Floor finishes on the market today allow custodians the ability to prolong the interval between stripping and recoating floors — an expensive and time-consuming process that can also degrade the floor over time.

"The same plasticides that are in floor finish are also in the tile holding the vinyl together," says Jon Scoles, managing director of Scoles Floorshine Industries in Farmingdale, N.J. "So each time you strip the floor, you take a little life out of that tile by opening up those pores. That's why in today's market the newer floor finishes are designed to be stripped less often."

Older floor finishes contain styrene, explains Scoles, which is sensitive to ultraviolet light, causing the floor to discolor over time. And when a floor starts to yellow, it's a sign that it's time to strip and recoat it. Newer floor finishes, however, are styrene-free so floors aren't prone to discoloration. If properly maintained, these finishes allow custodial departments to delay the strip-and-refinish cycle for several years in some instances.

In addition to delaying the stripping cycle, new floor finish technologies impart better gloss and clarity with fewer coats — further contributing to labor savings.

"There are new floor care systems where you can get a deep gloss after two coats, which saves time in the application, and the polymers are more durable and resistant to wear," says Keith Schneringer, marketing manager for Waxie  Sanitary Supply in San Diego.

Some of these floor finishes may have a higher price tag, but departments can offset that cost, plus some, with significant labor savings.

"Product is about 10 to 15 percent of your cost and labor is 85 to 90 percent," he notes. "If you can save 10 percent on your labor, it's huge in relation to saving a dollar or two on the cost of the product."

Floor Finishes Minimize Maintenance

Stripping a floor is time-consuming, messy and costly both in labor and product, which is why many housekeeping departments choose to scrub and recoat floors instead.

"Scrub and recoat is quick and more economical," Scoles says. "If you can get into a program where you're floors look good with scrubbing and recoating instead of stripping, you'll save an incredible amount of money."

According to Schneringer, scrubbing and recoating can also be used to repair sections of flooring in high-traffic areas, as opposed to stripping and refinishing the entire floor.

"You don't need to go into the corners next to the baseboards," he says. "The middle of the floor is where you're wearing off your floor finish, and that is where you would create a wear pattern if you didn't have that protection there."

While the amount of foot traffic dictates how often the cleaning staff needs to scrub and refinish the floors, daily cleaning programs and equipment also factor into the equation.

"I know of a hospital in Tulsa that keeps its floors looking good with a daily wet mop, dust mop and finish program," says Jeannie Murphy, president and owner of Murphy Sanitary Supply, Broken Arrow, Okla. "Every 9 to 12 months, they top scrub with a green or blue pad and add a couple coats of finish. Because of this strong program, they have areas that they haven't stripped for years."

Introducing best practices will save budget dollars, but departments will also benefit from the use of proper products and equipment. For instance, Murphy recommends using a flat mop system for applying floor finish.

"It's easier to apply floor finish, and it's easier to detail than a traditional finish mop," she says. "There's minimal use of tape and you don't have to worry about the baseboards."

Using the right equipment can also help to extend the life of the floor.

"Our floor care system has a polish pad that's constructed of microfiber," says Schneringer. "Because it doesn't abrade the floor finish as much, you can extend the amount of time that you have to come back and scrub and recoat, or completely strip out the whole floor."

Schneringer also warns custodians against using dirty equipment.

"If you don't use a clean mop when you're applying finish it ends up contaminating the finish and you get swirl marks or streaks," he says.

One of Waxie's customers experienced this phenomenon and couldn't determine the cause: "We asked them what tools they'd been using and found out it was a mop that had bleach on it from another function," says Schneringer. "They had to scrub and recoat the floor to get rid of the swirl marks."

KASSANDRA KANIA is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.