We abuse them and walk all over them — and are quick to pass judgment if they aren't pristine. Whether they're in an office building, a school or a supermarket, floors bare the brunt of unrelenting traffic — abuse that can leave them looking lackluster and reflect poorly on the facility.

"People consciously or subconsciously make up their minds about the cleanliness of a facility based on the floors," says Keith Schneringer, marketing manager for Waxie  Sanitary Supply in San Diego. "If you walk into a facility and the floors are filthy, you think the place is dirty. If the floors are clean, you feel that people take care of the facility."

In conjunction with a daily floor maintenance program, custodians rely on sealers and finishes to not only improve and maintain the appearance of flooring but, more importantly, protect it from daily wear and tear.

"Custodial managers like the shine, but floor finishes are used primarily to protect the floor," says Jeannie Murphy, president and owner of Murphy Sanitary Supply, Broken Arrow, Okla. "A nice foundation of finish will absorb all the scratches and hard knocks instead of the base product that could otherwise be permanently scratched or damaged."

The most common type of flooring that requires the use of sealers and finishes is vinyl composition tile (VCT), which is found in many public buildings and institutions, such as schools, hospitals and commercial facilities. Newer synthetic flooring is also becoming more popular and requires a similar floor care regimen.

"Flooring coming out today is synthetic and requires a special finish that is more pliable," notes Jon Scoles, managing director of Scoles Floorshine Industries in Farmingdale, N.J. "For example, you've got synthetic floors that have a wood look, but they're really linoleum."

Although synthetic floors reportedly require less maintenance, they still need finish, says Scoles.

"Eventually they do wear, and you have to bring the life back to them, just like you would any other floor," he says.

Crossing The Floor Finish Line

When it comes to applying floor finishes and sealers, experts generally recommend two coats of sealer to fill in porous surfaces and prevent staining. But today's products have come a long way; new floor finishes on the market often preclude the need for a separate sealer.

"In the old style of putting down floor finish, we use two coats of sealer to level the floor, and then your finish would lay on top and give you your gloss," explains Scoles. "The new generations of finishes tend to adhere better to themselves than to sealers. So in today's market, you don't really need a sealer."

Schneringer concurs: "In the past, sealer built a foundation because a lot of floor finishes didn't adhere to a floor surface that was not perfectly flat," he explains. "But now, because of the new technologies, floor finishes level so much better than before. Often, you can start off with a finish and you're in good shape."

Scoles recommends five coats of finish while Schneringer suggests about four or five. Murphy, on the other hand, recommends as many as seven or eight coats of floor finish that wont yellow.

"In a 24/7 healthcare setting, for example, they don't want to strip the floors more than they have to," says Murphy. "We recommend applying seven to eight coats of finish, making sure there's no debris in between coats, and the floor is pristine every time a coat is added.

"When finished, based on the traffic and daily routine," she continues, "instead of stripping it off, top scrub or shower scrub with a floor machine to remove one or two coats of finish. Then add another one to three coats, and the floor looks like it was completely redone."

Future Of Floors

While floor finish technologies continue to advance, so do floors — more manufacturers are introducing flooring types that do not require any finish at all. Yet, despite this trend, there will always be a need for sealers and finishes to enhance, maintain and protect flooring.

"There's the traditional way of using finishes and sealers," says Schneringer, "and there's the new technology that gives you many advantages in terms of reparability, higher gloss, and labor savings because you get a better result using less product and time to apply it."

Finding a finish program that matches the type of flooring and daily floor care routine in a facility can be challenging — but fortunately distributors can help.

"We make recommendations and train customers on the proper application of floor finish," says Schneringer.  

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