Although durable, terrazzo can be a bit complicated to maintain when compared to other hard floor options, such as vinyl composition tile. Make sure you know how to clean, buff, and burnish these floors before you take on the job of caring for one.
A History Lesson
Terrazzo floors date back to the 1700s, when they were first found in Italian homes, offices, schools, and stores. Terrazzo is made of marble chips and was once known as the “poor man’s marble floor.” It also contains glass and other aggregates embedded in tinted cement. Once installed, terrazzo is leveled and polished to a pleasantly appealing sheen.
Terrazzo made its entry into North America in the late 1880s. However, it would often crack after installation, so developers lost interest in terrazzo and it went out of style.
By the 1920s, new installation techniques helped minimize cracking. Terrazzo then became a trendy floor from the 1930s until the 1970s. It regained popularity again in the 1990s and is no longer considered the poor man’s flooring, as it can be very costly to install.
The Value of Terrazzo Today
Installing terrazzo requires mixing it and then pouring it over a specially prepared surface. While the process to install this type of flooring may have been inexpensive a century ago, that has changed today due to high labor costs in today’s market.
Facility owners and managers consider a terrazzo floor a valuable asset they want to preserve and keep looking its best. That’s where a knowledgeable facility service provider or building service contractor can play a role.
Mats Prevent Deterioration
While terrazzo is generally long lasting—and is still found in old palacios and palazzos in Italy—it can succumb to deterioration. Moisture, soil, and foot traffic can all take a toll on terrazzo. That’s why installing a high-performance matting system designed to capture and trap soils and moisture is important. Be sure to:
- Place mats at all building entries near the terrazzo.
- Choose long mats up to 15 feet in length.
- Install mats in transition areas, where carpet or other types of flooring end and the terrazzo floor begins.
Apply a Protective Foundation
Maintaining terrazzo floors is now quicker and easier thanks to new stripping and sealing procedures. Here are three steps to stripping and sealing terrazzo floors:
- Remove old finish. Before applying a protective foundation, prepare the floor by removing any old finish or sealant. Scrub-free strippers eliminate the need for a machine scrubber. Simply mix the stripper and apply it to the floor using a flat mop. Follow the dwell time recommendation provided by the manufacturer.
- Autoscrub the floor. You will need an automatic scrubber for the next step—deep cleaning the floor. Use a scrubber with a 200-grit pad and cleaning fluid specifically designed for restoration. Move the scrubber forward over the floor, then turn and make sure to overlap about half of the floor area you just scrubbed. This ensures that you don’t miss any spots. You’ll want to do a thorough job, because if you apply the foundation correctly the first time, you’ll never need to do this process again during the lifetime of the floor.
- Reseal the floor. When the floor is dry, apply a substrate densifier, a water-based formula that penetrates the pores in the terrazzo. This step increases the floor’s density and hardness, providing additional protection. To complete this task, use an automatic scrubber with a 400- to 1,500-grit pad to enhance the floor’s shine. Again, as long as it’s performed correctly, this step only needs to be performed once.
Maintenance Is Ongoing
Once you’ve applied the protective foundation to a terrazzo floor, you can keep it looking good with regular cleanings using a solution specially formulated for terrazzo flooring. Regularly polish or burnish it to keep up the shine.
While the process of caring for terrazzo floors may sound a bit involved, it moves along very quickly. And the fact that the first two steps—preparing the floor and applying the foundation—only need to be performed once makes the process a significant time saver.
If further questions arise, consult with a distributor familiar with terrazzo floor care technologies. An educated facility service provider is key to keeping terrazzo floors looking their best in addition to keeping clients and supervisors satisfied.