When most people think of the flooring industry, they generally think of the manufacturing and installation of different floor coverings. However, despite the fact that the flooring material is largely thought of in its installation phase, it is the maintenance and/or janitorial staff that has the most control and supervision of the installed floor covering. Many studies show that upwards of 98% of the life of the floor covering is in the hands of either the maintenance company or the janitorial staff. With that being said, performing proper maintenance is crucial to extending the life of a floor covering and receiving that return on investment for the end user.
Before you start the cleaning process, the technician must understand two basic aspects of floor care: what type of flooring material they are cleaning and the principles of soil suspension.
Understanding the flooring material can make or break a job. For example, if a technician cannot identify marble versus granite you could end up with an etched marble floor after the technician used an acid. Situations like this can cause a job to go from a net gain for your company to not only a net loss but having to pay for completely new material and installation, not to mention a lost customer. Many times a technician can look at a floor covering and instantly identify that product. However, as simple it may seem for experienced people, newer technicians may not know the differences between VCT and rubber tile and that ignorance can be costly. Nothing is more terrifying for an operations manager than getting a phone call in the middle of the night regarding using a chemical that damaged the floor. When in doubt, always check with your manufacturer.
As a manufacturer, we always recommend to first and foremost follow the recommendations written in the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines. This will not only identify the flooring for the technicians but by following these guidelines, you can assure yourself that the flooring material will not be damaged, outside of human error. Each manufacturer has done extensive testing on each of their flooring materials to understand the proper maintenance procedures as well as what processes, chemicals and equipment will damage the floor covering.
The other important factor that needs to be understood before starting a job is soil suspension. In floor care, soil is anything that is foreign to the floor covering, whether it is a liquid or solid. The 4 components to achieve soil suspension are Chemical, Heat, Agitation and Time (C.H.A.T.). Without C.H.A.T., you will not remove all of the soil from the floor cover.
The first component, chemical, is key to breaking bonds that are created between soils and the floor covering. Floor care chemicals contain a number of different surfactants, or surface- acting-agents, that perform a number of different functions from breaking surface tension to surrounding and breaking free soil particulates. Choosing the appropriate chemicals for the flooring material is vital to achieving proper soil suspension and not damaging the floor. For example, removing salt from carpet during the winter time can be tough if you don’t use an acid rinse in your extracting fresh water tank, as the best way to remove salt from carpet is using a chemical that falls on the acidic side of the pH scale.
The next component, heat, which usually is thought of as using hot water to mix with chemicals or hot water when rinsing, has become less necessary for certain chemicals to perform. However, heat is going inevitably happen during agitation and only assists in the process of breaking bonds, especially when it comes to liquefying solids like sugars.
The third component, agitation, is critical for breaking the hard to get soil from the floor covering. Especially on carpet and textured hard surfaces, agitation is the key to getting into the valleys and the bottoms of the fibers in order to remove the soil that a standard vacuum cleaner can’t remove. When it comes to commonly used machines for agitation, almost every janitorial closet in the country has a rotary floor machine (buffer, swing machine, side-by-side) sitting in it. These machines have become the most common tool in scrubbing all hard surface floors. More and more, technicians are moving to using brush attachments on their rotary floor machines, as on textured floors the standard floor pads will not get into the valleys. In carpet cleaning, the Counter-Rotating Brush Machine (CRB) has become an important component to almost every job and has become a nightly tool for carpet technicians. They have become such a popular tool amongst floor care companies that they are even used to scrub stone and tile floors as well.
The final component of soil suspension is time. Just as adhesives need setup or flash time, cleaning chemistry needs dwell time. As stated earlier, floor care chemicals have a number of surfactants that will break soil bonds and break surface tension, among other things, and those need time to perform at full capacity. The best example of this is regarding floor finish removal. Those removers or strippers need time to break down the acrylic floor finish that was applied to that resilient flooring material. Without that dwell time, you’ll have a hard time getting all of the floor finish off of the floor.
The days of waxing over the problem or mopping around dirty water is over. More and more end users and facilities managers are looking at and caring more about the floors in their facilities. Once you understand C.H.A.T. and the flooring type you’re working on, you can move forward on performing successful and proper maintenance on any type of floor covering. Again, I cannot stress enough to contact or seek out the manufacturer’s technical representative for guidance on maintaining their floor coverings. Proper maintenance can keep a floor alive for many years to come.