ICS Magazine

Back-to-School Floor Care

July 12, 2006


Few places present the challenge of maintaining floors in a high-traffic, low-budget situation like schools. These facilities - from the elementary school level through college -are bombarded with hundreds of sneaker- and boot-clad feet and sliding desks and chairs each day.

This traffic and abuse to the flooring, coupled with educational facilities' notoriously low (and declining) maintenance budgets, demand that facility maintenance staffs put substantial forethought into their floor care strategy. This strategy should have three components: a high-quality finish, a powerful daily cleaning program, and a well-planned process for periodic maintenance.

The low-traffic summer months offer school maintenance staffs the ideal time to layout this three-pronged approach.

"The summer months are the perfect time for us to do most of our planning, maintenance and floor repair," said Walter Watson, associate director of facility management and business services at the University of Cincinnati. "With fewer people around, we can do everything we need to get ready for the fall and the onslaught of 39,000 students, not to mention faculty and staff that will be walking all over our flooring."

According to Watson, choosing the right floor finish is essential to keeping floors looking great. Finishes ideal for educational facility settings include those designed for durability that maximize cleaning efficiency.

The right finish will also help increase productivity by providing shine that lasts. Quality finishes resist soiling and wear and are exceptional for rubber heel mark resistance, minimizing the need for buffing, burnishing, recoating and refinishing.

Stripping and Refinishing

Making a floor finish last goes beyond just choosing a high-quality finishing product; it's important for school maintenance staffs to know and use proper stripping and finishing techniques to maximize the life of the floor finish. Prior to executing this process, it may be beneficial to provide refresher training to the technicians charged with floor care, so they know best how to strip and refinish floors.

The first step in the stripping process is to dust mop or sweep to thoroughly clean debris from the flooring. Any debris or foreign material may get caught in the stripping pad and damage the floor tile during stripping.

Be sure to thoroughly strip the floor to remove the old finish. Be prepared to do a thorough stripping even if the floor looks like it has little finish left. The finish could be very worn and dull, giving this false impression. Also, to save time and minimize finish-harming residue, use a no-rinse stripper that does not require a neutralizing step. However, always be sure to give the floor a final clean-water rinse.

After stripping, apply three or four thin coats of finish. Four thin, even coats will be significantly more durable in the long run than two thick coats. Thin coats cure better and provide a more durable polymer film structure with more clarity, gloss and durability. That sets the stage for a longer lasting, better-looking finish that saves schools time and money long-term.

"We need floor care products that last a long period of time so we only have to apply them once or twice a year, because the workforce in this industry is shrinking," Watson said. "We choose products that last and perform the way we like, leaving a high shine."

When searching for ways to save money, it's natural for school maintenance managers to consider fast-drying finish formulas and finish application systems that promise quick results. When considering these options, beware of the trade-offs-these systems often lay thick coats of finish, which as mentioned earlier, can diminish the finish's durability and shine.

Daily Care

After the finish is in place, implementing a sound daily floor care program will help it last and look great longer. The first step is prevention: place floor mats at entrances and dust mop regularly.

According to the ISSA, it is estimated that each building occupant can track as much as seven pounds of soil into a facility per year. The cost of removing this soil can be as high as $500 per pound, or $3,500 per year per building occupant. Because of this, maintenance managers should be highly aware of the need to place mats at all entrances to prevent much of the damaging soils from being tracked in onto the floor finish.

"Matting is key," Watson said. "What you trap before it gets to your floors is really important. Through matting, you can trap a high percentage of soils that can potentially ruin your floors."

To keep a matting program effective, mats must be properly cleaned and rotated to ensure a maximum amount of soil is kept from the flooring. Furthermore, school custodians should be sure to dust mop each day to remove soils that make it past the matting systems, since these soils over time are the largest cause of floor wear and yellowing.

To further remove the soils, school and university cleaning staffs should choose a daily cleaner that is powerful enough to remove tracked-in particulate soil, but not so powerful that it eats away the finish.

"We use a name brand finished floor cleaner that our custodial staff knows and trusts," Watson said. "It's easy to use and cleans nicely without dulling or removing any of the finish. That helps our floors last longer."

Periodic Maintenance

Regardless of how effective an educational facility's daily cleaning is, it will still be necessary to perform periodic maintenance on the floors to ensure a lasting finish. School maintenance managers should consider mapping out a full year's worth of this maintenance, which should include periodic floor scrubbing.

A smart investment for many facilities may be an auto-scrubber or less expensive alternative like a walk-behind wet vacuum. These tools pick up grit and grime instead of spreading it around like traditional damp mopping.

Should a deep scrub and recoat be necessary, winter break may be the best time to complete this maintenance. Prior to the break, maintenance managers should confer with custodians to see which areas need to be top-coated. Areas that have lower traffic or are thoroughly matted during the day may be able to forego this process, saving the school money in both product and labor.

And for schools and universities, saving money is an important goal, as these institutions often look to their maintenance budgets for the first round of cuts. But declining funds don't have to mean a decrease in floor care quality. With a proactive strategy and quality, durable products, school maintenance staffs can make sure school floors look great through the spring.