Davis photoMemorial Day found me applying floor finish to a newly installed VCT (vinyl composition tile) floor in our office. I have stripped and finished floors for many years, and felt this one would be a piece of cake: new floor; no buildup to contend with; very little finish on the tile. No big deal, right? Wrong! Instead of being a piece of cake, it ended up being egg on my face. The finish was splotchy without adequate gloss, and there was hair-like material throughout. I, the veteran — one who teaches others how to do floors — looked like the rookie on this particular afternoon. Allow me to share the insights gleaned from this embarrassing episode.

First, consider the necessary steps for coating newly installed VCT. Tile manufacturers coat their product with one thin coat of an acrylic finish for protection during shipping and storage. This coating provides no gloss and scant protection from foot traffic; therefore, the tile must be scrubbed and coated with an appropriate amount of floor finish.

Scrub with a 175-rpm floor machine or automatic scrubber to remove any soil, loose coating or adhesive. An all-purpose cleaner or highly diluted solution (1:10) of floor finish stripper is appropriate, and use a green or blue scrub pad. Newly installed flooring should not be scrubbed for two weeks to allow the mastic adequate time to bond. Apply the scrubbing solution moderately to prevent excessive moisture from coming into contact with the fresh glue. Vacuum the cleaning solution from the floor, rinse, and apply the finish or seal.

Some professionals will burnish the freshly scrubbed tile before applying floor finish in order to achieve an even higher final gloss. This is an acceptable technique, and can also be used when stripping and recoating existing tile as long as the tile does not contain asbestos.

One mistake I made was using a neutral cleaner rather than an all-purpose cleaner. It might seem this would make little difference, but believe me, it does. The neutral cleaner I used had a pH of 7. All-purpose cleaners normally have a pH of 11. This is not just a four-point difference in alkalinity and cleaning aggressiveness; rather, it is about 70,000 times more alkaline (remember the exponential gradation of pH). My floor receives heavy soiling from our equipment repair shop, the warehouse, a busy restroom, and an elevator. The lower-pH cleaner did not adequately clean the floor.

Second, humidity played a part in the fiasco. The humidity was near 100 percent that day. Humidity, along with temperature, plays an important part in the way floor finish dries. Floor finish has a high water content, and the higher the humidity, the longer it takes to dry and cure. Allow 30 to 40 minutes between coats. On days when the humidity is high, an hour or more is preferable. If possible, reschedule the job for a less humid day.

I used an air mover to speed the drying process and allowed only 20 minutes between coats. The finish was dry on the surface, but was not properly cured underneath. As a result, the gloss was poor and the appearance splotchy.

Third, I chose a new cut-end rayon mop to apply the finish. I did rinse the mop thoroughly to remove loose fibers; nevertheless, loose fibers littered my finish. Using a prewashed mop specifically designed for applying floor finish will solve this problem.

Floor care is not particularly complicated, but it does demand strict adherence to certain procedures. It is easy, even for an experienced professional, to become complacent and try to take shortcuts, with undesirable results. However, if you follow the rules carefully, your result will be pleasing — maybe even a piece of cake.

Louie Davis Jr. is a 23-year veteran of the jan/san business, having worked on the manufacturing and distribution sides. He is currently director of sales for Central Paper Co., in Birmingham, Ala.