Hard Floor Maintenance

Type and Cross: Rx for Wood Floors

For the last decade, new flooring sales have demonstrated that carpet sales are on the decline, while hard surface flooring is on the rise.

For the last decade, new flooring sales have demonstrated that carpet sales are on the decline while hard surface flooring sales are on the rise. Concrete, stone, ceramic and resilient flooring materials are very active, but wood flooring sales have increased considerably both in the residential and the commercial markets.

Granted, new wood flooring sold is still short of carpet and resilient, but it surpassed ceramic to take the number three spot. This rise in new wood flooring sales over the past few years has generated a need for floor maintenance as they age. The floor maintenance technician will undoubtedly be called on to maintain them, so it is in their best interest to have a primary understanding of identifying wood flooring types and the maintenance methodologies.

Wood flooring materials have become so popular that there are a number of products that are imposters posing as wood. Some of these charlatans are not even made of wood such as concrete and resilient.  Resilient solid vinyl printed film will look like wood (it is a picture), but it has no wood in it at all. The same can be said about laminate flooring; although it may be made out of wood byproducts, what you see is a picture of wood flooring under a heavy melamine wear layer. Bamboo which has become immensely popular, is a grass often mistaken for wood.

So, the first thing the technician must do is to identify whether what they are working on is wood at all. The discussion of wood flooring types begins with the botanical classification of hardwood or softwood. Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, meaning they lose their leaves in winter and softwoods come from conifers, trees that do not lose their leaves in winter. As a general statement, hardwoods used for flooring materials are generally more durable and wear better than softwoods.

Flooring material will be either solid wood: one solid piece of wood cut into strips or planks, or engineered wood: a combination of softwood cross layered under a veneer of hardwood. Most wood flooring is a tongue and groove, which gives them an interlocking capability and the ability to hide the nails or staples used to attach them. Solid wood flooring will invariably be nailed or stapled to the substrate, whereas engineered wood has more dimensional flexibility which allows them to be glued down in some situations as well.

Traditionally, solid wood flooring is sanded and finished on site, but both solid or engineered wood flooring can and often do have factory finishes applied during the fabrication process. This gives the customer a finished floor without having to deal with wood dust and the unpleasant odors associated with floor seals and finishes. These coatings can be a number of products from penetrating seals to urethanes/polyurethanes and even include heat impregnated acrylics.

Whether finished in the factory or on site, the installed wood floor is now exposed to the effects of erosion and it is the floor maintenance technician’s responsibility to keep it looking as good as new. Wood is much softer than many other flooring materials, even when coated with the most durable coatings on the market. Therefore they have more potential for damage when exposed to soil and traffic conditions.

The most important aspect of maintaining a wood floor is to minimize the soil within the building. If soil is not present, it cannot damage the floor. Stop or slow down the amount of soil trafficked onto the floor by incorporating a good walk off matting program. Due to the sensitivity of wood flooring, a longer walk off mat is preferable for capturing more soil.

Of course all of the soil will not be contained at the door and some will be moved throughout the building. A good portion of that soil will be just beyond the reach of the walk off mats and will lessen the further you get from the entries. Dry service procedures such as sweeping, dust mopping (yarn or microfiber cloth systems), and vacuuming, especially in the entries, will reduce a significant amount of soil.

If these service procedures are performed multiple times a day, the soil will be contained considerably and cause minimal damage. Conversely, performing these services infrequently will allow soil to continually scratch the surface dulling the appearance and creating traffic patterns.

Damp mopping a wood floor is not sacrilege; there will be times when damp mopping will be necessary. The main thing to remember is that even though wood flooring is water sensitive, it will not disintegrate on contact. Cleaning solutions used in moderation and thoroughly dried after cleaning are completely acceptable for routine and periodic maintenance.

What you don’t want to do is apply cleaning solution liberally and allow it to dwell on the surface. This allows the moisture to get between the slats or tiles and migrate to the lowest point. Trapped solution has the potential for warping and buckling the wood.

Periodic maintenance for wood floors is often a spray buff system in aerosol or pump sprayer applications. Many times these products are sold by the manufacturer of the product installed. It is a usually a simple process of spraying a small area with the product and buffing it until it is dry. These products fill in the superficial scratches and restore gloss to the floor.

There is also a relatively new technology in automatic scrubbing machines designed specifically for wood that utilize technology that allows for deep cleaning without damaging the finish. Like traditional automatic scrubbing machines, they apply solution, agitate with brushes specifically designed for wood and extract the contaminated solution all in one motion.

The beauty of these machines is that they remove the solution almost completely, which reduces or eliminates the potential of standing water. Additionally, topical treatments are available that can be applied after cleaning that do not require sanding. As this technology evolves, it is sure to extend the useful life expectancy of wood flooring. An added extra benefit is if the periodic maintenance of wood flooring is made easier, it may be performed more frequently reducing the amount of erosive materials that the floor is exposed to and improving the appearance for a much longer time.

Matting programs, daily/ routine and periodic maintenance can help to reduce the amount of minor erosion, but ultimately the floor will give way to damage. Superficial scratches are one thing, but deep scratches and erosion of the coating to the bare wood is another thing all together.

Unfortunately wood flooring like all flooring will at some point require restorative maintenance. Sanding and refinishing for solid wood and surface screening for engineered wood followed by applications of new coatings are the traditional methodologies for restoring these floors.

There is a lot more a floor maintenance technician needs to learn to pursue restorative maintenance for wood flooring. Depth of knowledge includes the type of flooring, the species, the cut, and the grade of the wood they will be working on. How those floors are sanded and refinished can change based on geographic location, humidity, traffic conditions and other criteria.

In addition the skilled wood floor maintenance technician will have to possess an extensive understanding of the different coatings available. There are a multitude of different coating products on the market designed specifically for wood flooring from which the technician will choose.

These products are much more difficult to work with and some are quite odiferous requiring the areas to be vacated when the services are performed. Before one even attempts to perform advanced restorative maintenance on a wood floor it is recommended to get training.

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