Facilities across the country are reexamining their hard floor care best practices in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. New questions are emerging in regard to infection control and floors, including how to manage the labor required for floor care when cleaning teams have new demands and protocols to keep them busy. To bring you the most up-to-date information, we interviewed top floor care experts from the cleaning industry for professional tips to improve hard surface cleaning processes at a time when proper protocols are needed most.
Our experts, Jim Flieler, vice president of Canadian Sales & Marketing at Charlotte Products; Reid Rabon, senior product manager – Robotics & Water Technologies at Tennant Co.; Terry Schawe, technical director at Kaivac Inc.; and Chris Wright, vice president of sales at Brain Corp., have the answers to your questions.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the way facilities should be caring for their floors?
Jim Flieler: Floors are the largest reservoir for bacteria and viruses. Coronavirus is a droplet-based virus, so gravity plays a large part in allowing it to settle on floor surfaces. Once on the floors, it is tracked throughout the facility on people’s shoes, laces, purses, backpacks, carts, etc. The first question facility managers are asking me right now is: “Should I disinfect my floors?” If the facility is a medical or long-term care facility, a grocery store, food processing plant, or an educational facility, then yes, you should be disinfecting your floors. That means you should begin using a good-quality, neutral disinfectant (or sanitizer if it is a food prep or processing facility). If your facility is not one of the types I mentioned, then using a good quality neutral cleaner with regular washing frequency can be satisfactory.
Reid Rabon: In the past, the floor has been considered a noncritical surface, meaning that it has very little contact with skin, except in higher risk areas such as restrooms, health care and facilities where children are sitting on a gymnasium floor. In the majority of facilities, it will still not be necessary to routinely disinfect floors. However, when it is advised to disinfect the floor surface, it will be important to follow the process for proper disinfection. This means cleaning all debris and soil first, and following the proper disinfectant contact time. Each disinfectant will have its own contact time on the label, which is the time the disinfectant needs to stay on a surface to achieve the efficacy it claims against certain organisms. With any surface, especially floors, the issue has always been how do you keep a surface wet for that long using your equipment? If you are using an autoscrubber, you will remove your disinfectant in under three seconds, so you won’t be able to achieve your contact time. However, you can adjust your autoscrubber to a double-scrub mode when applying your disinfectant after you’ve cleaned the floor, or you can turn off or lift the squeegee to keep your floors wet for long enough to achieve the contact time.
Q: Beyond COVID-19, what are the biggest challenges facilities face with floor care?
Chris Wright: We expect the impact of COVID-19 on cleaning to be long-lasting. Still, other floor care challenges include slips and falls, labor shortages and absenteeism, making time to correctly clean and maintain floors, and methods to achieve high-touchpoint disinfection while keeping floors clean and appearance levels looking good. An added challenge is keeping any new process cost-effective.
Terry Schawe: The biggest challenge with floor care today is identifying the type of floor you have to clean. In the past, a floor was either VCT (vinyl composition tile), wood, terrazzo, or concrete. Now, with the introduction of LVTs (luxury vinyl tiles), it makes it difficult to determine whether you are standing on a real or a manufactured surface. The person that is taking care of that floor needs to know what that surface is. You use the wrong cleaner with the wrong pH and you will damage that floor. You need to realize that 90% of dirt on the floor is surface dirt (dust, debris, contaminants), and you need to pick the chemical, process, and equipment to maintain your floor surfaces.
Jim Flieler: Dilution control is a huge factor. I am always stressing that more is not better, even when it comes to disinfecting or sanitizing facilities. Next, cost is a huge factor. We need to remember that out of every dollar we spend on cleaning, over 90% is attributed to labor and less than 10% accounts for the cost of custodial supplies. And finally, understanding the type of flooring substrate and how to care for it properly is a key challenge for all floor care professionals.
Q: What are the top trends you are seeing in facility floors? For instance, which types of floors are most popular (LVT, hardwood, tile) and what makes them a good choice for facilities?
Reid Rabon: I’m seeing LVT and polished concrete leading the way in popularity over the past five years in retail, education, and office buildings. I’m also seeing the reduction of burnishing on traditional acrylic floor finishes and more use of specific pads, which can reduce burnishing frequency from every day to every other day, or even longer.
Terry Schawe: LVT is becoming more and more popular. There are such a wide variety of styles and looks to choose from, and the great thing about LVT is that it is easy to clean if you have the right chemical and equipment. Most LVTs do not need stripping and recoating, which saves on product cost and labor to maintain. You can have multiple designs in your facility with LVT, but only need a limited amount of equipment and product to keep them clean.
Chris Wright: We’ve seen that hard flooring is coming back and many are returning to terrazzo, which is a very durable, low-maintenance, and long-lasting flooring type. It is also easy to keep clean and there is no need for constant “waxing,” leading to a lower long-term cost of maintenance. Concrete is another flooring type we see a lot. It’s a good choice because it’s also long-lasting and easy to maintain. There is no need for constant “waxing,” and it has a lower long-term cost of maintenance. Lastly, laminate floor coverings are popular as they’re easy to care for, have low initial installation costs, and low maintenance costs. However, one downside of this flooring is that it has a shorter lifespan than concrete or terrazzo.
Q: What one thing should facilities consider doing or purchasing to help them be more efficient with their floor care?
Jim Flieler: Documented training is critical. Knowing which products and cleaning protocol to follow is paramount for achieving the best results. Floor equipment is always evolving, so facility managers should continue to explore new avenues and pilot-test to understand the gains.
Reid Rabon: Finding new types of equipment and product systems that can really boost productivity and allow redeployment to other cleaning tasks will be a huge benefit to any floor care program. This is especially being seen in new small-space equipment that is replacing mops and buckets, along with the increase in robotic use in our industry. When these machines are introduced to a floor care program, many facilities are able to move cleaning professionals to other tasks throughout buildings, increasing productivity overall, not just in floor care.
Q: What does the post-COVID 19 future look like for floor care?
Jim Flieler: Now more than ever, it is critical to surround yourself with the absolute best industry professionals who truly understand our industry. What are your biggest challenges? Where do you need to improve? Have this list ready to communicate with them. Challenge them to find you answers. Have them provide documented training with your custodial teams, ensure they understand budgetary requirements, your sustainability goals, employee wellness, and public health. Ask for assistance from professionals you trust! Do not always rely on the individual or company that you have done business with for many years. The cost of change can be tremendous if you do it wrong. If you do it right, there are many benefits to putting the time into making the right decision.
Terry Schawe: Custodial managers and staff will be reevaluating every aspect of cleaning a facility, and floor care will be a part of it since it is one of the largest cleanable surfaces in the building. You need to make sure you pick the right process, equipment, and chemical to be successful. Building appearance will be on the minds of building owners, employees, and customers. The world has changed and people need to feel confident when they walk into a building. Dirty floors will not give them that confidence.
Reid Rabon: I think there is going to be a higher awareness for cleanliness on all surfaces including floor surfaces, obviously. But I also think there are more opportunities for innovative products to be used on the floor beyond traditional disinfectants. It can be anything from reviewing flooring materials like carpet versus hard floor in facilities to considering new chemistries for cleaning products, new floor coatings, new pieces of equipment, and innovations with system approaches. I also believe that the front-line workers in our industry are finally going to be recognized for the vital role they play in public health, and I’m really excited to see how that shift will play out in the public perception as we emerge from all of this.
Chris Wright: COVID-19 is making companies realize that cleaning is now an important brand value—one that can help separate them from the competition in the minds of consumers. Floors and restrooms have always been keys to setting the standard for overall cleanliness in facilities, so keeping and showing that your floors are clean can have a major impact on how customers view your brand.