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Cleaning Chemicals for Hard-Floor Maintenance

December 10, 2004
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Chemicals are an integral part of the floor maintenance system. Without them, hard-floor maintenance would not be possible.

Cleaning chemicals differ in their detergency properties; each cleaning chemical is designed with specific cleaning tasks in mind, ranging from general, light cleaning to heavy-duty industrial cleaning. They are manufactured and distributed as ready-to-use products or they may be concentrated. All hard-floor cleaning chemicals perform best when used in strict accordance with manufacturer recommendations.

Before using any new or untried cleaning agents, it is highly recommended that you read the instructions. Familiarize yourself with the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) as well as any other literature included with the purchase. Understanding what you are using and how to use it will certainly help to eliminate unfortunate incidents.

The pH Chart
pH measures the level of acidity or alkalinity of a product to determine its classification. The pH scale ranges from 0-14, with distilled water at absolute neutral with a pH factor of 7.

Acidic properties register below a pH factor of 7, with the degree of acidity increasing as the pH numeric value decreases. Alkaline properties occupy the upper range with a pH factor above 7, the degree of alkalinity increasing as the pH numeric value increases. For each degree of alkalinity or acidity, the effects are increased by a factor of 10, i.e. 6 is 10 times more acidic than 7 and 5 is 10 times more acidic than 6. The same is true on the alkalinity side of the scale: 8 is 10 times more alkaline than 7 and 9 is 10 more times alkaline than 8.

Neutral Cleaners
The term "neutral cleaner" is somewhat misleading because neutral cleaners may not be truly neutral; they are generally close to 7 on the pH scale, so we call them neutral. They are considered so because they possess the ability to clean without damaging the floor finish. This makes neutral cleaners an invaluable component in the floor maintenance program.

Neutral cleaners are primarily used for daily/routine and periodic maintenance service procedures such as mopping and scrubbing. Neutral cleaners may allow the technician to extend the time between costly periodic floor maintenance services by preserving the existing floor finish. They are safe enough to use in an automatic scrubbing machine and versatile enough to use in almost every type of environment that requires low soil removal. Neutral cleaners are safe enough for anyone to use; all that is required is that you read and follow the instructions.

Conditioning Products
Conditioning products are coating products used for restoring gloss to the floor finish. These products are most often used in the high-speed and ultra high-speed systems and are very similar in performance to restorers. Unlike restorers that leave a thin polymeric film on the floor finish, though, conditioners generally do not contain polymers and work by chemically altering the floor finish to achieve the same objective, causing a chemical reaction on a molecular level that allows the finish to respond better when burnished.

All-Purpose or General-Purpose Cleaners
All-purpose or general-purpose cleaning chemicals are more powerful than neutral cleaners and are alkaline. All-purpose cleaners are most frequently used in environments that require removal of more-stubborn types of soil. Facilities with heavy foot-traffic and soiling find that all-purpose cleaners are better suited for the job than neutral cleaners.

Care should be taken when using all-purpose cleaners for daily/routine maintenance such as wet mopping; there is a fine line between removing soil and removing floor finish. Monitor dilution ratios closely and be sure to use them according to manufacturer recommendations.

Periodic hard-floor maintenance, generally classified as a medium, heavy or aggressive scrubbing, incorporates the use of all-purpose cleaners in conjunction with scrubbing machines and abrasive pads. These maintenance procedures effectively remove the top layers of finish and dirt, cleaning the surface of the floor without removing the lower coats of floor finish. Always rinse the floor well when using higher-alkaline all-purpose cleaners, especially before applying new coats of floor finish.

Sanitizing Chemicals
The main objective of a sanitizing chemical is to kill germs and bacteria. They are used in hospitals and related buildings, as well as day-care facilities, nursing homes and other environments where communicable, infectious materials exist.

Sanitizing chemicals are of two varieties, quaternary cleaners and phenol cleaners. There are also milder forms of sanitizing chemicals, such as pine oils and bleach. Quaternary cleaners have a very high level of disinfecting and a broader range of killing capabilities than phenols. They have excellent odor control and are less toxic and generally less irritating to use.

Phenol cleaners specialize in the killing of particular types of germs and are generally used where tuberculosis is present.

Sanitizing chemicals perform best when left on the floor to dwell, which can be hard on floor finishes. The use of sanitizers can sometimes cause dulling, yellowing and tackiness of the floor finish. It is important to thoroughly rinse the floor with clean water to remove contaminates that may leave residues.

Degreasers
Degreasers are high-alkaline products developed to deal with the problems of removing fats, greases and oils. These products range in alkalinity and are used in many environments: industrial, automotive, mechanical, food processing and kitchens.

Degreasers are most typically used on concrete or clay-type flooring that does not have finish on it, but they can also be valuable in maintaining vinyl flooring that is subject to the same grease-related soils. Use care when using degreasers on floors that have floor finish on them; if these products are mixed too strong they can dull and even remove the floor finish from the floor.

Butyl Cleaners
Butyl-type cleaners are degreasers with the chemical butyl added, which makes them even more affective on the most stubborn types of grease and oil. Butyl cleaners have been and are still used as strippers for removal of old floor finish. Although this practice effectively removes the finish, in some cases it can damage the flooring as well.

The danger of the chemical seeping between tiles and attacking the adhesive underneath has the potential of creating additional problems. It is generally better to use a stripping chemical when removing a floor finish.

Stripping Chemicals
Floor-stripping chemicals are designed to remove old floor finish, generally high alkaline (sometimes bordering on caustic) and requiring rinsing to neutralize the alkalinity before the application of floor seals and/or finishes. The new generation of rinse-free strippers has been developed to be more pH-balanced.

There are many strippers on the market; many will be very good and remove most finishes, but there are some floor finishes that can be exceedingly difficult to remove. Knowing the manufacturer, the chemical system or the brand name of the floor finish can make it easier to find a product to remove it (generally, floor finishes and strippers are manufactured as a system).

New-generation strippers make the removal of sealers and finishes much easier and faster than some of the older methods. New technology is responsible for LO (Low Odor) strippers, virtually odor-free products with excellent removal properties. They are especially welcome in occupied facilities that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Establishing the right chemistry for the right maintenance program will lead to better productivity in completing hard-floor maintenance services, which ultimately leads to the bottom line.

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