Periodic Maintenance for Natural Stone Flooring

The definition of a floor is "the inside bottom surface of any room." If you are in a room, you will be on a floor. Gravity will take care of the rest as, ultimately, everything ends up on the floor.

The definition of a floor is “the inside bottom surface of any room.” If you are in a room, you will be on a floor. Gravity will take care of the rest, as everything ultimately ends up on the floor.

Microscopic minerals and soils, in conjunction with moisture and foot traffic, will slowly and methodically scratch the flooring surface. It will start off as traffic patterns, and ultimately end up as erosion.

Given the fact that mountains are worn away by erosion, what chance does a floor have? We are seeing more stone floors now than we ever, both in the commercial and residential sectors. This gives the floor maintenance technician an opportunity to expand their offering to include natural-stone maintenance.

Many technicians shy away from this type of floor maintenance, believing the liability is too high and that a mistake would cost them dearly. True, there is the potential of liability, but that is possible with any floor that a technician may be working on.

The reality of natural stone flooring? It’s a collection of rocks, and as such, they have been weathering the elements for millions of years.

When we put a stone floor in and polish it, what we are doing in essence is speeding up the erosion process by abrading the surface with diamonds. We start with course diamonds and end with fine diamonds.

By controlling the scratches the diamonds make, we smooth the surface to a point of reflectivity: the finer the diamonds, the higher the gloss. Initially, this process may be done at the quarry, the fabrication site or the job site.  

Regardless of where the polishing process takes place, the end result is a honed or highly reflective floor. The question becomes, how do we keep it that way?

Once the flooring is down, it will be subjected to the erosive effects of foot traffic. The amount of erosion will be predicated by the environmental soiling conditions and the amount of traffic the floor is exposed to.

To reduce the potential of the floor being scratched by microscopic grit that will cause traffic patterns, a floor maintenance program is required.

Initial maintenance may be nothing more than mopping the floor after installation. Many stone floors are polished at the quarry or fabrication site and require only a little clean up after installation.

In heavy-traffic environments, such as hotel lobbies and casinos, a powder-polishing program may be set up as initial maintenance to set the floor right off the bat. Most, though, will just be installed, and maintenance will start off with the normal routine.

Daily or routine maintenance starts with a good walk-off-mat program. Keeping the soil outside is a good method of reducing erosion inside the building.

Walk-off-mat programs should really include three types of matting. Scrapping mats are placed outside and scrape large debris from shoes. Grass or absorbent mats help remove moisture, and fiber mats collect fine soil and finish drying the shoe.

The length of mats will also help in reducing the amount of soil allowed into the facility; the longer the mat, the higher percentage of soil reduction.

Removing soil that has gotten by the matting program can be accomplished with brooms, dust mops, microfiber systems or vacuums. The objective is to remove dry soils before they can cause damage. Frequency will be dictated by the amount of traffic entering the facility.

Some superficial, light and moderate soil may be picked up with one of the mopping procedures: spot, damp, or wet mopping. Using clean water and changing it frequently for large areas will remove even more soil from the surface.

Over a period of time, even with the best matting program and daily/routine maintenance, the floor will begin to lose its gloss and deteriorate. When traffic patterns begin to appear, periodic maintenance will be needed.

Periodic maintenance for stone floors may incorporate crystallization methods, powder-polishing methods, diamond-encrusted pads, diamond-maintenance pads or by diamond-abrasive discs. Some stone floor manufacturers suggest floor finish programs that treat the floor pretty much the same as a resilient floor. 

Crystallization methods are used on calcium carbonate (limestone, marble and travertine) flooring, and consist of using a fluorosilicate polishing chemical on the floor surface. The combination of the fluorosilicate with the calcium carbonate causes the calcium carbonate to change into calcium fluorite, which hardens the surface of the stone and gives it some reflectivity.

Powder polishing consists of using hot or cold powders in combination with other ingredients to restore gloss to the floor. Hot powders are chemicals such as oxalic acid that influence the stone to have a chemical reaction and cause the surface to “flow.”

The combination of chemicals will crystallize and smooth the surface and increase reflectivity. Cold-powder polishes, which might be used for harder stones such as granite and serpentine, combine diamond-abrasive material in the polish and actually abrade the surface without a chemical reaction.

Periodic maintenance methods have changed over the years, and include some methods that are relatively easy and simple to use. Diamond-abrasive pads are becoming more available. Small 3-inch pads have been available for some time, and there are newer, diamond-encrusted full-size pad systems.

Each system has different-size abrasives that go from coarse grits to fine grits, and allow the technician to restore the gloss level to light-to-moderate traffic wear patterns. Stone flooring technicians use the same diamond discs that they use for restoration.

When the technician specializes in stone flooring, he or she will usually have the more expensive diamond discs available anyway.

The periodic maintenance is now much easier for the floor maintenance technician to accomplish due to the options available, leading more and more professionals to look into this lucrative category.  

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