In facilities across America, vinyl floors have been the standard for many years. But in some facilities, change is imminent. Newer on the scene in healthcare and educational settings is no-wax vinyl, a flooring product that a manufacturer has applied a coating to and which does not require buffing or waxing.

There are some tricks, however, to maintain the life of the no-wax surface, but cleaning professionals are finding that the process doesn't require as much effort as traditional flooring and in turn, saves time and money.

Make Room For Microfiber

Experts recommend that those washing no-wax vinyl flooring should set aside traditional mops and make room for microfiber.

"Generally, using microfiber on a daily basis takes care of keeping floors clean," says Paul Steines, of his facility's no-wax floors. Steines is the building services manager for the Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wis., where no-wax vinyl has been used for the past five years in rooms and hallways with higher traffic. "We have had very good success," he says.

Experts agree that each day, the no-wax vinyl floors should first be dusted and then damp-mopped. Microfiber cloths and mops are able to soak 7 to 10 times their weight in liquid and are excellent at trapping debris and dust. With this type of flooring, however, a good piece of advice is to not "drench" the vinyl. Water can work its way into cracks and seams when a mop is too wet, destroying the glue. This causes the vinyl to come loose and/or corners to curl up. The use of microfiber reduces the likelihood of these scenarios.

"We actually have better luck cleaning the floors with microfiber and just plain water," says Michele Sutherland, housekeeping manager at Madison County Health Care System in Winterset, Iowa. This 25-bed facility has been using no-wax vinyl since 2005.

In terms of the actual cleaning solutions used on these floors, she explains that an over-use of cleaning chemicals on no-wax vinyl will cause a film over the surface.

"It gets sticky and actually attracts the dirt," Sutherland notes.

For everyday cleaning, a neutral cleaner is all it takes to spruce up the no-wax vinyl floors and is just what these professionals recommend.

"Anything above that would attack the finish," says Bob Mogge, sales specialist at Allied Eagle Supply Co. in Detroit, Mich.

Heavy-duty cleaners have little place on no-wax vinyl floors.

"Don't use any strong, abrasive cleaners," says Gary McCain, sales manager at Five Star Janitorial Supply in Leesville, La. "It breaks the shine and surface on the no-wax."

When the occasion arises that a "deeper" clean is necessary, Mogge says to avoid any cleaner rated above an eight or nine on the pH scale.

Steines explains that each floor manufacturer will have recommendations for specific flooring and appropriate cleaning solutions. Managers should forward these specs on to their distributor who will cross-reference them with available products and make suggestions for departments.

Spots And Stripes

In high-traffic facilities, stains are likely to occur on floors and heavy objects can cause damage. No-wax flooring is no different, but facility managers are getting smart about minimizing the appearance of damage.

The Marshfield Clinic has installed no-wax vinyl flooring in a variety of areas, including exam and procedure rooms, the employee break rooms and other areas around the clinic. Recently, the facility has been making a move toward the no-wax vinyl which resembles hard wood.

"They look really good," says Steines. "A lot of our floors are the wood look with the cherry finish."

Sutherland's facility is also using the darker options. These colors of no-wax vinyl help hide the spots and stripes caused by consistent use and abuse, as one would expect in a fast-paced, populated medical environment.

"Once in a while, however, we'll gouge it," Steines notes. Heavy recliners in the oncology area have been moved and left the floor damaged. It was a fairly easy fix; "We just cut that section out, and patched a new piece in," Steines explains. "You can't even see the seams."

When a spill occurs, it can and should be swept up as soon as possible using a dry, clean towel. For tougher spots, a very mild bleach solution — 1/2 cap bleach to 1 cup of water — on a paper towel will work.  After applying the towel for 15 minutes, the area can be washed with water.

Heel and scuff marks are common oil-based stains found on floors. Hair spray, rubbing alcohol or baking soda will remove the stains well, but also should be rinsed with water and wiped dry.

Speaking of hairspray, this is something commonly found built up in layers on bathroom floors, especially in school or hotel settings. Professionals recommend shampoo mixed with warm water, then mopping and rinsing the area.

The Sandpaper Effect

Matting is a necessity at entrances to areas with no-wax vinyl flooring. Mats give shoes a chance to drop the dirt before it gets too far into the building and accumulates on floors. If matting is not used properly, the grit and debris from shoes can degrade floor surfaces, making small scratches and eventually causing pits in the floor.

"The dirt acts as sandpaper on the floor and you will see the wear in areas where everyone walks," says Mogge. "Matting and frequent dust mopping is critical."

Sutherland adds that no-wax vinyl flooring doesn't hold up to deeper scratches as well as other flooring types.

"Usually you could buff those out, re-wax and never tell a scratch was there," he says. "No-wax is softer. If you do get a deep gouge, there's no way to repair it besides cutting and replacing."

To prevent further damage, floor protectors are a must for the legs of furniture on no-wax vinyl, as they allow the pieces to be moved without scratching or denting the floor. If used, cleaners must remember to replace these periodically. Sliding protectors that have collected dust and dirt can result in scratches and wear marks on floors.

If at any time the no-wax vinyl does lose its shine, it can be restored with a product (polish or sealant) made specifically for this type of flooring.

Sutherland notes that her current flooring company explained that the floor could be stripped and waxed.

"I haven't had to do that," she said. "You can wax them if you want to, but you don't have to. We were trying to eliminate that step."

Mogge concurs, and warns: "If you need to restore the floor, you'll have to start applying floor finish, which it will require from that day until the day the floor is replaced."

The best tool for preventing the need to refinish no-wax vinyl flooring is minimizing damage before it occurs and implementing a preventative maintenance program.

Is VCT Vanishing?

Flooring used traditionally in facilities has been vinyl composition tile (VCT). VCT has benefits in high-traffic areas, but it has also required a fair amount of time and cost in maintenance.

"With VCT, the floor finish eventually starts to wear and you have to refinish," says Steines. "The savings on maintenance with the no-wax vinyl versus the VCT is huge."

The 12 by 12-inch square of VCT, he explains, require three to five coats of floor finish, as well as a decent amount of care.

"The burnisher will bring the shine back, but it also takes a small layer of the finish off," he adds. "Eventually the finish wears down and after six months to a year, we would have to strip the floor and reapply the finish. It's high maintenance and a lot of labor. With the no-wax vinyl, we have absolutely none of that."

Even with the extra care, the need for VCT will never disappear completely. It's the best option in high-traffic areas and those subject to heavy objects. On loading docks, for example, Steines explains there will never be no-wax vinyl installed.

"You need to put VCT down there because it's a lot harder," he says.

But in areas that don't require such hard surfaces, no-wax vinyl is a good option.

"I think the biggest part of making the switch to no-wax vinyl was that the custodial staff did all the cleaning and all the floor work, including the stripping, waxing and buffing," says Sutherland. "I wanted to switch to floors that didn't need all that attention. We didn't have time to do the floors anymore."

Though less maintenance is necessary, no-wax vinyl floors do require some attention to maintain their shine and integrity. With a neutral cleaner, a microfiber mop and some good practices in place, no-wax vinyl can mean no worries for the cleaning professional. 

Jennifer Bradley is freelance writer based in East Troy, Wis.

Floor Care Game Plan

Although no-wax options are gaining momentum, hard floor surfaces are still most prevelant in the industry. Daily dust mopping, a weekly scrub and timely refinishing are simple tasks that, if done consistently, are all that is needed to keep floors looking like new.
Click here to learn more about maintaining hard surfaces.