Friday, December 2, 2011

Floor Care Troubleshooting for Schools and Universities

As many school administrators and cleaning professionals know floor care and, most specifically, stripping and refinishing floors (restorative floor care), can be costly, time consuming, disruptive, labor intensive, and potentially harmful to the environment as well as the workers performing the task. Because of this, the last thing administrators and cleaning workers want is for problems to develop shortly after floor care tasks have been completed.

But, unfortunately, they do and do so often. In many cases, these problems can be avoided with just some common sense. For instance, in one setting, cleaning workers designated certain mops “finish mops,” those used to apply floor finish, and “cleaning mops,” those used to mop floors.
This is fine and recommended. However, different types of finishes were used with the same finish mops. Different finishes are not necessarily compatible. They may contain similar ingredients, but in varying amounts, or have ingredients that do not work well with the components of other finishes. As a result, problems arose after the restorative work was completed.

It is always wise to use fresh mops when performing major floor restorative tasks. Also make sure all tools such as buckets and even mop poles are thoroughly cleaned before use. As an added measure, some manufacturers of floor chemicals and finishes design their products for use as a “system.” Accordingly, it can be a very good practice to use strippers, cleaners, glosses, and finishes all from the same manufacturer to help minimize problems after floor work is completed.

Another common sense item that can help prevent floor care problems after restorative work is to know when the work should be performed in the first place. Although schools and universities often must schedule this work when it will cause the least disruption, this may not necessarily be the best time. Climate conditions can have a major impact on how well finishes adhere to floors. Very cold, very hot, and very humid conditions are not desirable for performing restorative floor care. Cold can be especially problematic because, although heating systems may be working and room temperatures are comfortable, the floor and subflooring may be cold. This can cause problems. Two of the best times to strip and refinish floors are spring and fall.

Common Floor Care Problems … and Solutions
For those who have encountered previous problems with their floors after restorative work or are not thoroughly trained on proper floor care techniques, there is a tendency to believe that just about any kind of floor care problem that can happen will. This is not the case. However, there are some common floor care problems that frequently occur. They will be addressed below along with their most likely solution.
Powdering: This is when the floor finish actually begins to disintegrate, forming a powder or fine light-colored material on the surface of the floor shortly after finish has been applied. There are several reasons this can occur. If the floor is new, has it been stripped/scrubbed before finish has been applied? Many new floors are delivered with a covering to protect the floor in transport. However, that covering should be removed before finish is applied.

Other causes for powdering are that an acrylic-type polish was applied over a wax-type polish or the old finish was not thoroughly removed; soiled mops and buckets were used; climate conditions were unfavorable; moisture permeates the floor; a high speed floor machine (burnisher) was used to polish the floor when the finish called for a conventional, much slower speed buffer; or air movers used to speed drying were pointed directly toward the floor, causing the finish to not dry properly.

Poor gloss: For some dedicated custodial workers, waiting to see how well a floor turns out after restorative floor care is almost as exciting as waiting to see if mom had a boy or a girl. So you can imagine their let down to see their “baby,” the just finished floor has minimal gloss, nothing as was expected or hoped for. This may have been caused simply because not enough coats of finish were applied to the floor. Typically, it takes three thin coats before a shine emerges. Many custodial workers, when and where possible, will apply as many as four to six coats of finish to protect the floor and build up a high-gloss shine. Other causes for poor gloss are that the coats of finish are too thick; soiled tools and equipment were used; the floor was not adequately cleaned and, just as important, rinsed before finish application; or the wrong stripping, scrubbing, or polishing pads were used. In many situations, the floor can be cleaned or machine scrubbed and then refinished to produce the desired gloss.

Discolored floor finish: As upsetting as poor gloss after restorative floor work is discolored floor finish. And just like the other problems presented, there can be a variety of reasons. For instance, before using new cotton mops to clean floors or apply finish, soak and clean them with a neutral cleaner. During the manufacturing process, oils may have been applied to the mop that, when mixed with floor finish, can cause it to discolor. Other causes are more basic but common. For instance, the stripper/cleaner used on the floor was improperly diluted; the floor was not adequately cleaned before finish application; or stripper/cleaners residue was left on the floor. In some cases, using an automatic scrubber on the floor can help remove some of the impurities causing the discoloration. This should be tried before starting over and performing a complete restoration.

Excessive scuffing and scratching: Especially in an educational setting, floors are going to become scuffed and scratched. However, if this begins to happen shortly after restorative work or the scuffing/scratching is more pervasive than before, it may be because the finish used was too thick, there were actually too many coats of finish applied to the floor, or, just the opposite, not enough finish was applied. As mentioned earlier, applying four to six thin coats of finish to a stripped floor is considered a best practice. There can be other causes such as the wrong buffing pad is being used (too soft or too coarse), or very simply the floor is not being buffed or burnished frequently enough. Depending on foot traffic and desired look, the floor may need to be buffed/burnished as often as once per day.

Learning on the Job … a Big No No
A private school in California asked their custodial workers to strip and refinish their lobby and hallway floors. In the past, this work was outsourced to companies that specialize in restorative floor care. However, for budgetary reasons, administrators decided their own custodial crew should do the work, saving the school a considerable sum.

The custodial crew had little experience performing major floor care tasks. They asked their janitorial distributor for guidance. After about 30 minutes of instruction at the distributor’s location, they set out to strip and refinish the school’s floors.

This is called learning on the job and is much more common than administrators may realize or custodial workers may want to admit. The problem in this case, as with most such incidents, is that a variety of problems emerged after the restorative work had been completed, including virtually all those discussed here and more.

All cleaning work requires proper training and this is especially true when it comes to floors. Several nonprofit organizations — including the Clean Trust, formerly the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, as well as ISSA, the Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association, and Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI), both cleaning associations — offer floor care training courses. It’s best to learn the skill on their floors so it is done right on your school’s floors.
Huong Pham is Product Marketing Manager for Powr-Flite, a leading manufacturer of floor care products, tools, and equipment.  She may be reached through the company Web site at

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