Davis photoMy first foray into the janitorial industry came in 1975 — my sophomore year in college. I was transferring to another school and had a couple of months between terms to work. I was hired by a facilities and grounds contractor and assigned as a custodian to the Officers Club at Redstone Arsenal, an army base in Huntsville, Ala. The Officers Club was a beautiful facility: a stark white building seated on a lush tree-covered knoll that overlooked a verdant golf course.

Dark, wood paneling and heavy thick trim accentuated the interior. The white vinyl tile that covered the floors in the kitchen, service areas and meeting rooms was a priority for the custodial staff. Just like the rest of the building, they were to be a showplace. True to military style, we kept those floors perfectly clean and polished to a high gloss.

About once a month, when the floor finish began to show a little wear and a few scratches, we would haul out the 23-inch floor machine, buckets, mops, stripper, and floor finish to begin the arduous task of stripping and recoating every tile floor in the building. This was a time-consuming process and undoubtedly cost thousands of dollars in product and labor, but it kept the floors looking terrific.

What I just described is unheard of today. No contractor on the planet would go to the expense of stripping floors every month. Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to strip and recoat floors so frequently, thanks to the durable, high-performance polymers contained in modern floor finishes.

In years past, floor finishes would need to be removed fairly often. They were formulated with styrene polymers that would yellow and darken with time (place a Styrofoam cup in a windowsill for a few weeks and you will see for yourself).

Modern finishes will last for many months or even years without turning yellow or darkening. If a good maintenance program is in place, strip cycles can be extended indefinitely. It is not uncommon for some facilities to go two or more years without a thorough stripping.

The question then arises, “If floors are to go long periods of time without stripping and recoating, how are we to maintain them at a high level of appearance?” The answer: employ the scrub and recoat technique. This technique is commonly used to maintain appearance without stripping.

The scrub and recoat technique uses an all-purpose cleaner instead of floor finish stripper and a green or blue scrub pad instead of a black stripping pad. The all-purpose cleaner is diluted with water, mopped on and then scrubbed with a floor machine or dispensed through an automatic floor scrubber with a green or blue pad. A clear water rinse follows and then one or two coats of floor finish can be applied. The floor is rejuvenated and looks as if it’s been stripped and recoated. Actually, the deep scrub of the finish removes scratches and embedded soil. This process is popular because it is much less costly than a full strip job and it also interrupts use of the floor for a relatively short time.

The decision that now must be made is when to scrub and recoat the floor?

This decision is subjective. Usually, a supervisor will wait until the floor starts to look bad and then perform the scrub and recoat process. This can cause two problems. First, if the floor is recoated too often, a build-up can form; second, if the floor goes too long without a scrub and recoat then it may not repair well and will need to be stripped to be restored.

Timing is very important in treating a floor. The best way to determine the optimum time for a scrub and recoat is to use the dot method.

The dot method was developed by a multinational retailer that demanded beautiful floors but couldn’t afford the down time associated with floor stripping.

The dot method requires a colored grease pencil, or a non-permanent colored marker, and a drawn diagram of the floor. After the floor has been stripped and all but the last two coats of finish applied, a small dot about the size of a BB is made on top of the finish with the colored marker. The remaining coats of finish are then applied.

Mark the locations of the dots on the floor diagram. Dots should be dispersed throughout the building, especially in high-traffic and funnel areas.

A supervisor should walk the floor every week with the dot diagram. If a dot has worn away, the area should be scrubbed and recoated. It isn’t necessary to scrub and recoat until the dot disappears.
The dot method is a wonderful technique that will make your customers’ jobs a little easier. Giving them practical tools will build confidence and keep them and their facility looking good. After all, isn’t that our job?

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. Email comments or questions.