In the wild and crazy year of 2020, nothing seemed to be normal. COVID-19 has swept across the world, adding panic to our everyday lives and skepticism about the people we interact with and the surfaces we touch. No longer are we willing to grab that shopping cart or push that elevator button. With that has brought along a new need and desire to wipe down, clean and disinfect everything we come in contact with. We have seen this craze explode in the flooring industry. As a manufacturing representative, I can tell you that I get asked constantly if this disinfectant or that sanitizer will “work on [our] flooring.” Therefore, let’s break down some of the basics when it comes to cleaning vs. disinfecting, disinfection of different flooring materials, what manufacturers will tell you and the CDC’s stance on disinfecting flooring materials.


Cleaning vs. Disinfecting

First, let’s get one thing out of the way; cleaning the floor and disinfecting the floor are two extremely different processes that will give you two very different outcomes. Cleaning is the process of removing soil, which is any foreign non-living particle, from the flooring material. This involves using the four main principles of cleaning; chemical, heat, agitation and time (CHAT). Disinfecting is the process of attacking and killing bacteria and viruses using chemistry. Now do cleaning processes kill some bacteria and viruses? Yes. Do disinfecting processes remove some soil? Yes. But using a disinfectant to clean a grease spill in carpet isn’t going to work out very well for you. The one aspect of cleaning and disinfecting that is the same is that both chemistries must be rinsed. Very seldom does any chemistry get rinsed off the flooring material, let alone disinfectants. So if it isn’t rinsed, that means it is still working. This can cause discoloration or yellowing and lead to damage of the flooring material. 


What flooring material are you working on? 

Is the floor resilient, carpet, tile, or stone? Is it resilient that looks like stone? Will the disinfectant cause the vinyl flooring you’re working on to yellow? If you don’t rinse off the disinfectant, it will. Are you looking to use a peroxide-based disinfectant on your marble flooring in your lobby? You shouldn’t, as that acidic peroxide will etch your marble, damaging it permanently. How about the rubber tile flooring in the back of house? Still planning on using that 12.5 pH quaternary disinfectant? Well that high pH product will cause a chemical burn on the rubber, again damaging it permanently. Another common occurrence we as manufacturers see on job sites is the discoloration or appearance of soiling at the transition between two flooring materials. This happens when a disinfectant isn’t rinsed and is then walked onto the other surface. The most common is the stone to carpet transition coming out of bathrooms. Often the stone is disinfected with a quaternary ammonium compounds and not rinsed leading to people tracking that chemistry all over the carpet. The black or yellow traffic pattern that is created is caused by reverse saponification, which you need special carpet cleaning chemistry and experienced technicians to fix.  

There is a very fine line that you walk when it comes to using disinfecting chemistries. You may get lucky the first time, but I guarantee that extensive use of the wrong product on the wrong flooring material will make you look silly. 


Have you read the manufacturer’s care and maintenance guidelines? 

If you haven’t read the care and maintenance guidelines, you could be voiding the warranty. You must always refer to the manufacturer of the flooring material for how to properly maintain their flooring material. I will preface the rest of this with this: flooring manufacturers cringe at the word disinfection. The reason is that almost nothing good comes after that word is uttered to us over the phone or in person. The mind of a technical rep from a flooring manufacturer begins to race thinking of all the possibilities of how this jobsite went wrong and dreading the moment that we have to tell you that what you’re seeing on the floor is not fixable and it is your fault.  

One of the biggest mistakes made is using an unapproved chemistry that will damage the flooring material, and then coming to the manufacturer afterwards asking how to fix the new problem. Often, that unapproved chemistry has caused irreparable damage to the material and there is nothing we, as manufacturers, can do. Most manufacturers have a list of chemistries that they have tested and/or approve of and will gladly recommend to you. So make the five-minute phone call prior to slopping down that chemistry with your mop and possibly hurting your pocketbook.  


Do we even need to disinfect our flooring materials? 

Actually no, we don’t—at least in healthcare settings. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flooring materials in healthcare settings are considered “non-critical surfaces” and therefore can be maintained with routine scrubbing and mopping. This doesn’t apply to food service, retail, or commercial settings, but it does show that in a setting that is extremely worried about infection, such as a healthcare facility, the CDC says disinfecting floors isn’t necessary. It is up to you, your facility people, or the end user as to whether you disinfect the floor.  

After breaking down the difference between cleaning and disinfecting, understanding how some disinfectants can impact your flooring materials, what manufacturers of flooring materials will tell you regarding disinfection and what the CDC says about disinfection of flooring materials, do you feel confident in your current process? Again, call, email or reach out to the manufacturer of the flooring material you’re planning on working on as it could save you thousands and let’s make sure that we don’t cause any unnecessary damage leading to unnecessary flooring replacements.