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Floor maintenance programs are frequently one of the most draining line items in a facility’s cleaning budget — and are often cited for their negative impacts on the environment. But the ongoing trend toward cleaner, greener practices has end users revisiting floor care routines in an effort to further sustainability initiatives. 

Some believe that skipping cleaning chemicals altogether and relying solely on H2O is a step in the right direction. Cleaning products should always be part of daily floor care routines. 

No doubt, it is incumbent upon distributors to educate customers about the vital role of cleaning chemicals and dispel the myth that they hamper sustainability goals. This may require a return to basics to illustrate the interdependence of chemicals and water in floor cleaning procedures. 

“We invented cleaning chemistry to make water wetter,” says Stan Hulin, president of Future Floor Technology Inc., Oregon City, Oregon. “The detergent or neutral cleaner breaks the surface tension of the water, allowing it to penetrate the soil and make it easier to remove.” 

A simple visual test can drive this point home for end users: Place a drop of water on a piece of cardboard, and the water will bead on the surface. Introduce a cleaning product and the dynamic changes. 

“When you introduce a drop of neutral cleaner into that drop of water, it immediately penetrates the cardboard because you just increased the surfactant of that water droplet,” explains Jim Lety, director of janitorial sales for Imperial Dade, Jersey City, New Jersey “This is a demonstration of making water wetter.” 

Similarly, in the absence of chemicals, water cannot find its way into the nooks and crannies of the floor where dirt can settle. For this reason, it has limited applications in floor cleaning programs. 

“Water as a cleaning agent is not very good,” admits Hulin. “You can run water through an autoscrubber to pick up dust and dry particulate, but it might not pick up embedded or heavy soil that adheres to the surface.” 

Indeed, the absence of chemicals can lead to inconsistent outcomes where custodians are, in effect, pushing dirt around the floor instead of removing it. According to Hulin, the only time it makes sense to use water alone for cleaning purposes in floor machines such as extractors or automatic scrubbers, is when removing spots or spills or rinsing a floor. 

Keep it Neutral 

Having established the need for chemicals in floor cleaning procedures, distributors can turn their attention to educating customers on where and how they fit into a green cleaning program. 

For everyday floor cleaning, experts recommend promoting a neutral cleaner approved by the flooring manufacturer. The type and level of soil will also help customers determine which product to purchase. 

For general foot traffic, Lety recommends customers stay as close to neutral as possible, with neutral being 7 on the pH scale. 

“The alkalinity or acidity of the soil will determine the pH of the product needed to clean that surface,” explains Lety. “It’s going to be different in a healthcare setting versus an industrial facility.” 

Heavier soil may require an all-purpose or general-purpose cleaner that is higher on the alkaline side of the pH scale; around 8.2. Acids, which range from 0 to 6, are not needed for routine floor maintenance. 

When using autoscrubbers for daily routine cleaning or periodic maintenance, distributors should remind customers to use only neutral or general-purpose cleaners. 

“If clients use stripping or degreasing chemicals, which have a higher pH level, and they forget to swap that out when they perform daily routine scrubbing, they could mess up the floors,” warns Hulin. “They could also damage the machine’s internal parts. So, if they have to use stripping or degreasing solution, they should be trained to apply it by bucket or by hand.” 

Distributors should also emphasize the importance of rinsing the floor with water after extracting the dirty solution. 

“With the autoscrubber, a lot of people skip this part, but they shouldn’t,” says Hulin. “When using chemicals, they can get deep in the crevices of the floor and cause residue buildup over time. The detergent attracts soil, which can lead to sticky floors.” 

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