Cleaning & Restoration Tools and Gadgets / Hard Floor Maintenance

Cleaning, Preserving and Protecting Hardwood Floors: An Ace-in-the-Hole Add-On

Preserving hardwood floors is simple and safe enough that with the right equipment, we could train the homeowner to do his/her own.

March 13, 2013

Hardwood preservation – how hardwood it be? (Ha!) My answer – not really hard at all! In fact, preserving hardwood floors is simple and safe enough that with the right equipment, we could train the homeowner to do his/her own. But let’s not – let’s save this lucrative market for you, the professional. 
I would like to review the needed tools in a moment, but first let me discuss the opportunity and market. 

I was talking to a gentleman the other day who helped finance his son into the carpet cleaning industry. He was lamenting the fact that his son was seeing more hardwood than he was carpet. This was discouraging to them until I explained that there were opportunities in hardwood preservation that they could offer their customers. And the bonus? You can make more per hour preserving hardwood floors than you can cleaning carpet. 
Indeed we are seeing more and more hardwood in our customers’ homes. Most of them love their floors and have expectations that they will last a long time. In fact, quality hardwood floors can last for generations. What your customers dread is the day they get enough wear and scratches that they will be faced with a re-sanding and recoat. It is very messy and very expensive. How might your customer feel when they find out that their trusted carpet cleaner can offer a service that will clean and protect the original floor and finish so they never have to face the awful sanding and they can have it done at a reasonable price?
Why do your customers want and need this service? The key word is “preservation.” Rather than selling them on the idea that you are going to “re-do” their floor, thus setting up unrealistic expectations, you sell the service as a deep cleaning followed by a preservation finish that is a wear coat designed to protect the original finish. The customer will love the improved look of the floor, knowing they have added years to its life and you will love the profitability of performing the work, which is usually twice what you earn per hour carpet cleaning.

The Systems

With some variation, there are basically two types of systems for cleaning, preserving and protecting hardwood floors. The end result in either case will be a clean floor with a fresh coat of an acrylic/urethane finish applied. 
One system in use for over 10 years involves a cleaning and roughing procedure performed with a rotary scrubber using maroon scrubbing pads. The maroon pad has built-in abrasive particles that will lightly “scratch” the surface of the existing finish, thus giving extra binding sites for the new finish to attach. Following this abrasion step, the floor needs to be well cleaned to remove any residue, and then the finish can be applied. While this procedure is a little more time consuming than the following system, it does facilitate excellent results and is still actively used today.  
The second system, and the one I prefer in most cases, involves the use of a counter-rotating brush machine that dispenses liquid cleaners, scrubs them and immediately picks them up with squeegees attached to an internal vacuum. In this process, after the floor has been vacuumed and/or dust-mopped, a special heavy-duty cleaner is run through the machine. This heavy-duty cleaner does chemically what the maroon pad does physically - it opens the pores of the existing finish allowing the new finish to firmly attach. Following the application of the initial heavy-duty cleaner, most systems call for running back over the floor with a neutral cleaner to give it one more cleaning in order to neutralize any alkaline residues.
Once the hardwood floor is cleaned and prepped, either a gloss or satin finish is chosen and then applied with a cotton or microfiber flat mop. A second coat may be applied but is usually not necessary. Application of the finish is simple and does not require expertise as it is self-leveling and flows easily. These finishes dry quickly and are ready for stocking feet (or shoe covers) in about an hour. Furniture can be placed within 24 hours and rugs within 48 hours.  

How to get going?

If you already own a rotatory scrubber, with just the purchase of a few accessories you can be ready to offer hardwood preservation. Having used the rotary scrubber system and the chemical system using a rotating brush machine with extraction, I much prefer the later. I find it to be faster and safer by avoiding the possible mistakes that can be made as you abrade a floor.  
There are several machines on the market to choose from. They include single brush machines as well as larger dual counter-rotating brush machines. The prices range from approximately $1,500 to $3,600. I have worked with all of them and they all work. The choice will be made as you look at value, effectiveness and productivity. Your local distributor can help guide you with this decision.  
In addition to the machine you will need the chemistry (cleaners and finish), which are usually available in quarts or gallons. 
Other needs:
  • Flat mop: This will be used to pick up any drips or puddles as you clean the floor. The same mop with a new cover can then be used to apply the finish.
  • Spray bottles, towels, scrub pad: Some corners, tight spots and under toe kicks may require a little hand work. Use the cleaning chemical and a red or maroon pad to clean and prepare these areas by hand and then wipe up with towels. Some of this may be easily handled using the flat mop while standing up. I like to have a couple of small hand pump sprayers with both the heavy duty and neutral cleaner.
  • Alcohol: Some customers will have applied waxes or store-bought finishes to their hardwood. Applying a small amount of alcohol to the floor will help you to see if this has happened based on a cloudy finish appearing. Some of these can be easily removed. On rare occasions, however, it may be a good idea to walk away from others. 
  • Shoe covers: I wear them while doing the floor and then leave several pairs for the customers to use over the next few days. While the floor is dry to walk on after an hour, curing to its maximum hardness can take four or five days.
  • Masking tape: Transitional areas that go from the hardwood to tile, carpet or other surfaces should be masked to prevent contamination with the cleaner or finishes. It will be a personal decision as to whether you mask baseboards and other surfaces. I have done it with and without. If you are using the rotary with the maroon pad, damage could more easily be done to the baseboards, so masking may be in your best interest. When using the scrubbing extraction machines, I have found less need for masking the baseboards. 
So once you find the system you like, learn all you can and then go practice on your mother-in-law’s hardwood floor. She is going to love you (it’s a special love only a mother-in-law can have) no matter what the results. You should find that the system is relatively easy and the floor will look great. You may want to do another floor or two in your own home or for another relative to gain necessary experience before offering the service to your regular customers. But perhaps most importantly - don’t be afraid of this, it is easy and profitable.

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