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Picture this: You’ve just entered the lobby of a newly restored hotel. You admire the intricately carved furnishings, the oversized flower arrangements, the elegant statues ... and then you see the floor — it’s littered with cigarette butts and muddy footprints.

Neglecting the appearance of the floor can be a fatal mistake for any business. But cutbacks and rising labor costs are forcing some companies to rethink the frequency of their floor-maintenance programs. To address this concern, manufacturers are focusing their efforts on developing more durable finishes that help reduce cleaning and maintenance times.

“There have been several advances in technology, and all of them are trying to address labor costs in some way,” says Mike Tarvin, technical director, Multi-Clean, Shoreview, Minn.

Floor finishes that contain maximum solids are helping jan/san workers decrease the frequency of maintenance programs. “Traditionally, the solids content of a floor finish was 25 percent. Now that solids barrier has been broken, and we can get finishes that have solids contents of 33 percent or 34 percent,” Tarvin explains. The benefit of a higher solids finish is that workers can apply fewer coats and still achieve the same results as other finishes, he says.

This is especially beneficial for businesses that are open 24/7 or offer workers a short timeframe in which to maintain the floor. Higher solids also improve dry times between coats, adds Dave Schauer, marketing director for Essential Industries, Merton, Wis., which in turn speeds up the labor process.

Get With the Program
Advances in technology may be leading to more durable products, but without the proper maintenance programs in place, jan/san workers will have a hard time realizing the benefits of these products. Here’s a look at some of the common mistakes made when using floor finishes and what can be done to avoid them.

Floor-care products don’t match. According to Frank Leadem, education specialist for Misco Products Corp., Reading, Pa., end users don’t see the finish as part of a total system. “Sometimes the maintenance program is not considered when the finish is selected,” he says.

Dr. Robert Allen, vice president of business development, Pioneer Eclipse, Sparta, N.C., suggests a systems approach in which all of the floor-care products match. Using the wrong cleaner, for example, could damage the finish.

The chemistry of the floor finish should also match the type of pad and equipment you’re using, according to David Patterson, polymer floor chemist for Amrep Inc., Marietta, Ga. Performance will improve by matching the finish to the traffic conditions.

“In grocery stores, for example, where you have high traffic and use propane machines, you have to pick finishes that are suitable for that sort of punishment,” he explains. “That same finish may not do well in a school district where they don’t have that type of equipment.”

Floors are not properly prepped. According to Leadem, when it comes to applying finish, most mistakes are made in the prep work. This can include not removing the existing finish or leaving an alkaline residue from the stripper, says Patterson. For finish application, floors need to be properly stripped and rinsed. “It is essential that the floor is neutral in pH before applying the finish,” says Rebecca Kaufold, chemist, Spartan Chemical Co., Inc., Maumee, Ohio.

Finish is applied too thickly.
In an effort to save time, some jan/san workers apply coats of finish that are too thick. If they do this, “You won’t have a smooth floor, it won’t shine as well, and when you burnish the floor you could get smearing,” warns Allen.

“Finish should be applied in thin coats,” says Kaufold. “Spartan recommends 2,000 to 3,000 ft2/gal coverage. Knowing the proper floor dimensions will help make sure finish is being applied at the appropriate amount,” she explains.

However, if employees apply too much product, the leveling characteristics will help to even out the finish so it doesn’t streak or bubble, says Kevin Caswell, sales manager for Warsaw Chemical Co., Inc., Warsaw, Ind. “Most finishes today level very well,” he notes.

Trial and error is probably still the best method for determining how much finish to use. “Use the product yourself in a real-life setting,” suggests Leadem. “Teach yourself how the stuff works, and you will know what to say [to customers]. Customers will listen when you start your pitch with, ‘When I personally tested this product I discovered that…’”

• Finish is applied too quickly.
In addition to applying finish too thickly, some jan/san workers may also apply it too quickly in an attempt to speed up the application process. “You need to allow time for the cross-linking to take place and the solvents or water to evaporate before recoating,” advises Patterson.

“Temperature and humidity can play an important role with respect to recoat and cure times,” says Kaufold. High temperatures and low humidity speed up dry times, while low temperatures and high humidity extend drying times.

Warsaw Chemical is researching finishes that dry more quickly, says Caswell. Other innovations include finishes that are cured using ultraviolet light rather than the evaporation of water. “These types of coatings offer the benefit of a shine similar to a floor that’s been burnished, yet you’re eliminating burnishing, which is very labor intensive,” says Tarvin.

• Floors are not maintained regularly.
To prolong the floor’s shine, proper upkeep is essential. First and foremost, says Caswell, keep soil and dirt off the floor so that it isn’t ground into the finish. This means dust mopping the floor on a daily basis and cleaning it with a neutral floor cleaner (how frequently depends on traffic levels).

To help keep dust and dirt off the floors, use walk-off mats. Maintenance workers can also use a restorer or maintainer to help repair microscopic scratches in the floor and restore the gloss, says Allen.

“After time, the cleaning and restoring will not prolong the gloss, but the finish is still good,” he says. “When this occurs, you can scrub and recoat. You use a higher concentration of your neutral cleaner and a more aggressive pad on your auto scrubber, and you scrub the floor well. Then you apply two more coats of finish.”

Kaufold notes that clear, non-yellowing finishes are popular because they are easily scrubbed and recoated, prolonging the period between strip-outs. Dry-bright finishes that require little to no burnishing are also popular.

The trend to develop new products that increase productivity and decrease labor will likely continue, but there will always be the need for some form of maintenance. “People would like to have a great reduction in maintenance labor, so the trend is toward low-maintenance floors,” says Allen, “but there’s no such thing as a no-maintenance floor.”

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.

How Green is Your Gloss?
One of the top concerns for manufacturers today is developing environmentally safe products. “You can’t develop new products without taking into account how those products impact the environment, indoor air quality, and the people using them,” says Mike Tarvin, technical director, Multi-Clean, Shoreview, Minn. When it comes to floor finishes, “greener” products mean zinc-free products.

“All of a sudden zinc is a bad word,” says Frank Leadem, education specialist for Misco Products Corp., Reading, Pa. As a result, companies are trying to develop cost-effective alternatives that won’t sacrifice performance or appearance. Some believe that the performance of zinc-free products is close to or equal to traditional floor finishes. Others feel the industry is not quite there yet.

“Zinc is an effective cross-linker. It has unique properties that have been unable to be duplicated,” says David Patterson, polymer floor chemist for Amrep Inc., Marietta, Ga. Although he feels the performance of greener products is improving, the absence of zinc does sacrifice certain features, such as durability and buffability. “Zinc cross-links tend to be more water and detergent resistant,” he says.

Some customers are starting to ask for APE formulations as an alternative.

Allen feels that progress has been made in the creation of green floor finishes that come very close to matching traditional products. In 2003, Pioneer Eclipse introduced a floor-finish system in which all the components were environmentally friendly, receiving recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency. Green Seal has also developed protocols for certifying finishes and strippers. And with customer demand for environmentally safe products increasing, greener finishes will continue to gain in popularity. —K.K.