The best time to attack soil is before it gets to your floor finish, which is in place to protect the surface beneath. That’s why a good set of floor mats is crucial to a complete floor care program. Matting stops the soils before it gets on the floor. Most industry standards recommend a minimum of 15 feet of matting as your first line of defense. Outside mats should catch large soils where inside mats should capture moisture and finer soils still on the bottom of a person’s foot. Investing in quality walk off mats will pay for itself by simply delaying floor work as well as adding to the appearance of a key area: the entrance. It is a lot less expensive to stop soil here than to let it in the building and pay to gather it up and take it back outside.

After matting, there are five types of cleaning action that are used in cleaning floors:  

• Solvency

• Detergency

• Chemical

• Mechanical

• Electrolytic

This article will discuss the first two. Solvents act by literally dissolving the oil laden soil particles, taking them into, and equally distributing them into the solvent. Solvents are usually used to attack organic soils. The most common types of solvents in the cleaning industry are d-Limonene butyl, alcohol, mineral spirits, xylene, benzene, etc.  Note that most of these are not considered “green” and should be used with caution.

Detergents act by lifting the soil from a surface and distributing it as suspended soil particles throughout a cleaning emulsion.  Most resilient floor cleaning will be done with detergents. Detergents usually attack organic soils. Most organic soil is hydrophobic - meaning it repels water. Detergent molecules have a dual nature. They have one side that is hydrophobic (is repelled by water) and they have one side that is hydrophilic (is attracted to water). The detergent molecules form a coating around the soil to make it easier to remove. This enables the soil to be suspended in water and then rinsed out.

Most modern detergents are combined with a number of other ingredients to make them more useful in a wide variety of applications.  For instance, if a solvent such as d-Limonene or butyl is added to a detergent, it is referred to as a cleaner-degreaser. If a Quat or Phenol is added to the detergent, it becomes a disinfectant cleaner. Many general purpose cleaners have surfactants, builders, and chelating agents added to them to boost their effectiveness.  

Your comments and questions are always welcome.  I hope to hear from you soon.  Until then, keep it clean…..


Mickey Crowe has been involved in the industry for over 35 years. He is a trainer, speaker and consultant. You can reach Mickey at 678.314.2171 or