Davis photoThe professional cleaning course I’ve taught for many years is geared toward anyone who needs to learn more about hard floor, carpet, and restroom cleaning and maintenance. Typically, an eclectic group — custodians, supervisors, business owners, administrators, and managers — attends the event. The format is interactive. It encourages individuals to ask questions and to share their thoughts and ideas. Everyone benefits, and the teacher learns as much as anyone.

Recently, someone posed the question, “Should I use a floor sealer or not?” Two gentlemen from different universities picked up the question and began an informal debate on the matter.

This issue has long spurred debate among floor care professionals. Many believe there are tremendous advantages to applying sealer; others think it is a waste of time.

The gentleman who advocated the use of sealer made the following arguments: 1) a sealer makes the finish more durable, 2) it produces a higher gloss, and 3) it reduces cost.

His congenial opponent posited that it is unnecessary and in fact undesirable because it: 1) complicates training, 2) adds an extra product to inventory, 3) does not increase durability, gloss or performance, and 4) it is difficult to strip.

When studying this issue it is helpful to recall the nature of VCT (vinyl composition tile). It appears to be smooth and relatively hard. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. In fact, VCT is not hard and the smooth-looking surface is really uneven and porous.

To see this one would have to stare into a microscope and examine the tile closely. This view would reveal a scene reminiscent of the moon’s surface. Many peaks and valleys compose what appears to the naked eye to be a smooth surface.

Does a sealer increase durability and gloss, as well as lower cost? There is strong evidence that it does.

VCT tends to quickly absorb the initial coats of sealer or finish, and subsequent coats of product must be applied. Sealer fills the valleys quicker and more effectively than finish alone.

According to one chemist, the polymers that compose most sealers are smaller than the polymers used in floor finish. The smaller polymers are able to fill the valleys more completely.

Think of a glass jar filled with stones of various sizes. The smaller pebbles work down and cover the bottom of the jar leaving small gaps between. The larger stones rest on top of the pebbles and leave larger gaps. Like the pebbles, sealer polymers are able to fill in the gaps.

Since the low spots are filled more effectively, the floor finish bonds better to the sealer than it does to the VCT. The result is increased durability.

Gloss is also enhanced. Gloss is achieved by creating a surface that reflects light. A bare tile floor is not glossy because the light is refracted (bent and broken) rather than reflected (bounced off). Sealer fills the valleys in the tile to create a smooth surface.

What about cost? How does the use of a sealer affect floor care expenditures?

The big savings are measured in increased durability. Strip cycles are extended, which means floor care costs are stretched over a longer time span.

Does adding a sealer to the process make it more difficult to train workers? Honestly, I think it does. Adding another step and another product provides opportunity for error. Workers do things one might not expect.

One worker claimed to apply floor finish first and then “seal it in real good” by applying sealer over it. At times, a floor tech may apply the sealer and not use any finish at all. There is no end to the combination of errors that can be made. However, errors occur in any process if the employee is not properly trained.

Buying a sealer does require stocking an extra inventory item, but the benefit that a sealer provides by reducing costs and improving image is worth it.

Some sealers are difficult to strip. When evaluating a sealer, check to see if it contains urethane; if it does you may want to avoid it. Also, shun sealers that claim to be permanent or semi-permanent. At least one company claims that it is possible to strip the topcoats of finish and leave their sealer intact. This would be great if it worked, but in reality the sealer may be only partially removed, creating a real mess.

Hopefully this discussion will be beneficial and enable you to help customers with their floor care programs. As you have discovered, I favor the use of a sealer, but you may not agree: that is fine. Nevertheless, consider asking your customer to put down a test floor using a sealer and another without sealer and compare the results. He or she will be impressed that you know enough to discuss the issue and, more importantly, that you care enough to help.

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