Floor Care in the Hospitality Sector: Keys to Success

February 1, 2001
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Hotels, casinos and other hospitality venues have unique floor care needs, and image is a high priority. They are often open 24/7/365 with regular traffic in nearly all areas of the facility from both guests and staff. Shopping malls, restaurants and many retail stores face similar challenges since these facilities depend on a “hospitality experience” to attract customers.

Floors play a key role in presenting the “right” appearance since they’re often the first surface a visitor or guest notices when entering an establishment. It’s been said, “If your floors shine, your facility shines,” and that certainly applies to floor care in the hospitality sector. If you visit Las Vegas, late each night you’ll find employees polishing lobby floors to ensure a consistent mirror shine greets each guest. Entrance carpet is extracted daily or weekly to maintain a bright, like-new appearance.

Lobbies may be most visible, but they aren’t the only areas to present unique floor care challenges. Floor care is also critical in food courts, kitchens, shopping and common areas, meeting rooms, general offices, back of the house areas, gaming zones, pool, exercise and spa rooms, and guest rooms.

For this discussion, we’ll focus first on hard floors, then carpeting.

Why We Maintain Hard Floors

Hard floors are maintained for one or more of the following reasons:

Appearance

Clean, shiny floors look good and present a positive first impression to all that enter a building or area. Discoloration in the corners, finish build up along the edges, dust under furniture, scuffs and black marks and a dull appearance all indicate inadequate maintenance procedures and/or frequencies. For better or worse, floors mirror a facility’s cleanliness.

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)/Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Due to gravity, sooner or later, much of what’s in the air settles to the floor. Pollutants and contaminants, including microbes riding on soil particles, end up on floors. Floor maintenance procedures can either remove contaminants or redistribute them throughout the building.

Many of the procedures once believed safe are now considered contributors to indoor air quality problems. This can range from chemical vapors to the dust stirred up by sweeping, dust mopping, floor machine use and other activities commonly performed as part of daily work routines.

Slip Safety

Proper floor care prevents accidents and reduces liability. Clean, well-maintained floors provide a safer walking surface. A written, enforced policy to remove spills and tracked-in moisture protects people. And when service calls are logged, the policy provides evidence of responsible care.

Written procedures, adequate and documented frequency of service, regular training and the use of wet floor signs, caution tape and barricades are solid defense against injuries and liability for slip, trip and fall accidents.

Pride and Satisfaction

Properly maintained floors look good and get noticed. In this area especially, professional cleaners gain recognition from their level of knowledge, skill and service. It takes dedication and hard work to keep floors looking like new. Cleaning professionals should take pride in providing quality floor maintenance since their work impacts everyone entering the building.

Common Floor Types

While each facility is unique, there are a number of common floor surface materials: marble and stone, ceramic tile, concrete, vinyl composition tile, rubber tile, vinyl sheeting, plastic laminates, and wood. While each floor type requires somewhat different maintenance methods and frequencies of service, there are basic procedures and preventive measures common to all types of floors.

Prevention

This is one of the most important aspects of a successful floor care program. If you don’t create a mess, there isn’t one to clean up. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to floor care.

Performing the simplest floor care duties, such as vacuuming, dust mopping, damp mopping and burnishing, delays the need for more costly tasks such as scrubbing and stripping. Every hour spent on these duties now will save many hours of labor in the future. It’s an investment that pays big dividends in appearance, safety, and prolonging the life of expensive floor surfaces.

Let’s take a look at several measures that prevent floors from getting soiled in the first place. Such elements are often overlooked, yet they have a considerable impact on the cost and frequency of service required to maintain the desired level of appearance and cleanliness.

    • Keep as much soil outside the building.

    • Frequently vacuum, dust mop or sweep high traffic areas.

    • Focus on capturing and removing soil 20 ft. outside and 30 ft. inside all entrance and exit doors. Vacuum, sweep or wash down areas outside entrance doors to remove soils and grit that can get trapped in. Use long, wide floor mats.

    • Provide adequate equipment, chemicals, staff, supervision and budget to maintain established maintenance frequencies.

    • Establish maintenance procedures and quality assurance guidelines for all floor care tasks.

    • Provide adequate trash receptacles near entrances, elevators, and food areas.

    • Use chemical, pads and equipment that are part of an integrated maintenance system rather than separate components.

    • Keep stock rooms clean so soil isn’t tracked back into the facility.

    • Monitor and keep your floor care program flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of the facility and its occupants.

    • Provide ongoing training to all cleaning workers. Encourage them to attend and complete the Certified Floor Care Technician (FCT) program offered by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC)

    • Use openings on the floor and carpet care crew as an advancement incentive and opportunity for workers who exceed expectations.


    Basic Cleaning Procedures

    Now let’s examine the basic maintenance procedures that help reduce costs while maintaining high levels of appearance, health and safety. The procedures will vary according to the individual facility needs.

    Vacuuming, Dust Mopping or Sweeping

    These are the basic and preparatory steps to all other floor care procedures and should be performed regularly. The goal is to remove as much dry soil as possible so it doesn’t get tracked around, scratch the floor finish or damage the floor covering. A putty knife or razor blade scraper should be used to remove gum, stickers, candy, etc. that adhere to hard floor surfaces.

    Vacuuming with high-filtration machines is the most complete method of dry soil removal as it picks up, packages and removes soil from the building environment without spreading it around. Dust mopping and sweeping remove gross soil, but also redistribute and/or leave behind large amounts of fine particulate.

    Damp/Wet Mopping

    This is the second basic step in floor care. A damp mop is used to remove spills and adhered soil that were not removed during dry removal processes. Wet mopping will remove light to heavy soil from the floor surface that would otherwise become embedded in the surface or encapsulated in the seal/finish. A small white scrub pad will remove most black marks from a moistened floor without damage to the finish. Determine mopping frequency by the amount of soil present and cleanliness and appearance levels desired in each area.

    Spray Buffing/Cleaning

    This process uses a 175 or 300-RPM floor machine and a soft pad or brush. The operator sprays a light mist of a commercial preparation or detergent and finish solution in front of the floor machine. As the machine goes over the area, soil, scuffs, light scratches and black marks are removed and a shine is restored to the surface. Vacuuming/dust mopping is a follow up step to remove loosened soil and dust.

    Polishing

    This process uses a 175 to 1500 RPM floor machine and a soft pad or brush to remove some soil and put a shine on the finish. Vacuuming/dust mopping and damp mopping are preparatory steps. Vacuuming/dust mopping should be done as a follow up step to remove loosened soil and dust.

    Burnishing

    This process uses an ultra high-speed floor machine (1500 to 2500 RPM) to restore a deep gloss to finish. Since the finish is “tempered” by the friction/heat of burnishing, the floor looks better longer, which reduces costs by extending the time between scrubbing or stripping cycles.

    Vacuuming/dust mopping and damp mopping are preparatory steps, and should be a follow up procedure to remove loosened soil and dust. Machines equipped with active dust control help prevent airborne dust, as does prior use of a restoration chemical to maintain surface elasticity.

    Scrubbing

    This process removes embedded soil, black marks, deeper scuffs and scratches from the floor along with some of the finish. The pad or brush, type of detergent, water temperature, weight and speed of the floor machine all determine whether the process is considered light or heavy scrubbing. For example, aggressive pads, hot higher-pH detergent solution, and fast, heavy machines perform the deepest scrubbing.

    Light scrubbing removes one or two coats of finish. Heavy scrubbing removes all or most of the finish, down to the protective seal coat.

    Stripping

    This is a very aggressive process that can and should remove all of the floor finish and sealer, leaving a bare floor ready for refinishing. A strong stripping chemical, a course pad or brush, hot water and intensive labor make stripping a costly, time consuming and even hazardous process that should be used only when no other process will achieve the desired results. Diligent use of the maintenance procedures outlined above delays the need for stripping.

    Specialized Procedures

    This can include such tasks as grinding, sanding, scarifying, wire brushing or bead blasting. These are specialized duties that require advanced training, special attachments or equipment to be performed properly and safely. They are frequently contracted out to a company that specializes in this type of work on a specific type of floor covering.

    Finishing/Refinishing

    Finishing enhances the appearance of the floor, and in many cases raises slip resistance. It also fills the pores of the floor covering which helps prevent staining agents, dirt and other harmful matter from contacting and degrading the surface. The number of finish coats will depend upon:

    • Porosity of floor surface

    • Thickness of application

    • Level of appearance and protection desired.

    If a floor is bare, workers often apply up to five or more coats of protective finish to the floor surface. If several coats of finish are present on the surface, they may apply one or two coats. Coats may also be applied to a very limited or specific area (patch coating).

    Before applying finish, workers prepare the floor by using one or more of the above procedures. They must rinse floors thoroughly prior to coating, ensure the floor and finish are free of contamination, and apply topical coatings evenly to ensure adhesion of the new finish and desired results.

    On most resilient floor coverings, sealer is unnecessary unless the floor is new or in poor condition.

    Carpet Cleaning 101

    A balanced carpet cleaning program includes daily spot removal, regular use of an interim cleaning process to remove surface soils in high traffic areas, and less frequent deep cleaning (to remove adhered and dry soils not removed by other procedures). The use of walk-off mats at building entrances to capture soil, and regular vacuuming of all carpet to remove dry soil are important preventive measures that will extend service frequency cycles and reduce overall cleaning costs.

    Just as hard floors must be mopped or scrubbed daily or weekly, carpets need interim cleaning to keep the surface free of sticky deposits. This means using a spot cleaning method that removes soil rather than driving it into the carpet backing, as well as using spin bonnet or other interim methods.

    The newest spot-cleaning equipment uses a three-tank system for removing spots. One tank holds cleaning solution, another rinse water, and a third recovered liquid. These systems surpass two-tank equipment by adding a rinse cycle for thorough removal of both soils and cleaners leaving carpets residue-free. This is especially important in restaurants for thorough nightly removal of spills.

    Interim methods include various wet and dry methods, including damp spin bonnet (use of a round fabric pad with a 175 RPM floor machine) and dry powder-based systems (sprinkling absorbent cleaning powder onto carpet then vacuuming to remove absorbed soil).

    Applying Heat to Carpet Cleaning

    When selecting wet extraction equipment for deep cleaning you have several choices, the most common being a portable extractor or a truck-mounted unit. There are also battery powered wide-coverage walk behind units (for large areas) and backward-pull units with a brush for agitation in smaller commercial accounts.

    For practical purposes, a good portable unit is often the most flexible and productive in commercial applications. You can use it in multi-story buildings without wasting time running hoses to a truck in the parking lot. Another advantage is being able to quickly convert a portable machine to clean upholstered furniture, stairs and office partitions.

    Hot water cleans better than cold water, so for periodic deep cleaning of carpets select a heated extractor.

    The difference of a few degrees makes a big difference in the cleaning effectiveness of portable extractors, and has a proportional effect on other cleaning issues (greater removal of residue that contributes to resoiling, faster cleaning to reduce labor, etc.). Notably, hot water best facilitates removal of grease or oily residue from restaurant carpets.

    Svante A. Arrhenius (1859-1927), a Swedish physicist and chemist, determined that for every 10oC (18oF) increase in water temperature over 118oF, the amount of energy released doubles (commonly referred to as the Arrhenius Equation). In effect, this means that for every 18 degrees the cleaning solution is heated over 118oF, the effectiveness of the cleaning process doubles. Although not everyone agrees that a doubling of cleaning effectiveness occurs with every 18-degree increase in temperature, most people agree hot water cleans better than cold.

    Hot water also lowers the need for strong cleaners and creates a proportional environmental benefit by reducing airborne chemical vapors and residues in carpet.

    Given the benefits of hot water in cleaning, heated extractors are the trend. Select units that create and maintain the desired temperature at the wand tip (where the action is) rather than just inside the machine. Also, choose machines with adjustable and solid-state temperature regulating systems to ensure consistent heat and cleaning. Choose an extractor with sufficient pressure and suction to thoroughly penetrate the carpet fibers and remove soiled solution. Adequate holding/recovery tanks, overflow shut off, lightweight and maneuverability are also important.

    Innovative Practical Tools

    There are a number of other innovative cleaning tools that can be helpful in reducing costs and improving service quality.

    Backpack vacuums are gaining favor because of their mobility and cleaning performance, particularly in restaurants. According to Nat Lema, President of ProClean: “Backpacks provide greater access. We can clean inside booths without pulling the tables all the way out, reducing labor and wear-and-tear on the flooring. The units can also be used on hardwood and tile flooring, adding to their versatility.”

    Many facilities prefer upright vacuums for carpeted areas, and new technology in upright vacuums makes the choice especially appealing. According to Doug Hauff, CEO of U.S. Products, the newest machines “virtually eliminate handle weight, have no internal hoses to clog, and swallow debris larger than any typical two-motor upright would attempt.” These units are designed to pick up both small and large debris—even swizzle sticks, olive pits and other hard to pick up refuse. A lightweight handle allows easily steering the vacuum, and longer operation without fatigue. Swiveling base-unit casters enable greater maneuverability than old-fashioned uprights.

    Making It All Work

    The most cost-effective approach for maintaining floors is to develop a flexible floor maintenance program tailored to each facility using the above-suggested procedures and equipment.

    Floor care needs in the hospitality sector are in flux based on occupancy rates, weather conditions, seasonal events and other factors. A maintenance program should start with basic procedures and frequency schedules, then be tailored continually to meet the needs of the facility, customers and areas. This requires active planning, but results in cleaner and better looking floors at lower cost.

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