Commercial Floor Care: Don't Hit the Baseboards

January 1, 2007
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When we think of floor maintenance, we generally think only of the floor itself and the maintenance procedures performed on it. The floor actually consists of the entire system that supports it: the foundation, the subfloor/substrate, the underlayment, the finish flooring and the surface. And as for hard-floor maintenance, it extends upward to include the baseboards or cove base.

The baseboards allow an aesthetically pleasing and functional transition from floor to wall. They highlight the room with sharp lines and color, and they seal the area where the floor and wall meet. They also protect the wall from damage that may occur when floor maintenance is performed. So for all intents and purposes, the baseboards are considered a part of floor when it comes to hard-floor maintenance.

Baseboards are generally between 4 and 6 inches in height. They are manufactured from just about any material from which floor coverings are made: concrete, stone, clay component, wood, resilient or specialty material, and they usually compliment the flooring. Regardless of the material they are made from, the technician is faced with the challenge of keeping them looking good.

The first challenge is the most obvious: they are vertical. Because they are perpendicular to the floor and directly connected to it, they are very difficult to avoid. They get hit with the wet mops when daily/routine maintenance is performed, and bumped with the equipment when performing periodic services. By far the most detrimental issue for baseboards is when they are hit with the finish applicator or mop when the tech is performing the finish application service procedure. Over time, this causes build-up on the baseboards, which by extension creates build-up along the edges and corners as well.

Build-up on the baseboards is highly visible and lessens the image and reputation of the technician regardless of how the rest of the floor looks. It often starts out as a subtle brush against the baseboard that is almost imperceptible and, invariably, overlooked. In time, several of these faint imperfections become an unbearable eyesore that develops into a topic of dissatisfaction for the customer and a bane for the technician. In severe cases, they can even cause the termination of a contract.

Resolving the situation can be accomplished at various times in the floor maintenance cycle depending on the amount of build-up. In most cases the best time to address build-up on the baseboards is when performing the restorative maintenance service procedure, because it can be a messy process. This is particularly true for floors that have water-based floor finishes on them. When done in the restorative cycle, the technician does not have to be as concerned about run off that can impact the floor surface because the floor finish is going to be removed at this time anyway.

Before stripping baseboards, identify the material first. Some rubber baseboards can have chemical reactions to stripping chemicals that will cause them to change color. I have seen gray baseboards turn an ugly green and off-white baseboards turn nicotine-brown. Also, some woods and metals may have a coating on them that can be stripped off as well and stripping solution left on glass can be very unsightly. Bottom line is, if you don’t know what it is, test an inconspicuous area before proceeding. Make sure what ever you are using is compatible with the baseboards.

When stripping baseboards, the technician will be confronted with how to keep the stripping solution on the baseboard long enough to emulsify the floor finish. This can be accomplished by multiple applications of stripping solution: apply solution, allow the solution to dwell, apply more solution and allow it to dwell some more. There are aerosol baseboard strippers available that are foaming and hold to the baseboard longer, but these too will invariably follow the laws of gravity.

When it comes to agitating the solution, the technician should use the least abrasive materials available so as not to scratch the surface of the baseboards. These scratches will show once the baseboard dries. If the old finish can be removed with a terrycloth towel it will cause very little damage or none at all. When abrasive pads are used, the time is decreased but there is more damage to the baseboard. Using black or high-productivity pads should be avoided at all costs. Cleaning baseboards is highly intensive labor and will take time to do it right. That is why evaluating baseboards is important when profiling a building.

Sometimes, if the build-up is minimal, it can be removed during the periodic service procedure, again using a terrycloth towel and aggressive rubbing. This is accomplished by having minimal stripping solution on the towel, applying it to the affected area and rubbing aggressively until finish is removed, then followed by clean towel rinse. When performing this type of maintenance, the technician will have to be very careful not to have runoff onto the floor.

The most optimum time to address floor finish on the baseboard is during the application of the floor finish. It is almost impossible to avoid hitting the baseboard, so when a technician brushes one by accident, if they wipe the finish off right then and there, the problem will be eliminated. Of course, being a professional hard-floor maintenance technician means that you are responsible for the baseboards, so the absolute best method for avoiding build-up is the simplest: don’t hit the baseboards.

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