How to Protect Your Hard-Floor Care Program Against Winter Hazards

March 8, 2005
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For a child, winter means snowball fights, sled rides and snow days. For adults, winter brings the annoying sniffles, loads of shoveling, and de-icer for the car windshield. For floor-cleaning professionals - thanks to rock salt, calcium chloride and sloppy puddles - winter means a host of hazards that can threaten a floor-care program.

And with winter already bringing record snowfalls across the country this year, it's no secret that winter elements will continue to be tracked onto your flooring. These elements left untreated can quickly take a toll. Considering what your floors are battling, it's important to recognize some of winter's worst offenders:

  • Ice melting products, like rock salt and calcium chloride, are used across the country. These products, tracked in by building visitors, can quickly eat away at the floor finish. Additionally, calcium chloride can produce a "slime" on the floor, which can increase the wet-floor slip hazard.
  • Sand and grit gather on the bottoms of shoes and can make their way into floors, which can add abrasions to the flooring.
  • In the winter, people tend to wear heavier shoes or boots - with grooves perfect for collecting grime and salt. These shoes can pound and grind tracked-in dirt into the floor. Boots can also hold water, which can cause more slip hazards.
  • Standing water (from puddles, shoes, etc.) can dull the finish in spots.
  • When it's cold outside, people tend to flock inside at places like malls, supermarkets and retail establishments. This influx of people - with winter's mess on their shoes - can wreak havoc on the floor.

    According to Tim Jarnagin of Minuteman International, Inc., an Addison, Ill.- based manufacturer of commercial, industrial and institutional cleaning equipment, winter elements can also impact your bottom line. "Above all, winter weather can force you to alter your floor-care program," he says. "This can potentially cost more money over time."

    But the good news is that the hazards of winter don't have to spell disaster for your floor-care programs. It all boils down to implementing a sound four-step maintenance program that will protect floors from the harsh elements and will delay the most expensive part of floor care - stripping and refinishing.

    Evaluate Your Matting System
    The best way to prevent sand, rock salt and calcium chloride from being tracked onto flooring is with an effective matting system. "A matting system can be your biggest defense against winter," says Ken McEwan, director of retail floor care for Coverall Cleaning Concepts. "You must have adequate matting at all entrances to stop winter soils at the door."

    According to McEwan, a winter matting system should provide effective cleaning to remove debris from shoes. "Winter soils can be stopped at the door if you have a matting system that is designed to remove grit and soils from the soles of shoes and to catch and hold a lot of moisture so they leave shoes completely clean and dry," he said.

    Entrance mats that become soiled should be cleaned, or replaced if they get too messy. If they are ignored, they can become saturated with water and elements that can be quickly transferred to other parts of the building. "Checking mats regularly is key to making sure they do not become so soiled and saturated that they no longer prevent tracking in of moisture," McEwan said.

    A sound mat program has three stages:
    1. Exterior coarse matting to knock off gross soils and snow and slush.
    2. Foyer matting, usually recessed-well matting for further soil removal, and
    3. Interior entry absorbent matting for final moisture removal. In the winter, extra interior (absorbent) matting is recommended to extend the matting, given the increased need for moisture removal during this season.

    Daily Floor Care
    While an effective matting system is essential in the winter, performing daily maintenance on a floor that is littered with tracked-in winter elements is your best bet to removing particulate soil, a major cause of floor wear and discoloration. During this harsh weather, the frequency of daily cleaning should be increased in order to remove as much salt or soil as possible. After all, the alternative is soil build-up, which will quickly wear on the floor finish, as well as the slipping hazards of wet floors.

    Vacuum carpet and walk-off mats frequently. In addition to walk-off mats, the carpet near the building's entrance can quickly become filled with winter's hazards. Daily vacuuming will help ensure that dirt is removed from the carpet fibers and mats and will prevent the dirt from being transferred from the carpet and eventually ground into the flooring.

    Dust mop to remove grit and soil from the finished floor surface. This is an essential step to remove the loose soil and dirt. It's important to start with a clean mop head, and the dust-mop treatment should be quick-drying and oil-free.

    Damp-mop to remove soil. During daily damp-mopping, it's important to choose a floor cleaner based on its soil-removal capability, especially particulate soil. Removing the soil will reduce the frequency of costly scrub and recoats. After all, dirt and grit that are left behind by inadequate cleaning can accelerate wear and darkening of the finish.

    Damp mopping the entrance ways - where the majority of salt and winter hazards will collect - is especially important during the winter to prevent the elements from being tracked further into the building.

    Auto-scrubbing in place of damp mopping, if possible, is particularly effective for tough winter cleaning because it always uses clean solution on the floors.

    "Daily maintenance is the single most important step in any floor care program because it's designed to remove soils and minimize damage to the finish," McEwan said. "In the winter, this is even more important because you are dealing with harsher elements. Those elements can quickly eat away at the finish, which will ultimately lead to expensive maintenance measures like stripping and refinishing."

    Preventive Floor Care
    Burnishing is needed to remove surface imperfections that cannot be repaired with daily maintenance. The key is to remove particulate soil first or it can be ground into the floor. Preventative measures are designed to prevent or delay the more expensive maintenance.

    Interim Floor Care
    Scrubbing and recoating typically take place when flooring shows soiling. This is an expensive step that can be extended if you employ daily and preventative maintenance measures. Reducing this frequency will lower the total retail floor care cost. In extreme cases, this may be needed as a mid- to late-winter floor rejuvenation step but, with proper daily floor care, this step may be delayed until early spring to get the floor back to its desired appearance.

    Restorative Floor Care
    As a floor-care cleaning professional, you are well aware that the most expensive part of a floor-care program is stripping and refinishing because it essentially means starting over. Extending the time between these costly processes will lower your total floor care program cost. This can be the biggest lever for reducing those costs.

    During the harsh winter months, the bottom line is to follow a sound maintenance program that includes daily maintenance measures that are designed to remove the snow, ice, salt and dirt. After all, if you choose not to remove these harsh elements, then you will find yourself implementing the more costly maintenance areas of floor care, which will greatly increase the cost of the program.

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