Floor Care After Winter
A business office in upstate New York with a clientele that includes several Fortune 500 companies had a problem last spring. A harsh winter caused the flooring in its lobby to look drab and discolored — not the first impression it wanted to give its clients and building patrons entering the building.
Despite a floor care maintenance program being in place throughout the winter months, it just wasn't enough and the floor needed to be stripped to get it back to looking new.
That is not an unlikely scenario, but jan/san distributors say there are other floor care options available when winter comes to an end because almost all floors face some sort of damage.
"When winter is over, a lot of damage is done to the floors," says Ed Corr, owner of Corr Distributors Inc., in Tonawanda, N.Y. "The most damage is because of ice melting compounds. Most are pretty alkaline in nature and they have the tendency to leave alkalinity on the floors, which does damage to floor coatings because of the corrosive nature of it."
As winter turns to spring, in many parts of the country snow and ice melt will have wreaked havoc on floors. Most facilities use neutralizer throughout the winter months to limit the amount of residue that gets embedded into the floor finish, but generally speaking, most floors are still in bad condition at the conclusion of winter.
Some ice melt compounds have high pH levels and act almost like a floor stripper, by taking the finish off. Combined with the fact that snow and ice melt virtually destroy a floor's shine, restoration in the months of April and May is imperative.
"If you do not treat the floor there is a potential to cause damage to the tile or flooring itself," says Eric Cadell, vice president of operations for Dutch Hollow Janitorial Supplies Inc., in Belleville, Ill. "If the ice melter eats through the finish it could discolor the tile or cause further damage to the tile completely."
That means once the cold weather vanishes, facilities should be prepared to scrub and recoat floors — and as a last resort, consider stripping their floors.
According to distributors, a neutral floor cleaner designed to work against ice melt residue is the best line of defense in maintaining any shine throughout winter weather. Once the seasons change, however, a strong neutralizer should be used.
Cadell explains that while a regular neutral cleaner is fine in the winter, once spring comes it can leave the floor slick and oily.
"Although regular neutral cleaners may clean the floor, they will typically leave a film on the floor or a dull/cloudy appearance on the finish," he says.
Larry Johnson, product manager for S. Freedman & Sons Inc., in Landover, Md., says that if a facility chooses to use neutral cleaners that it should follow-up with a clear water rinse afterwards to eliminate any leftover ice melt residue.
Hank Josephs, president of Rahway, N.J.-based Spruce Industries Inc., recommends a neutralizer that's formulated specifically for slippery residue as it is designed to work better with large floors with heavy foot traffic. The process involves mopping neutralizer onto the floor with a microfiber mop and rinsing it with water. This should be repeated a couple of times and then evaluated if it needs to be stripped and/or recoated.
"Just take a look at it. If the floor is holding up enough you can just scrub it lightly with all-purpose cleaner and put a couple of coats of wax on it and then you're good until summer," Josephs says. "If it's in bad shape and there's nothing left, you need to strip the floor down and recoat."
Distributors recommend scrubbing and recoating the surface and adding additional finish to protect the floor as the first-line of any spring floor cleaning.
Scrub And Recoat
The scrub and recoat process, an interim step to be done in between the more labor-intensive strip out, keeps a floor clean of ice melt residue, sand, etc. The process involves cleaning personnel doing a deep scrub of the floor and then adding another layer of finish over the existing ones.
It's as simple as scrubbing with an all-purpose cleaner and a green colored scrubbing pad. This removes the embedded soil and leaves a clean base, says Cadell.
"This leaves a fresh layer of finish exposed that has not been damaged or dirtied," he explains. "From there the facility would add an additional three coats of finish. This can typically be done two to three times before a floor needs to be stripped all the way down to bare tile."
The reason that facilities choose to do scrub and recoats is because there is less product and less labor involved.
"This process does not require the labor and time that stripping and refinishing does and can prolong the time between stripping and recoating significantly," Johnson says.
If floors cannot be restored with a deep scrub or be recoated, then they will need to be stripped.
"Typically when the floor looks dull or cloudy and/or the high traffic areas appear to be a different gloss level then the outside of the floor, then it is time to strip the floor," says Cadell. "Depending on when the last time the floor was stripped and how dull the finish is and how many coats of finish were initially applied, a facility could choose to get by with just a scrub and recoat, which removes just the top layers of finish and the new layers of finish are laid on top of the good layers of finish."
Determining if it is time to strip a floor depends on two factors: The specification of a facility's floor maintenance program and how the gloss or shine of the floor is holding up.
The process is expensive, however, and most facilities don't have the means to devote money towards stripping floors. In fact, Josephs estimates that 50 percent of the floors that need to be stripped nowadays are due to facilities slashing their cleaning budgets.
"Stripping is definitely a last resort," Josephs says. "It is probably the number one labor intensive job the custodial staff performs. So given today's budgets, I know a lot less people are doing complete strip outs. We can definitely see the difference in our stripping chemical sales."
A floor that needs to be stripped is obvious to the naked eye. In many cases it's an uneven or dull appearance and there will be buildup on the edges, will be worn, have no color or shine, will be cloudy, hazy and contain wear patterns.
"Stripping removes all finish, including sealers and factory finishes from the actual floor tiles," Cadell says. "This leaves the floor in its raw state and from this point the floor is ready to be waxed."
The floor has to be rinsed at least three times: once with hot water and twice with cold water to make sure all the alkalinity is removed.
"Then you can safely put your sealer or finish down; maybe two to four coats," Josephs says. "It's a very time consuming, laborious effort. If you can avoid it by doing the things you were supposed to before and during the winter months, you can avoid the intensive labor and tedious process."
Sometimes after stripping, floors need to be rinsed well with a neutralizer just to make sure that any alkalinity which might be in the pores of the floor are neutralized before putting the finish on.
"One problem, particularly if you run into terrazzo floors, is that they are fairly porous and if enough ice melting residue gets built up inside that terrazzo, you might think the floor is rinsed and ready," Corr says. "But when you put the floor finish down, all of a sudden there's a big white strip down the middle because alkaline residue is stripping the floor finish off as soon as it's dry."
With more facilities curtailing cleaning budgets, stripping a floor after the conclusion of winter each year may be out of the question. Delaying the costly stripping process can be achieved if facilities stay on top of preventative maintenance throughout the winter months.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer based in Larchmont, N.Y.
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