Can You Identify That Floor?

November 6, 2003
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Laminates, ceramic and wood, oh my.


The phone rings. A potential customer wants to know if you clean floors. "Absolutely," you say. "We perform cleaning services for both carpet and hard floors."
"How much does it cost to clean them?" the prospect asks.
"It depends on the type of floor," you reply. "What type of floor covering do you have?"
"I'm not really sure," she says. "Does it matter?"

Everyone in this industry has had to answer this question at one time or another. One of the primary problems encountered by hard-floor maintenance professionals is that most individuals do not understand there are differences between hard floor coverings.

Sometimes it is assumed that if you have cleaned one floor, you have cleaned them all. You can help customers understand these differences by explaining the categories and classifications of hard floor coverings.

Just because a floor covering is hard does not mean that it is to be treated exactly the same as all other hard floor coverings; following this line of thought will lead you down a path that will ultimately culminate in some form of liability. There are general daily/routine maintenance procedures that can be applied to most floor coverings, but understanding floor coverings completely helps differentiate procedures for periodic and salvage/restorative levels of floor maintenance. This is very important because chemicals, equipment and pads and brushes that are essential for maintaining some floor coverings may damage others.

Categories identify floor coverings that have general common characteristics. They may have similar physical properties or comparable materials in their makeup that tell us a lot about what can and cannot be used safely on it. There are basically six categories of hard floor coverings: Clay/masonry, concrete, resilient, specialty, stone and wood.

Although knowing the category helps to identify what the material is made of (which helps in chemistry selection), the classification will delineate the more subtle characteristics of the material that define the exact cleaning methodology required. Understanding the different classes within a category is what makes you the professional.

Clay/masonry floor coverings are made from clay and are fired at high temperatures. They are either dust pressed or extruded, and include porcelain, ceramic (glazed or unglazed), quarry tiles and brick. Although terra cotta tiles are sun dried or dried at low temperatures, they are also included in the clay/masonry group.

Concrete floor coverings traditionally have been used as a functional floor surface in the industrial environment. Industrial concrete still comes in many grades to combat the warehouse environment, but today concrete is entering into many markets that it has not traditionally been seen, including retail, bulk good stores and other commercial environments.

Pigmented concrete carries a color throughout the entire body of the material (mixed in matrix). Stained concrete can have a penetrating or topical stain on the surface. Designer concrete is poured or shaped into geometric or artistic designs. Exposed aggregate are floors with small to large pebbles exposed on the surface of the concrete.

Stone floor coverings include granite, quartzite, slate, serpentine, marble, limestone, travertine, sandstone, terrazzo and agglomerate. These are the primary classifications in the stone category, though there are others that are not so common. Some would place the terrazzo and agglomerate floor coverings in the concrete category because they may have a cement binder, But because both classifications contain a minimum of 70 percent stone (generally granite or marble) chips, their true alignment is in the stone category.

The maintenance methods used for daily/routine maintenance are consistent with most floor coverings, but periodic and salvage/restorative maintenance procedures can differ greatly. The methods of maintenance include diamond abrasives, powder polishes, acid polishing and/or crystallization, or applications of penetrating or impregnating sealants. Although stone associations do not recommend it, there are many stone floor coverings that are being maintained with conventional resilient floor coating chemical systems. In fact, floor maintenance for terrazzo and agglomerate classifications has traditionally been performed with resilient chemical systems and procedures. It is always my recommendation to follow the manufacturer's maintenance methods.

The resilient floor covering classifications include, but are not limited to, linoleum, cork, rubber, sheet vinyl (inlaid, heterogeneous and homogeneous), solid vinyl luxury tile, vinyl composition tile, vinyl asbestos tile, non-vinyl luxury tile, asphalt tile and polymeric poured seamless floors. These are the most common floor coverings and fall in the category that most technicians feel comfortable maintaining, but always be cautious; damage can occur in some classifications if improper maintenance methods are used.

Specialty floor coverings are made of special materials or require special maintenance procedures. Specialty floor coverings are a rather ubiquitous category in that they can be made of products that occupy other floor covering categories. ESD floor coverings, for example, are classifications of floors designed to control electrostatic discharge. This classification can be made of materials from the other categories; however, they will be maintained differently because of the ESD function. The same is true of safety flooring; the material used to make the floor a safety floor sets it aside from the base category because of the maintenance involved. Other specialty classifications include raised flooring; metal; glass; and recycled materials.

Poured or epoxy floors are seamless floors for industrial and highly soiled environments. Traditionally this floor covering has occupied the resilient category, but because they are often found with some form of non-slip material they are generally considered special. Laminate flooring at one time occupied the wood category, but now laminates are made from some materials other than wood by-products.

Wood floor coverings constitute those coverings that are made of solid or engineered wood. Wood coverings are a difficult category to maintain because of the inherent sensitivity to water and abrasives. This category can be a very difficult to perform the salvage/restorative maintenance services on because the service procedure may incorporate sanding and refinishing. Wood, being a relatively soft material when compared with other floor coverings, requires a skill set that is more fine-tuned than that needed for any of the other categories.

Identifying hard floor coverings is the first thing that an apprentice floor care specialist should learn. By identifying the floor covering accurately, you are demonstrating that you are a professional hard floor maintenance specialist. Recognizing this, most potential customers will listen to what you have to say, because they know you have their best interest in mind.

Understanding hard-floor categories and classifications is very important. When speaking with both new and existing clients, find a few extra minutes and discuss with them why floor-covering identification is the first step to a successful floor maintenance program.

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