The beautiful blonde oak gym floor was the centerpiece of the junior high school campus I attended. The gym was tiny and cramped and often players would smash into the wall after completing a fast break. Nevertheless, the floor was shiny and clean, and it always appeared to be in perfect condition.

In contrast to the pristine gym floor surface I enjoyed as a youth, many wooden gym floors today appear dull, dirty, scratched and slippery.

One reason that gym floors do not generally look as good today as they did in the 1960s is because of the way they’re used. In the past, gyms played host to physical education classes, basketball games and the occasional PTA meeting. Now, gym floors (or more accurately, stated-wood sports floors) are used for those activities, as well as volleyball, indoor soccer, community meetings, craft shows and other events.

A second reason gym floors don’t hold up as well today is because access to the floor is not restricted. At my old school, students could not walk on the floor in street shoes. They were required to keep a pair of gym shoes in their locker that could only be worn in the gym. Today many students wear athletic shoes everywhere they go and then tread the gym floor with them. These shoes contain sand, rock, dirt, and gravel that abrade the floor like sandpaper.

Custodians, coaches, and facility managers are often frustrated with the poor appearance of their wooden gym floors and look for answers to solve this maintenance problem. As a jan/san professional, you can offer these solutions.

Ask the decision-maker to purchase a large mat to cover the floor during special events. The mat will protect the floor from hard-soled street shoes as well as tables, chairs and displays. The mat can be rolled up and stored when not in use.

Recommend good walk-off matting for all entrances to the gym area. Scraper mats that remove grit and dirt should be used in combination with cloth mats that remove moisture. Appropriate matting is a must for any floor care program and should be used in this situation as well.

Suggest that access to the floor be restricted to those wearing proper footwear. Only athletic shoes should be allowed on the floor. Parents will not usually purchase a separate pair of expensive athletic shoes for students to wear only in the gym, but strategically positioned rubber fingertip mats will remove most abrasive material as well.

Dust mopping should be performed frequently to remove soil. Soil abrades the urethane gym finish, kills the gloss, and makes the floor slippery. Safety, as well as appearance, is enhanced during by mopping.

Encourage your client to use only good clean dust mops. Dirty mops are ineffective. Also, suggest they use water-based dust mop treatments rather than oil based products. Oil based products require special preparation and can lead to a slippery floor when overused.

I suggest using water and a pH neutral cleaner. Many will question whether moisture should be applied to a wooden floor, but hear me out on this. Granted, water should never be applied to any wooden surface that is not properly sealed, but wooden gym floors that are maintained with any degree of care will be coated with a thick film of urethane. This urethane film serves as a protective barrier.

The first wet cleaning technique removes sticky soil that dust mopping will not remove. This technique, introduced to me several years ago by my friend, Lee Lemasters, is fast and effective. The technique involves using a pH neutral floor cleaner mixed with water according to use directions. Several dust mops that attach to their frame with Velcro are soaked in a mop bucket containing the diluted cleaner. Wring out a wet mop head, attach it to the mop frame and handle, and push it quickly across the floor. As the mop becomes dry and hard to push, spray the cleaner onto the gym floor ahead of the cleaning path. The cleaner lubricates the mop and increases the cleaning area without changing heads.

Remove the head when it becomes saturated with soil and deposit it in a large can liner (the mops can be laundered and used many times). Replace the soiled mop head with a clean one and continue this process until the floor is clean.

Secondly, an automatic scrubber equipped with a pad holder and white buffing pad may also be used to apply the pH neutral cleaner. This is the quickest way to deep-clean a large gym floor.

Proper gym floor maintenance requires many items to achieve both the desired appearance and optimal safety conditions your customers desire. These items provide income potential for you, as well as solve problems for your customers.

Louie Davis Jr. is a 22-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.

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