Reliance on harsh, abrasive chemicals has declined as concerns about the environment and waste compliance drive businesses to reevaluate the compounds they have on their properties.

Even today’s specialty flooring relies on simpler, gentler techniques and chemicals. Product and procedure selection also has gotten easier, as manufacturer-recommended brands have become widely available through distributors, the Internet and even at supermarkets.

“Compatibility of maintenance products with their products is critical,” says Jon Namba, director of technical services for the World Floor Covering Association. “The wrong product will create a buildup of residue which will attract more soil particulate. Wood, stone — every aspect of flooring requires a certain type of cleaner and each manufacturer has recommended products.”

Manufacturer-recommended products can take the guesswork out of floor cleaning as well as the risk of violating manufacturing and installation warranties.

Here are some common chemicals and procedures for specialty flooring:

Exotic woods
Factory finishes make caring for exotic wood floors practically child’s play. Wayne Griffith, technical services director for flooring distributor BR-111 in Laurel, Md., estimates that 90 percent of the prefinished wood floor market uses the same aluminum oxide finish his firm uses. The finish makes the cleaning procedure the same for every species of wood flooring his firm creates, from Brazilian Cherry to White Oak.

BR-111’s companion booklets explain “proper floor care” to customers, which consists of vacuuming excess dust and using urethane spray with a dry mop.

“The enemy is wet mopping and wax-based cleaners,” Griffith explains. “On my products it sits and takes shine away.”

Griffith estimates that 50 percent of the wood-floor industry in this country creates prefinished flooring, but reminds cleaners there are exceptions.

“Different areas of the country have held onto sanding and finishing, like the Midwest,” he says. “They’re tradesmen – and believe in on-site finishing.”

Natural fiber
Sisal fiber is most often used in high-traffic areas because of its durability, although it can be more susceptible to stains, according to Marty Wessinger, vice president of marketing at Design Materials in Kansas City, Kan.

“We recommend a chemical dry-cleaning method,” he says. “Carpet cleaners are familiar with these. We don’t recommend steam or hot-water extraction. Sisals and large amounts of water do not blend well. If over-wet, it can shrink and discolor.”

Cork responds well to the same dry cleaning method, and if a stain penetrates its urethane finish, it can be lightly screened with a rough buffing pad and refinished.

“Most manufacturers will have instructions, directions and recommended products,” Wessinger states.

A new woven vinyl floor covering created by Design Materials gives the appearance of delicate sea grass and is tough enough for restaurants, outdoor patios, schools and locker rooms. Wessinger says vacuums, Ph-neutral soaps, bleaches, hoses, soft bristle brooms, and even hot water extraction can be used on this robust product.

Found mainly in high-end retail shops and showrooms (prices range from $30-$50 per square foot) leather can look good almost indefinitely, with minimal care.

Sylvano Bachi is the owner of Ponte Vecchio USA, an importer of Italian leather flooring. He says his product is waterproof, fire retardant and virtually stain resistant. He has subjected it to ammonia, alcohol, lemon juice — even burning cigarettes.

To clean, he recommends fresh water and a clean sponge or rag — no detergent. Like rubber, leather is a forgiving material and doesn’t show staining easily.

“I wouldn’t suggest using cleaning or stain removal products,” says Bachi. “Leather repairs the stain naturally.”

After reaching a zenith in the 1940s and 50s, linoleum fell out of favor when vinyl (which, unlike linoleum, required no waxing or stripping) became available in the 1960s.

“But now linoleum’s coming back,” Namba says, adding that it’s very environmentally friendly because it’s made with organic materials.

Linoleum’s porous nature still requires it to be polished occasionally with one or two thin coats of polish, lightly on areas that receive less traffic (such as along walls) to avoid buildup. In general, linoleum cleaning should be done with a neutral detergent solution. Harsh products like ammonia should be avoided.

When moving chair mats or rugs it’s normal to see marked discoloration because linoleum is photosensitive. In darkness it develops a yellow cast, which disappears when it is exposed to light, revealing its true vibrant color. n

Lori Veit is a business writer in Madison, Wis. She is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.


A Natural Choice For Sports Flooring And Beyond

Vulcanized rubber is now finding its way from sports applications such as ice arenas, swimming pools, aerobic studios and weight lifting rooms into other commercial applications. Created in 1957 to prevent golfer’s spiked shoes from ruining country club floors, rubber floors can now be found virtually anywhere underfoot cushioning and sound-muffling qualities are desired, from recording studios to offices.

Tuflex Rubber Products technical coordinator Walter Laws recommends sweeping or dry mopping rubber flooring daily. Proprietary alkaline non-rinse cleaner, finish and stripper takes guesswork away from mixing ratios and knowing what chemicals to use, but Laws says the product can be cleaned with warm, soapy water as long as the soap isn’t petroleum or citrus based. Following the directions on a bottle of regular ammonia will suffice.

If high gloss is desired, rubber can be buffed with a plain acrylic wax.

“If there is too much wax you need to strip with a high Ph stripper — ammonia-based usually,” he adds.

Solvents such as acetone and paint thinner will weaken rubber. If a solvent must be used it can be employed safely as long as it is wiped up immediately.

Repeated abrasion is another adversary, although Laws says it can take years for wear to become visible.

Like leather, rubber has self-healing properties.

“You can put a nail through it and it will leave a hole the first 5-6 minutes,” he says, “and then [it’ll] be gone.”