It’s difficult for Mike Weber, principal scientist in product research for Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, to recall how many times he’s been called upon to solve end users’ hard-floor care quandaries. What stays fresh in his mind, however, is the plethora of disaster stories he’s encountered over the last 27 years.

Weber’s most recent “eyebrow-raiser” involved a store manager at a major retail chain who was up-in-arms over how to maintain the floor finish in the facility’s entryway. “His solution to the problem was that they were going to mix floor cleaner and floor finish together,” Weber says. “He was going to clean and apply finish all in one step.”

By essentially trying to kill two birds with one stone, the manager’s decision backfired. “The finish, because it had all of this cleaner in it, didn’t cure,” Weber explains. “And because it was soft and gummy, over the course of a few days it took all the dirt off of everyone’s shoes who walked through there. It was just a big dark ugly mess.”

Whether end users pair the wrong chemical with a finished floor, use the wrong tool or machine, totally disregard a daily cleaning regimen, or apply too many coats in too little time, the majority of problems in hard floor care are linked to lack of knowledge.

Even though chemical manufacturers offer customers step-by-step directions and send salespeople to facilities to demonstrate proper usage, sometimes the simplest procedures still manage to turn into costly dilemmas.

Daily Maintenance
When it comes to hard-floor cleaning, daily routine maintenance is essential to the desired outcome: preserving the life of a floor.

Lee Chen, vice president of the institutional chemical group line for Rochester Midland Corp., Rochester, N.Y., says enforcing a daily cleaning program is vital to preserving a floor’s finish. “Especially in the winter, when it’s snowing, salt gets tracked in, and if you don’t have a good daily cleaning program, [salt] will start to attack the finish,” says Chen.

Soil and traffic loads are different for every facility, so a grit control program is a decisive investment that aids in prolonging a finished floor’s appearance. “Any hard surface floor should have some kind of a grit control program which would include entrance mats at all entrances to catch and trap as much sand and grit before it gets into the building and does its damage,” says Tom McNair, vice president of sales, Daley Intl., Chicago.

Daily cleaning of a finished hard floor requires frequent dust and damp mopping, and — if it’s in the facility owner’s budget — the use of an autoscrubber. Dust mopping, a cost-effective method that requires minimal labor, is the first step in combating outside debris from embedding the floor’s finish. Paired with a neutral pH cleaner, cleaning with a damp mop and an autoscrubber consistently proves cost-effective down the line.

Christopher Meaney, vice president of sales and marketing for ABCO Products Inc., Miami, recommends facility managers schedule damp mopping into daily cleaning. “Damp mopping, based on the [chemicals], is going to capture and remove a lot of film from the floor,” Meaney says.

According to Rocky Massin, senior product manager for Hillyard Intl., St. Joseph, Mo., choosing the correct chemical — a cleaner with a neutral pH that fights discoloring and eliminates soil buildup — along with frequent dust mopping is critical.

“You have to have a neutral cleaner because high-alkaline cleaners can contribute to the yellowing and darkening of floors,” Massin says. “The frequency of dust mopping plays into that because a lot of the darkening that goes on in coatings is actually embedded dirt.”

Interim Assistance
If a facility is slacking on daily maintenance, a floor’s finish is likely riddled with embedded dirt. Dennis Joy, national sales manager for Simoniz USA, Bolton, Conn., says scheduled spray buffing with a standard or high-speed floor machine will help remove dirt, scuff marks, restore gloss and extend the life of the floor finish.

Mike Marrese, general manager of Venus Laboratories Inc., Wood Dale, Ill., says spray buffing with a low concentrated acrylic cleaner will essentially eliminate discoloring and bring back the shine, but won’t always be effective. “With time, you can’t keep doing it,” Marrese says. “Eventually you’re not going to be able to bring back or restore the shine.”

If a floor dulls after spray buffing or high speed buffing, it is normally a symptom of thinning or that the floor’s finish is soiled. This requires a deep scrub and recoat.

“The first thing you’ll see [after a deep scrub and recoat] is that the floor looks lighter — and you can accomplish that with an autoscrubber very effectively by using a little more aggressive pad and cleaner,” Massin explains.

Chen says it is important to develop and recognize a base coat when recoating. “You would pick certain spots on that tile right where it might intersect with the ceiling and use a permanent marker to mark certain spots,” Chen explains. And when you see that start to wear that means you’re getting down into your base coat. That’s a good time to scrub and recoat.”

Resorting to Restoration
Stripping, the most expensive stage in hard floor cleaning, is a measure of last resort and should be performed only when a deep scrub and recoat will not restore a finish to the desired level appearance. Conditions that require stripping include yellowing, embedded dirt and irreparable damage. When selecting a chemical for stripping a finished hard floor, Meaney says manufacturers typically recommend using an alkaline with a pH higher than 11 or 12.

Common practice is to flood the floor with stripping solution before powering up the machine. “You want to make sure you get good coverage when you flood the floor with a stripping solution before using a stripping machine,” Chen says. “Generally the stripper sits for 10 to 15 minutes to let the chemical do the work.”

Weber says it is critical to use a wet vacuum and rinse the floor thoroughly before applying new finish. “When you have the stripper on the floor and you’ve gone through the whole process, you want to wet vac that slurry up to get it off the floor and then rinse the floor really well,” he says. “Then when it’s dry you put the new finish down.”

Massin says the use of a sealer is imperative in a restorative program. “It’s really critical on a hard floor that you use a sealer. You typically would put one or two coats of the sealer down and then three to five coats of the finish on top.”

Weber says that if the end user isn’t properly trained on the restoration process, the consequence could be fairly substantial. “If you mess up a floor you probably cost yourself an entire night,” he says. “You’ve wasted the time, the labor and the chemicals for floor finish which are more expensive than most other cleaning chemicals.”