“Really, you can get that clean?” my customer asked
skeptically as I explained my ability to clean his garage floor. Yes,” I
answered, “I think you’ll be amazed with what I can do.”
I wouldn’t have been
as confident 10 or 15 years ago. Allow me to explain:
One of my first commercial carpet cleaning jobs involved the
carpeted (yes, carpeted) showroom of a car dealership. This poor carpet had
been literally driven over, spilled on, dripped on, and generally abused for
years. My brother Rob and I worked for over 8 hours with our little
squirt-and-suck machines to get this mess looking good, and it wasn’t a big
showroom. This was in the early 70’s, just as truckmounts were coming to market
and we didn’t have one yet, so this job just about killed us.
As I look back at the good/bad old days of cleaning, it
actually amazes and gratifies me to see how our success and proficiency at
cleaning has progressed as our tools have improved. In fact, our tool selection
now allows us to diversify in areas we never thought possible years ago. But I
I ventured into the shop of this particular dealership and
noted the heavily soiled and greasy concrete floor where they serviced
vehicles. It never occurred to me to suggest to the management that I could
clean that floor for them. Well, today I am going to encourage you to do just
that: tell your customers that you can clean their concrete garage floors.
Before I jump into an explanation of the tools and
procedures for cleaning concrete, I feel like I should suggest another
diversification that will supply you with more business and simply makes a lot
of sense: tile and grout cleaning. I imagine that most of you are already
involved in this lucrative cleaning opportunity. I bring it up because if you
are involved in tile and grout cleaning, you generally have all the tools
necessary for basic concrete cleaning.
I say “basic” because today I am going to describe simple
concrete cleaning as you would do in your customer’s garage. We will leave for
another day the tools and accessories needed for more technical work, such as
densifying and polishing concrete.
If you are in the business of tile and grout cleaning, you
should have a rotary jet powered extraction tool, an edging tool, a grout
brush, and various sprayers for applying solution. When taking on concrete, add
to your tool box a stiff push broom and an all-plastic sprayer capable of
handling acid-based products.
Now let’s examine some of the other components to this
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves without first talking about
the customer and the sales process. If you are already set up in the house and
cleaning carpet or even better, tile and grout, then it is a simple
transformation to be ready to clean their garage floor. Chances are the customer will be so pleased
with what you have done with their carpet or tile, a simple suggestion to them
that you can also apply the same expertise to clean their garage floor, will
get you the job.
Generally, the customer will ask, “How much does that cost?”
This is something for you to figure out. Practice cleaning your own garage,
your neighbor’s or in-laws’. You will get an idea of what is required as far as
time, chemicals and equipment. The garage (or other concrete surface) will
generally be an add-on to the work you were originally hired to do, so you do
not have the extra drive and set-up time.
I would suggest at a
minimum you want to be grossing $100 per hour during the cleaning, then add sealing
to the equation to really boost your profit.
The Demo and Prequalification
A leading stone and tile trainer in the industry, Dane
Gregory says that “whatever you tell your client before you begin the process
is considered a professional opinion, whatever you tell them after you have not
met their expectations is an excuse.” So this is important when it comes to
most concrete cleaning: under-promise and over-perform. I suggest you do a
small test area for your customer to make sure they are OK with the results.
You might say something like this in explaining your
process: “Mrs. Jones, the nature of concrete is quite porous and with the
different oils and fluids that drip from the car, they will actually penetrate
beyond just the surface deeper into the core. Imagine the months and years this
oil has to penetrate and you can see why it is a challenge to get it out. The
good news is we can be very effective at getting the greases and oil from the
surface but there will most likely be some lingering stains from those
penetrating oils. Even with that I expect you will be happy with the results.
Would you like me to clean a small section to give you feel for what to
Now with your customer’s approval and realistic expectations
set, you are ready to clean. You should have a minimum of 800 PSI water
pressure available, with 1,000–1,200 PSI preferable. You will use the rotary
pressure tool to accomplish the majority of the cleaning but your preparation
of the surface is important.
Generally, for oil-stained concrete, you will need a
hard-hitting degreaser. I have experienced success on the heavy oil spots by
misting a pure solvent citrus or pine booster on prior to applying the
water-based solution. Some of the newer technology in water-based degreasers will
include added peroxide to help lighten stains and brighten the concrete.
The solution can be sprayed on, mopped on or, my favorite,
mixed in a bucket and then poured on. Use plenty of solution and have a stiff
push broom available to spread it while giving some agitation to break the
surface tensions of the old oxidized oil.
Important Note: let
the solution dwell for 10 or 15 minutes but do not let it dry. You’re hoping to
get as much of the chemistry to penetrate beyond the surface as possible.
Begin to clean off the gunk using your rotary extraction
tool. Use the brush attachment when working on concrete. If possible, have your
customer inspect your process at the point where the floor is the dirtiest.
When they can see the “before” right next to the “after,” their appreciation of
your work will skyrocket.
One other cleaning step you may consider. Concrete is made
from cement containing limestone (a source of calcium) and other aggregates and
ingredients that are broken down by acids. There are acid-based cleaning
products that are designed to clean, react, and remove a thin layer of the
concrete, creating a brighter and cleaner looking surface. Some of these
products are also peroxide-based, so they have the added effect of brightening
the surface further.
You might consider using these products if the surface has
more general soil than oil, or consider a follow-up to the initial
alkaline-based cleaning with a mild acid/peroxide step to further brighten the
concrete. If using this product, it
should be rinsed well following the proper amount of dwell time.
The final step is important for the customer and for your
bottom line. Never leave the job without offering to seal the concrete.
Generally a water-based penetrating sealer is preferred as the concrete does
not have to be perfectly dry to apply it. A good penetrating sealer will not be
visible when dry and will help to prevent future penetration of both oil- and
Industrial and decorative concrete is gaining popularity. Start
with the basics and consider this lucrative add-on of garage floor cleaning for
your residential customers.
Gordon Hanks is the CEO of Bridgepoint Systems. For more information call (800) 658-5314.