The oldest and most venerated hard surface flooring material since ancient times has been natural stone. Nobody argues about its natural beauty. But there is also great concern relative to keeping it looking as it did the day it was installed. Porcelain tile was introduced to the world over three decades ago, and has become wildly popular for commercial projects that ultimately experience high traffic. It too, looks amazing when installed. There is no secret that for both of these materials—as well as other surfacing products—to visually appear their best and perform at top levels for years to come, they need to be maintained and protected. FCI spoke to Jeff Moen, national sales and marketing director, Fila USA, about the company’s specialty products designed for the construction sector to protect, clean and continuously maintain both horizontal and vertical surfaces.

FCI: What are commercial building owners and managers looking for relative to products and services that keep their flooring at top shape?

JM: Porcelain is generally sold as being a “maintenance free” product. The care and maintenance of porcelain is decidedly less difficult and costly than other surfaces, but it does require a good maintenance regimen. The basic elements of a good maintenance program are: post-construction cleaning, routine mopping, periodic deep cleaning... and, professional cleaning with the correct chemicals.

Natural stone requires more care than a porcelain installation. The stone needs pre-treatment to protect it against grout and contaminants, a thorough post-construction cleaning with a neutral cleaner, initial sealing protection, routine cleaning with a neutral cleaner... and, regular resealing depending on traffic and use. Once the post-construction cleaning issues have been eliminated, a porcelain floor will require regular mopping with a neutral cleaner that does not leave a residue. Periodic deep cleaning is necessary to degrease and remove organic dirt that builds up.

As stated, stone floor installation requires more care. The stone may require pre-treatment such as that offered by a grout release or an anti-contaminant back and side sealer to protect it during the installation process. Proper pre-treatment will make the post-construction cleaning with a neutral cleaner much easier.

The application of a quality “sealer” is necessary to protect the stone in the future from staining. After sealing, a regular regimen of cleaning with a neutral cleaner is essential. Care should be taken to only use appropriate cleaners that do not etch or dull the stone, such as many acids or strong alkalines typically will do. Regular sealing is essential, especially in high-traffic, high-use areas. Generally, a quality sealer will need to be applied every year or so.

FCI: What are the typical challenges?

JM: For porcelain installations, the first challenge is a totally effective post-construction cleaning. We estimate that 75% of the issues with porcelain tile are due to lack of a post-construction cleaning to remove grout residue and construction dirt. A simple cleaning with a grout haze remover (Deterdek) will take care of the omnipresent appearance of cementitious grout residue. Residue from epoxy or urethane grouts can be removed with a strong alkaline cleaner (PS87 Gel). Once the floor has been cleaned initially, it requires routine maintenance with a non-residue-forming neutral cleaner and then, proper mopping. Degreasing and deep cleaning may be necessary in areas near the outside entrance and in food prep or dining areas.

Stone challenges generally are related to the type of stone (acid sensitive/acid resistant), the quality of the sealer used and, effectiveness of the routine maintenance. Acid-sensitive stones (limestones, marbles, travertines) will etch if they come in contact with acidic substances (coffee, wine, perfumes, hairspray, fruit juice...). Etches will need to be repaired by a qualified fabricator/restoration firm. Acid-sensitive stones will require specialized cleaning products that clean without using acids or strong alkalines, which can possibly damage the stone. Routine maintenance with a neutral PH cleaner is essential. Regular resealing is necessary, based on the degree of traffic or, use of the surface.

FCI: How is it possible NOT to disrupt day-to-day business at the location where porcelain tile or natural stone floors are being treated or cleaned?

JM: Criteria for choosing chemicals for porcelain and stone cleaning is very basic: Are the products safe? Are they effective? Are they easy to use? Do they have an offensive or a pleasing odor? Chemicals that are safe are mixtures of detergents and acid or alkalines. Phosphoric acid is safer than Muratic, Sulfamic or Hydrochloric acids. The effectiveness of chemicals can be evaluated by who recommends them. Chemicals that require simple tools for application are obviously, the easiest to use. The directions on the bottle should be straightforward and easy to understand. Water-based sealers and cleaners that mix acid/alkaline with detergent are the least offensive relative to emitting bad smells and also, are the least disruptive onsite.

FCI: Why is it a good business decision to use a “professional applicator?”

JM: Proper mopping is often an issue, because the mops are dirty and there is only a single bucket, resulting in dirty water distributed and drying on the floor. A professional applicator uses cleaning machines and “two-bucket systems” to ensure that all floors are not rinsed with dirty water. Proper rinsing, scrubbing and using quality chemicals are trademarks of professional cleaning companies. For example, “Solid Care” is the national applicator with whom FILA has partnered to apply our products. This company works with many large corporations such as Microsoft, Bank of America, Atlanta Airport and many other national organizations to maintain their surfaces.

FCI: What are other commercial surfacing products for which FILA products are ideal? Wood? Concrete?

JM: In the last two decades, concrete/cement has become a popular surface in many commercial applications. There are now cleaners and sealers on the market that are excellent for maintaining and protecting concrete. Wood can also be treated and cleaned with neutral cleaners, waxes and wood stains. Vinyl and LVT can be both maintained with neutral cleaners, as well. It is important to establish a strong relationship with a reputable supplier of surface cleaning and maintenance products to protect your investment. By doing so, these surfaces will look better, perform at optimal levels... and last even longer.

Think about the last time you visited a local indoor shopping mall, large metropolitan airport, Las Vegas resort and other commercial locations where there was high foot-traffic. What was the flooring surface you walked upon? Did it look old, weathered and in need of a facelift? Or did it look like new? If it were a project specified with natural stone or porcelain tile, and indeed appeared to be in great condition, chances are this floor could have been installed many years ago. But, to maintain its youthful “look,” it had to be maintained and protected via regimens described herewith.