive, and time saving, and it will keep the stone looking optimal without any harmful coatings. Many high-traffic hotels and office buildings use this system with great success, and with a little practice, so can you.

The process relies on abrading the surface of the stone to remove damage caused by grit and to maintain a high degree of shine. To accomplish this, a polishing powder—an abrasive powder containing aluminum oxide or tin oxide—is worked into the stone using a buffing machine and a floor pad. You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment; all you need is a 175 rpm buffing machine, a few buffing pads (white or hog-hair pads work fine on most stones), and polishing powder, which is available at most marble supply companies. For large areas, such as the floors of malls or department stores, an automatic scrubber is useful.

Place approximately one tablespoon of powder on the stone, add a small amount of water, and work this into a slurry with the pad under the buffing machine. Experiment with the ratio of powder to water; some stones may be polished with a very wet consistency and others may require buffing until almost dry.

Use this polishing process to repair worn, high-traffic areas. How often you should plan to polish the stone will depend on the type of stone, the amount of traffic it receives, and how good of a job you are doing dust mopping the floor. A home may only require polishing once a year, whereas a hotel may require daily polishing.

The question asked most often about using this polishing process is, “If we are abrading the stone, won’t we eventually wear the stone until there is no stone left?” The answer is a simple no; the amount of abrasion is so fine that most stone can be polished in this manner every day and still not be worn down significantly.

A word of caution: This polishing process should be performed by individuals familiar with commercial buffing machinery. It is not recommended for the homeowner. And although the above process is suitable for most situations, the type of stone and other factors will dictate the best polishing method for your floors, so you should consult a stone care expert if in doubt.

Step 9: Restore your commercial stone floors as needed

Periodically, your stone will need to be restored. If you have not followed a proper maintenance program, if the type of stone you have is not suited to the conditions it receives, or if the stone is not responding to maintenance, restoration is required. How often this will need to be done varies. Depending on your maintenance program, restoration may be needed as often as once per year or as little as once every five years.

The restoration process rehones the stone to remove deep scratches, and the stone is then repolished. Do not attempt the rehoning process yourself. This requires skill and experience, so call a reputable restoration company for this task.

Natural stone was the first building material used by humans, and its care and maintenance is one of the oldest tasks performed by our ancestors. By designing a maintenance program based on both tradition and modern science, your commercial stone floors will look beautiful for years to come.

Fred Hueston

Fred Hueston is the owner of Stone Forensics, a leading consulting and training firm specializing in stone, tile, and other surface failures. He is the host of the weekly radio show and podcast The Stone and Tile Show. He is an author of more than 35 books and hundreds of articles on stone and tile restoration, maintenance, fabrication, installation, and failures. Contact him at fhueston@gmail.com and find his complete stain guide at www.surphaces.com/stain-management-app.

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