With the continued growth of concrete as a flooring material in commercial and residential buildings throughout North America, the interest in properly maintaining the surface has increased in recent years.

Because of its reputation for durability and low maintenance, concrete is an attractive choice for many facility managers looking for a low-maintenance flooring option. But even though concrete may be easier to maintain at a lower cost over its lifetime, the fact is, it does need care.

Contrary to popular belief, concrete floors do not maintain themselves. This is just one of the commonly held myths behind this flooring choice. To assist flooring professionals better understand some of the key principles behind concrete floor maintenance, here is a list of commonly held misconceptions:

Misconception 1: You don’t need chemicals to maintain concrete floors. No hard flooring surface cleans itself, including concrete. Concrete is exposed to the same dirt and debris as any other flooring, so it should be maintained in a similar manner based on the amount and type of traffic. The procedures are the same; only the frequency of these procedures changes.

While most concrete maintenance programs call for a simple dust mop and occasional wet mopping, using cleaners on your concrete will help break down, remove and clean dirt and debris that tends to build up over time, as well as help keep the floor in its original condition.

Whether a pH-neutral, alkaline or enzymatic/bacterial cleaner, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure you are using the correct cleaner on the proper floor type to prevent damage.

Misconception 2:All concrete walking surfaces are created equal. Every floor needs a specific maintenance plan, including concrete. That plan must be executed consistently for the floor to look good and last.

While much of the daily maintenance is similar to other hard floor surfaces, facility managers must consider the concrete’s surface and coating before developing a comprehensive maintenance program. Different floor types—stained, sealed, finished, waxed or polished—require different maintenance processes.

For example, in order to maintain coated concrete, cleaners must consider the maintenance of the coating (whether epoxy, urethane or acrylic) before cleaning. Polished concrete, on the other hand, will sometimes require abrasives and a series of grinding and polishing steps in order to maintain its glossy appearance.

However, one thing that all concrete floor types have in common is the need for protection. Depending on the amount of traffic your floor experiences, protecting your concrete floor with an impregnator, sealant or finish can help it repel water, resist stains and scratches, and extend the floor’s life.

Misconception 3: Cleaning staff know how to clean concrete floors.  Like most other hard floor surfaces, concrete maintenance requires a specialized approach that takes several factors into consideration—otherwise, it can fail.

Depending on who handles cleaning and maintenance responsibilities, there’s a good chance that someone with little to no experience is cleaning concrete floors, including professional cleaning staff. Before you let anyone clean your floors, make sure they have the knowledge and expertise for the job.

Without proper maintenance, concrete floors will need to be restored more frequently in high-traffic areas in order to keep a high degree of reflectivity. But with proper maintenance, that same floor can last up to two years without needing to be restored.

Misconception 4: Concrete floors will last just as long without any cleaning or maintenance. If the concrete is coated, the longevity of the floor is dependent on the quality of the coating and how it is maintained. If the concrete is mechanically polished, the longevity depends on both the methods and how well those methods were executed during polishing. A properly polished concrete floor with bonded abrasives will require less maintenance than traditional flooring surfaces.

Polished concrete floors must also be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis in order to keep their appearance. If they are not, various soils and other particulates tracked into your facility will end up damaging your floor’s surface by creating tiny scratches that trap dirt, making them difficult to clean. These scratches will lessen the reflectivity of your floors making them look dull, worn and dirty even if they have been freshly cleaned.

Not only do proper cleanings and maintenance help keep your floors looking great, but it also extends their life and saves you from expensive restorations.

Misconception 5: Soil loads and the type of soil do not impact how a concrete floor is cleaned. To reiterate, a concrete floor is no different than any other hard floor surface. The amount of soil and the type of soil will dictate the frequency and the type of cleaning procedures.

When dirt and dust get tracked onto your floor, it grinds into the floor’s surface like sandpaper and creates bumps and crevices, scratching and damaging the floor. To prevent as much dirt as possible from accumulating, be sure to dust mop frequently. By keeping debris off of your floor, it is easier to maintain its finish—helping it to last longer and delay expensive restorative maintenance.

Your facility should also have a program in place for other cleanups such as spills. Although properly finished concrete floors are sometimes deemed “stain resistant,” if spills are not cleaned up quickly stains and floor damage can occur. Make sure when a spill does happen in your facility it is cleaned up right away. This is no different than any other flooring material.

One way to keep soil off your floors and out of your facility is by implementing a matting program in the entryways and other high-traffic areas. According to the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), facilities with foot traffic of up to 1,000 people per day will have approximately 24 pounds of soil tracked in during a 20-day period. Matting can reduce that number drastically. For example, six feet of matting at a facility’s entrance will remove 40% of soil, 12 feet of matting will remove 80% and 36 feet of matting will remove 99%.

As with any other hard surface floors, the cost of a concrete maintenance program is far less expensive than no maintenance program at all. The foundation of any hard floor maintenance is the same: use the correct cleaning materials and processes for every surface. By doing so, and by staying informed so you don’t make the previously discussed misconceptions, your concrete floors can last a lifetime.

Mark Warner is the IICRC Hard Surface Division Chair and President of Americhem International.

Jim Cuviello is a founding member of the Concrete Polishing Association of America and owner of Cuviello Concrete and Terrazzo Polishing.