Hard Floor Maintenance

Wood Flooring: Low Maintenance Doesn't Mean No Maintenance

March 1, 2012
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The popularity of wood flooring has grown considerably in the last decade. The elegant appearance of wood flooring is so popular, that other categories are literally embedding pictures of wood in their products.

The popularity of wood flooring has grown considerably in the last decade. The elegant appearance of wood flooring is so popular, that other categories are literally embedding pictures of wood in their products under durable wear layers (even concrete can be stained to have the appearance of wood). Although all these imposters may look like wood – they’re not. Wood is wood and there is nothing else like it.

Wood flooring has many properties and characteristics that make it very appealing to everyone: It is warm and inviting, has a distinct sound when you walk on it and, in a way, makes you feel regal. With marketing strategies from wood flooring manufacturers claiming durability and ease of cleaning, many consumers purchase it without a maintenance program in mind. The new wood flooring looks great and the consumer is very happy with the product. That is, until it doesn’t quite look like new anymore. Then it hits them - what do I do now? Sometimes the consumer waits too long and blames the manufacturer for selling them a wood floor that did not meet their expectations.

Wood flooring has evolved over the years from exclusively solid strip, slat and plank to include engineered wood (laminated), laminate (high density fiberboard) and even the grass bamboo. Coating technology has also evolved, bringing better heavy-duty wear layers that can withstand a greater deal of punishment. That being said, regardless of better construction and durable wear layers, Mother Nature will always find a way to challenge the best of the best. If wind, rain and sand can erode away the great pyramids of Egypt, what chance does a thin polymeric film have against the same conditions, plus foot traffic?

There have been many occasions where individuals are not happy with their wood flooring because it doesn’t look good after a few months. When asked about the maintenance program, it is surprising to find out how many refer to the low maintenance program they thought they bought. The manufacturer representative may have told them all the properties and characteristics about the coating and how it repels soil and resists scratching, but that does not mean that the floor can survive without any maintenance at all. Unfortunately, often times, the term “low maintenance” is interpreted as “no maintenance.”

Regardless of how hard the wood is, or how durable that wear layer is, it is not as hard as rock. And there is a significant amount of soil that is eroded rocks. Yes, when we think of soil, we may think of dirt - the stuff we plant in - but when you look at that soil under a microscope, you may be surprised to see that you are looking at a lot of different materials. Sure, some of it will be dead decomposing organic matter (i.e., dirt), but a considerable amount will be made up of minerals, sand, silica and micro-grit. These are the culprits that really cause damage. These erosive materials get caught between the flat of the shoe and the wood floor surface and act like sand paper - slowly, yet methodically, eroding the surface. The microscopic erosion dulls the surface, causing it to look unsightly, and can ultimately erode through the protective coating.

Protective coatings may minimize the erosive effects, but they will not eliminate them. The only way to eliminate erosion is to eliminate the soil that causes it. This can be accomplished by not allowing anyone or anything into your building, but that is not realistic. So the next best thing is to combat the soil. Stopping soil before it enters the facility is the job of the walk-off mat. Using a matting system at the entrance will help reduce the amount of erosion significantly. In fact, there are studies that indicate that five feet of matting will reduce soil that enters a building by 33%; 10 feet, 52%; 20 feet, 86%; and 25 feet will virtually remove almost all soil. The walk-off mat is an essential component of the low maintenance program. Additional area rugs throughout the facility will capture some of the remaining soil and add an additional highlight to the floor.

However, the soil that does get past the entry mat will require removal. The primary methods for removing dry particulate soil are to sweep, dust mop, use a microfiber cloth system or vacuum. Removing the dry particulate on a frequent basis will diminish dry soils from scratching the surface.

Not all soil is in the form of dry particulate, and when a binder is added to the soil it will adhere to the floor, making it more difficult to remove. Wet solution methods are incorporated to remove the soils that adhere to the floor. Damp mopping is the primary method for removing light to moderate soiling conditions, as well as the method that is most practiced. There are a number of methods offered to the consumer market that embrace the microfiber applicator. These include spray and steam cleaning units. Although these systems may work fine for the homeowner, the commercial environment is a lot different. When evaluating solution methods, keep in mind that the amount of solution should be minimized to reduce the potential of separation, warping, buckling and bowing. Generally speaking, commercial environments are more heavily trafficked than residential environments.

Most wood floors today can expect to stay in pretty good looking condition by simply performing these aforementioned service functions on a regular basis. The low maintenance flooring system will incorporate an exceptional walk-off matting system to reduce the amount of soil entering the facility. Dry particulate soil will be removed frequently based on the amount of foot traffic entering the building. Damp mopping or other wet solution methods will be incorporated to remove light to moderate soiling before it can build-up and become unsightly. Unfortunately, the most beautiful wood floors will ultimately get scratched and damaged, which goes well beyond the scope of low maintenance and into the realm of periodic and restorative maintenance methods, but that is a topic for another time.

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