Richard Bestafka, president of Alan Janitorial Distributors in Ronkonkoma, N.J., doesn’t clean stone floors for a living; he sells the chemicals and equipment needed to do the job. That doesn’t excuse him, however, from having a fairly good grasp of what the task entails.

“If you can’t properly advise your customers, then the customers won’t succeed and, in the long run, you won’t succeed,” Bestafka says. “It’s critical that you get educated on the products you sell. Otherwise, bottom line, you won’t make money down the road.”

Fredrick Hueston, president of The National Training Center for Stone & Masonry Trades agrees. When it comes to caring for natural stone (including marble, limestone, granite, and slate), knowledge equals sales.

“You want to be able to recommend the proper products for different situations,” Hueston says. “You want someone to come back because you helped him.”

Training Day
The best way to learn about stone care is through hands-on experience. Before becoming a distributor, Bestafka was a contractor and “learned the hard way about stone care by making every mistake in the book.”

Those salespeople who haven’t worked as contractors might want to spend a day, or a few hours, on the job with a client, asking questions about which products and procedures work best.

“Experience is your best sales tool,” Bestafka says. “Know what you are selling by getting your hands on it. Don’t just repeat what someone tells you; see for yourself.”

Bestafka also helps his staff learn about cleaning procedures by offering training for all products in the Alan Janitorial inventory. The company’s primary stone care supplier also recently presented a training class at the company’s facility for its 22 employees.

General Guidelines
There are several rules of thumb for cleaning stone floors. Knowing these can help you advise your customers on the best products to purchase.

“Half the battle is using the right chemical and the other half is using the right tool,” Bestafka says.

• Clean sweep
The most important tool may be the dust mop. Frequent sweeping is crucial to keeping stone in good condition. The biggest enemies of stone floors are dust and debris, which cause scratches if left unchecked.

“Dust mop as frequently as possible — whatever is practical,” says Hal Edmonds, president of California Stone Care in Sacramento. “When a stone floor gets dull, what you are actually seeing is an accumulation of surface scratches. It looks like it’s lost its shine, but it’s really just lots of tiny scratches.”

Hueston recommends that distributors sell non-treated, rayon dust mops for stone floors (a much different method than used on vinyl floors). Some treated mops contain oil, which can soak into stone and look like a stain.
“You cannot dust mop too often,” Hueston adds. “If you can eliminate the grit, you’ll never have to worry about your floor again.”

• On the mat
Distributors should recommend that their customers use sufficient, high-quality matting. Walk-off mats used inside and outside of entranceways will strip shoes of sand, dirt and grit that can ruin stone floors.

It is also wise to sell area rugs or mats for use under planters, desks, or other objects that might scratch floors.

“That’s all part of the program,” Bestafka says. “Mats inside and outside will stop 60 to 80 percent of the dirt coming into a facility.”

Be sure the underside of the mat or rug is a non-slip surface. Also, don’t sell mats that might stain the floors. For example, when a rubber backing gets wet, it has the potential to leave a yellow stain on the floor beneath it.

Advise customers to shake out and clean mats at least once daily. It is also important to clean beneath mats whenever the floors are dust- and damp mopped.

• Wet work
After dust mopping, the second-highest priority is damp mopping or wet mopping. Advise customers to use only a neutral cleaner (with a pH around 7) designed for stone; others might leave a film on the surface.

With the sole exception of granite, which is harder and can tolerate harsher chemicals, natural stone is extremely sensitive. Acidic cleaners (including all-purpose cleaners or those containing citrus) will do more harm than good to stone floors.

A neutral stone cleaner is the ticket, Edmonds says. “We get called in to correct problems because [cleaners] used the wrong product, like an acidic cleaner that should be used on tile floors. They wear away the surface and have to call someone like us to solve [the problem].”

Depending on traffic, stone floors should be wet mopped between once a day and once a week. Advise customers to change rinse water frequently; dirty water will leave streaks.

Also, your customers should designate a mop specifically for stone floor work. Color-coded equipment might make this easier for the cleaning staff.

“You need to have one mop for that particular floor,” says John Gormley, manager of Stone Care of Texas in San Antonio. “If you use it in the restroom on the tile, where they use harsher chemicals, you’ll get those chemicals in the mop, and then you drag the contaminants onto the stone floor and wreck it.”

Although a mop is the tool of the trade for natural stone, walk-behind or ride-on auto-scrubbers can be used for large areas. End users should be sure to use a non-aggressive white pad for these machines.

• Grout care
Ask customers if their stone floors include grout, which is notoriously difficult to keep in like-new condition. Certain floors, including designer concrete and terrazzo, can be installed without grout lines. For floors with grout, proper sealing (see below) should eliminate cleaning concerns.

One potential problem comes with sanded grout. The sand can come loose from the grout and then scratch the floors. Before beginning a cleaning program, advise customers to have a stone-floor professional evaluate their floors and, if they have sanded grout, make sure they know how to clean it correctly — or find someone who can show them how.

• For the pros
Thanks to their porosity, stone floors (both polished and honed) need a sealer, which allows them to breathe and protects them from spills.

Sealers fall into two categories: topical sealers/coatings and impregnators. For stone, you want to use impregnators (they keep contaminants out, but do not stop the interior moisture from escaping. In other words, they are breathable). Do not apply topical sealers for stone floors. They can block the natural breathing of stone and break the surface down.

Share this tip with your customers: Tell them to put a small amount of water on the floor (in a hidden area) for 30 seconds and then remove it. If it leaves a dark spot, the floors need to be sealed. Typically, stone floors should be sealed about once a year.

Crews should apply a small amount of a silicone-based impregnator to the surface, including any grouting, and let it set for 10 minutes. If it soaks in too quickly, apply more. When time is up, remove any remaining impregnator with a clean cloth, then buff the floor with a white buffing pad. Impregnators and sealers should be applied only after the floor is thoroughly cleaned, rinsed, and is dry.

Some of your customers may want to hire professionals to carry out sealing floors. Inadequate or incorrect sealers for stone have become so common that stone professionals often say the majority of their business is dedicated to correcting the problems these products cause.

One area that is typically best left to highly trained individuals is restorative work, including sanding and re-polishing.

If your customers have staff trained to polish stone, they will need a standard 175 rpm, weighted (145 pounds) floor machine, hog’s hair pad, and either an acidic or non-acidic polishing powder to do the job. They should apply the powder to the floor in a small section, work it into a slurry, and continue the process until the desired look is achieved. Depending on traffic, floors need to be re-polished as often as once a week or as little as twice a year.

Ask your customers about their expertise. Advise them that although re-polishing sounds easy, mistakes can be very costly to fix. Likewise, if they need to repair scratched, rutted, or otherwise damaged stone, they should probably call in an expert.

“I wouldn’t recommend someone go out and buy some abrasives to hone the floor without having the proper training to do so,” Hueston says. “Even minor polishing can be dangerous because they can cause the floor to get more dull.”

Go the extra mile with your customers by helping them find a professional — or seek training for their staff — for these bigger tasks. Meet with stone care professionals in your area to find someone you trust as a referral for your clients.

A good starting point is to visit the websites of the Marble Institute of America or The National Training Center for Stone and Masonry Trades. These sites have directories that list only qualified contractors with experience in restoration.

Getting Customers In Gear

Create customer loyalty by offering clients a kit that contains everything they need to properly maintain their stone floors. Include the following essential items in the kits:

  • Walk-off mats and area rugs
  • Untreated, rayon dust mops
  • Color-coded damp mop and bucket
  • Auto-scrubber with white pad
  • Neutral pH cleaner
  • Wet floor signs
  • Silicone-based impregnator.

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and a regulator contributor to SM.