Floor Maintenance Enemy No. 1

October 10, 2007
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Sometimes we forget what floor maintenance is all about. Whether cleaning a commercial facility, a residence or an industrial campus, it all boils down to identifying and controlling soil. Make no qualms about it; soil is floor maintenance enemy No. 1, it needs to be removed and the floor maintenance technician is the enforcer charged to do it.

When we think of soil, we usually think of the earthen material found outside, something in which we might plant flowers. When performing floor maintenance, however, soil identification demands more than vague generalizations. It is essential to identify soil correctly because it will impact the selection of cleaning chemicals, equipment, tools and supplies, and dictate which service procedures to use to combat it.

Soil encompasses a broad spectrum of materials, both solid and liquid. Regardless of whether it is large debris, minute particles, organic or synthetic, all soils ultimately end up on the floor and work away at the surface.

Dry particulate soil is generally small and not adhered to the surface. These small particles are not the only type of dry soil found on the floor; there are conditions that result in large debris such as trash, paper, organic materials and refuse, any of which will have to be removed before attacking the smaller particles.

Those smaller particles are usually referred to as grit, and may be classified as rough particles made up of fragmented rocks and minerals. When looked at closely, some of these particles may possess sharp edges that ultimately scratch the surface of the flooring causing what are called traffic patterns. Grit can cause irreversible damage to the floor, making replacement necessary if allowed to erode through the flooring material. The removal of grit is necessary to reduce these erosive factors.

Dirt is a combination of soil from dead and decaying plant-like material bonded with water. It most often contains particles of grit that may be microscopic but still causes damage. Dirt is usually carried into the environment from the outside, with foot traffic being the most common vehicle. Most facilities will have a matting program to stop some of this soil, but not all. Dust is the accumulation of microscopic motes that are present in all environments and are continuously deposited on the floor surface. In some environments, powders may be introduced. These extremely fine particles are very difficult to remove and require special brooms or cloth dusting systems. In some situations, multiple dry service procedures may be incorporated to eliminate them.

Dry particulates, such as dust, dirt, sand and grit, combine with binders to create what we generally refer to as soil. Binders are usually liquid in nature with varying viscosities, water being the most common. When combined with grit and sand, soil will adhere to shoes and become an abrasive compound that grinds away the floor surface. The difficulty of removal will be gauged by the combination of dry particulate and binder.

Synthetic binders are usually considered petroleum products such as oils and greases, and are very difficult to remove. Their natural aversion to water stipulates the use of cleaning chemicals to remove them. In situations of heavy petroleum soiling it may be necessary to increase cleaning chemical potency and/or dilution ratio to enhance cleaning capability.

In addition to synthetic binders, there are binders from natural sources such as plants and animals that can contribute to advanced soiling conditions. Examples of natural binders include cooking grease made from animal fat and vegetable oil. These will also require the use of cleaning chemistry to remove them. Usually, high-alkaline products such as all-purpose cleaners and degreasers will be needed to remove these stubborn soils.

Keep in mind that if you do not rinse the floor after using high-alkaline products, you may be contributing to the problem. Cleaning chemicals can act as a soil binder if they are not completely rinsed off the floor. Detergents attract and hold soil by design; if excessive detergent residue is left on the floor, it will attract additional soil. The result will be that the floor will become dirty quicker, requiring maintenance more frequently.

The ability of the technician to identify the different levels of soiling can help in the design of the floor maintenance program. Spots and spills occur in any facility and are usually organic in nature. Drinks are the usual culprit, but spots and spills also occur from leaking garbage bags, equipment or foreign material. Superficial soiling is dry particulates, such as dust dirt and sand, that is lying on the surface of the floor. Light soiling is slightly adhered to the surface of the floor and will require some combination of mopping and cleaning chemical. Moderate soiling is combined with a liquid binder and adhered to the floor. This type of soil may require machine agitation to remove. Heavy soiling has a liquid binder that has penetrated into the floor finish. Petroleum, grease and fat soiling are very difficult to remove; it requires specific chemicals and machine agitation. Embedded soiling has been ground into the floor finish, but is still exposed on the surface; encapsulated soiling happens when soil is trapped between coats of floor finish.

The environment of a facility will dictate the ease or difficulty of soil removal; the ability of the technician to identify the soiling condition helps in selecting the appropriate service procedure for removing it. The floor maintenance program is designed specifically for the removal of soil in any facility, and is built on understanding soil.

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