Hard Floors, Tough Decisions

Finding the ‘right’ combination of equipment, products and processes to keep hard floors looking their best

By George Weise  

As the types of flooring installed in facilities multiply, the challenge for housekeeping managers is to keep them maintained properly. What works well for one type of flooring might end up damaging another.

Knowing the various types of flooring in a facility— whether vinyl, linoleum, marble or slate — is important in developing a program to maintain them properly. Each flooring type is maintained differently, and maintaining all of them the same way is likely to cause damage to some.

Along with the variety of floor coverings and flooring, managers also have a variety of maintenance options and products to use on their floors. Polishes, sealers and finishes are designed for specific flooring types.

Matching flooring types to products and processes can be a challenge. Success will depend a great deal on the type of floor, the desired look, available equipment and the skill of the housekeeping staff. A product or piece of equipment that is good for cleaning resilient floors might not work well on hard flooring, and a product that works on polished stone might not work for natural stone.

Floor Types

Terrazzo is composed of marble and cement, and it can be treated as one would treat a marble floor. Linoleum is back in style, and many facilities are installing more of it. While linoleum might look like a vinyl floor, it is made mostly of wood resin, so it requires a different maintenance system than vinyl. Using the same products and maintenance as vinyl can damage the linoleum.

Stone floors are among the most challenging of all flooring types to maintain. What might be the general practice for maintaining resilient floors might not work for stone floors. Natural flooring has it own unique properties based on the stone itself.

Most hard-floor experts agree that stone floors need a sealer — generally, a silicone-based impregnator — due to their porosity. Some experts recommend using water-based sealers because silicone can attract dirt. An impregnator protects the floor from stains and allows it to breathe. It does not produce a gloss but instead is applied for protection, and it leaves the floor looking almost natural.

Most stone floors are hydroxides, or natural alkalis, and using an acid cleaner on these surfaces will damage them. Using an alkaline cleaner stronger than the stone’s pH also damages them.

A stone floor’s texture also will help in determine its care and maintenance needs. Textured stone floors absorb more moisture and liquids than other types, and they stain more easily, so any spills on these floors require immediate attention.

Polished stone requires more dust mopping to protect it from sand and grit, which can scratch it easily. Even water can discolor polished stone.

Dust mopping or vacuuming of these floors should be done several times a day if possible. Managers should be sure that housekeeping workers use an untreated dust mop because using a treated mop might leave a residue that the stone will soak up.

Polishing Issues

When a polished floor is losing its gloss and becoming scratched, it can be re-polished using a 175 rpm machine and polishing powder, an abrasive powder such as aluminum oxide that is buffed into the stone using a hog’s hair pad. This process can be performed as often as necessary.

Factors such as the amount of traffic, the type of stone, and the daily maintenance technique will determine the frequency of polishing. This process can be time consuming and might be required more often in very high-traffic areas. Some more heavily damaged floors might require honing if polishing does not produce the desired gloss. Often, professionals are the best option for this process.

Unfinished flooring requires daily mopping or autoscrubbing. Housekeepers should use either a true neutral soap pH that is no stronger than 8 or a stone soap made specifically for cleaning stone. Due to the uneven surfaces and grout, it is better to use soft brushes to scrub than pads, which will not clean grout or uneven surfaces properly.

Finish Considerations

In very-high-traffic areas, housekeeping crews might want to use a finish to protect flooring from wear, dirt and spills. Using floor finishes might require more maintenance than if the floor had been kept natural, but their use can produce a higher gloss. For example, applying a finish to some kinds of terrazzo floors will produce a mirror-like look.

Using a floor finish is a decision managers need to make based on traffic, desired gloss, the skill of the maintenance staff and the available equipment.

After applying a finish, crews should treat the floor as if it were a resilient floor. They should be especially careful when removing finishes because stripping solution can damage stone and marble.

Housekeeping crews applying floor finishes must make sure to use the appropriate sealer for the type of stone flooring. Using a vinyl-floor finish on stone and terrazzo floors can cause adherence problems, due to the floor’s alkalinity and porosity.

Many finish manufacturers have sealers designed for terrazzo, concrete and marble that seals the floor, produces a high gloss and can be burnished.

Developing a Program

With all the different flooring types and products to maintain them properly, it is up to housekeeping managers to find the right system for a facility’s floors. This responsibility will involve research as to floor composition. What type of stone is it? How hard or soft is the stone? Does it scratch easily? Is it natural stone or man-made? Once these questions have been answered, managers then can determine the most desirable look — natural, high-gloss, or matte.

Even hard-floor experts have differing opinions on the products and processes needed for natural floors. Some terrazzo floors continue to hold their appearance using the polishing method, while others look good using a finish designed for terrazzo. Whatever system managers decide on, maintaining natural hard flooring can be challenging.

Managers should not take the issue of flooring maintenance lightly. Their decisions — which can lead improper maintenance practices or inadequate routine maintenance — can result in either an enhanced appearance for a floor or irreparable and costly damage.

And a damaged stone floor might not be repairable. Crews cannot just strip and refinish such a floor, as they could with vinyl flooring and make it look new again. Damage to a hard or stone floor might require replacement, or managers might have to call in an outside expert to repair it. Savvy managers will take the time to do their homework before they make any decisions.

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  posted on 9/1/2002   Article Use Policy

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