Selling floor-care chemicals to educational facilities involves more than just coming in as the lowest bidder. In the case of hard-surface flooring, jan/san distributors are bidding on accounts with multiple flooring types that present different cleaning challenges.

An educational facility has a larger number of hard-surface flooring compared to other facilities. The different types of hard flooring specified for schools demand different chemical formulations to clean and finish the floor. For instance, a maintenance staff cannot use the same product on gym floors that it applies to restroom flooring.

On top of this, there are other issues to consider. Everyone — from a school district superintendent to a janitor — has to concern him or herself with the threat of bacterial cross-contamination. These customers want new-looking floors while keeping them safe for students.

In the current economy, budget cuts have downsized janitorial staffs. Thus, the smaller number of workers requires the remaining staff to clean more square footage. Staffs need powerful chemicals and the right equipment to clean efficiently.

Hallways And Classrooms

In an educational facility, hallways and classrooms have the most consistent and highest traffic flow of any areas. Most educational facilities have a resilient and durable flooring surface — typically a vinyl composition tile (VCT) — but, distributors must thoroughly examine the flooring types before selling floor-care chemicals.

Most chemical manufacturers recommend that VCT be cleaned with a neutral cleaner. Neutral cleaners are environmentally safe, neither acid nor alkaline-based and have a pH around 7. Chemical manufacturers recommend that the staff mix the product with a mild acid or water.

The neutral cleaner not only cleans floors, but the low-pH chemical formula devoid of harsh solvents could prevent a cloudy residue often produced when the flooring and chemical cleaner are not compatible, says Eddie Spicer, a chemist for Detco, Conway, Ark.

Spicer points out that the cleaner not only cleans floors, but it safeguards the floor finish — something of particular importance during the winter months when maintenance staffs usually apply a large amount of ice melt on sidewalks, entryways and parking lots. Visitors drag the chemicals into the building on the bottom of their shoes and the mix of chemicals can create a slippery surface and cause unusual wear and tear on the flooring.

In addition to using a neutral cleaner, a good, strong finish is important during the winter, says Gregory Robinson, owner/managing member of Griffin Chemical Supply, Tonawanda, N.Y. The finish provides a strong coating on the floors, reducing the risks of students slipping and falling.

If possible, cleaning staffs use an automatic scrubber to apply the neutral cleaner to hallway floors to save time.

The machines are of greater need now because of staff cuts to maintenance crews at educational facilities, says Nick Eppolito, sales manager of Metro Professional Products, Carol Stream, Ill.

While autoscrubbers may be practical for hallways, classrooms have too many obstacles such as desks and chairs for the larger machines to maneuver around. In these areas, a mop is most practical. Specifically, rayon mops will soak in less chemicals than a cotton mop, so the maintenance staff needs a smaller volume of chemicals to properly clean the floor, says Phil Morrison, a floor care specialist with Detco.

When applying finish in classrooms and hallways, the staff should also use a rayon or microfiber mop. These methods will not release lint when applying finish, says Jimmy Thomas, director of business development, American Osment, Birmingham, Ala.

Stripping the floor depends on the quality of the finish. If schools apply a strong finish, they will not have to strip the floors as often.

To strip the floors, the maintenance staff should apply a pre-measured solution with a mop and allow the solution to sit on the floor for five to 10 minutes. This allows the chemicals to work properly. For a second rinse, the staff should repeat the same procedure but use only tepid water.


Kitchen floors are typically concrete, terrazzo, or grouted ceramic title. These types of flooring are more slip-resistant than VCT, but grease spilled in the kitchen poses a slip and fall problem.

To eliminate the chance of slipping or falling, degreasing agents are incorporated into the overall cleaning process. Known as “degreasers,” the chemicals are applied to remove oily soils from the surface.

“The degreasers have enzymes that break down the grease,” says Spicer. “This removes the slipperiness from the grease.”

After applying the degreaser, Morrison recommends that the cleaning staff use a disinfectant to kill any remaining germs or bacteria. The maintenance staff should apply the degreaser at least every other day.

Distributors recommend that customers apply the degreaser and disinfectant with a mop. Similar to a classroom, the stationary objects in the kitchen (sinks, ovens and refrigerators) are difficult to move. Cleaning with a mop allows the staff to move around the kitchen more freely.

Routine spot cleaning can also be accomplished with a mop, but the floors should be occasionally scrubbed with a bristle brush. The brush removes soil and bacteria that build up on the floor — especially grouted floors.

Restrooms/Locker Rooms

In schools especially, restroom and locker room floors are breeding grounds for harmful bacteria. These days school officials are especially concerned about students contracting and spreading Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) through cross-contamination.

Customers want products with specific MRSA “kill claims,” so most school maintenance departments use a hospital-grade disinfectant on floor surfaces in both restrooms and locker rooms.

Robinson suggests that the staff use a cleaner with a high pH to clean the surface after applying the disinfectant.

“If you don’t thoroughly clean the floor after applying the disinfectant, the disinfectant will fail to do its job,” he says.

Correctly diluting the chemicals is even more important when cleaning restrooms or locker room floors because of the number of germs growing in the areas. Thomas recommends an automatic proportioning system for schools to properly dilute the products.

“If the chemicals are under-mixed, they won’t kill any of the germs,” he says. “If there are too many chemicals, it creates a sticky surface on the floors, giving the germs a place to live.”

As a further preventative measure against bacteria growth and odors emanating from the floor, some maintenance personnel apply a grout seal on the floors. The sealer is applied with a power sprayer, but the grout needs to be cleaned before it is sealed.

When it comes to actually cleaning the floors, the maintenance staff should use an autoscrubber with a rotary brush to. The bristles get into the crevices, cleaning the tile and grout. The autoscrubber eliminates any puddles that form from mopping, thus reducing the risk of slips and falls.

Gym Floors

Referred to as a school’s “masterpiece,” by Eppolito, the gym floor is the one floor in the facility where appearance is on equal footing with cleanliness.

Gym floors are not only elegant looking, but they are more delicate than other floors when it comes to the ongoing maintenance routine. Using the wrong chemicals could discolor the floor or warp the design.

For gym floors with wooden surfaces, the maintenance staff should first clean the floor using a dust mop, as the mop removes debris and other particles from the floor. The staff should then use an autoscrubber to clean and dry the floors. The autoscrubber cleans and dries in one pass.

The porous makeup of the floors make them difficult to mop, says Eppolito. He recommends that maintenance staffs use an autoscrubber to clean the floors.

Greening Floors

New York, Missouri and Illinois each passed green cleaning legislation, outlining the recommended, and in New York’s case required, use of environmentally safe floor-care chemicals in schools. In these states distributors must be sure they are following the guidelines and educating their customers on the appropriate product use.

Green products have lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than traditional cleaning products, which are a major contributor to poor indoor air quality.

Chemicals with low VOC levels are especially appealing for schools, says Eppolito.

The safety and health of the students are undeniably the main concerns for any educational facility. Distributors must offer the right chemicals to clean and maintain the floors while creating a healthy environment for students to learn.