ICS Magazine

Designing a Maintenance Program For Your Commercial Marble & Stone Floors

December 14, 2000
A good maintenance program starts with proper identification. A complete understanding of your particular stone’s characteristics is an absolute must for designing a maintenance program.

A good maintenance program starts with proper identification. A complete understanding of your particular stone’s characteristics is an absolute must for designing a maintenance program. Is it granite, marble, quartzite or limestone? If it’s marble, is it soft or hard? What type of finish does it have? Polished, honed, flamed, etc.? Is the type of stone the proper material for the traffic it is to receive? If not maintenance costs will be higher. If the answers are unknown, contact a reputable stone supplier or restoration company to find out.

Once the stone’s characteristics are identified, determine the quality of the installation. Are the tiles flat and even? Do they contain lippage (uneven tiles)? If so, proper maintenance may prove difficult. The floor should be ground flat, honed and polished. Are there any cracked tiles? Dirt will have a tendency to accumulate in these cracks. These tiles should be replaced or if replacements are not available, at least filled with a polyester material.

What is the present condition of the stone? Has it been coated with waxes, acrylics, urethane or other coatings? If so, they need to be chemically stripped or ground off to determine the condition of the stone. I have seen stone floors that appear to be in great shape until the coatings are removed to unveil a pitted, scratched mess. If a poor condition is found, complete restoration is necessary before a successful maintenance program can begin.

Once the stone is restored to like-new condition, then and only then will a maintenance program provide good results. If the stone will be exposed to water, coffee, spills etc, an application of a quality silicone-based impregnator is recommended. These impregnators are designed to penetrate the stone, without leaving coatings on the surface and still allow the stone to transpire (breathe).

Daily Maintenance

The three most important tasks that can be done on a daily basis to keep the stone looking new and extend the time before restoration is required are: Dust Mop, Dust Mop and Dust Mop. The most destructive material to stone is sand, dirt and miscellaneous grit. If these substances could be eliminated, then maintenance would be almost non-existent. A stone floor can never be dust mopped too often. Use a clean, non-treated, dry dust mop at least two to three times a day in high traffic areas and less often in low traffic areas. Walk-off mats placed adjacent to entrances will also eliminate a good portion of sand, dirt and grit. It takes approximately seven steps to remove all loose dirt from the bottom of one’s shoes. Keep this in mind when purchasing walk-off mats. Remember if sand, dirt and grit are eliminated, there will be nothing left behind to scratch and dull the stone.

Cleaning

All natural stone, both polished and unpolished, should be cleaned daily in high traffic areas and less often in lower traffic areas. A clean rayon or cotton string mop should be used with cold to warm water with the addition of a quality neutral cleaner or stone soap. Neutral cleaners are defined as surfactant type detergents that have a pH of 7. Acidic and alkaline cleaners should not be used on a regular basis. Be sure to follow directions carefully. Too much cleaner may leave a film and cause streaking.

Polishing

In order to maintain the highly polished surface of most stone, waxes, acrylics, or other sacrificial coatings are not recommended as they increase required maintenance. However, in certain situations a coating may be necessary. Contact a reputable stone professional for advise.

How do we maintain the highly polished surface if we are not using coatings? The answer is quite simple and surprisingly inexpensive. We turn back the hands of time, add modern technology, and we have what is known as the Natural Polishing Process.

This process has been used for centuries to obtain highly polished stones. All quarries and fabrication facilities use it without exception.

Why Does Stone Shine?

All stone is taken from the earth in a raw block form. This block is cut into slices that we call slabs. The slabs are then cut further to a smaller size, such as a tile or countertop. It is then polished using a series of abrasive materials. The mechanics are relatively simple. A piece of stone is rubbed with a series of abrasives starting with a course grit size followed by finer and finer grit sizes. The scratch pattern left behind from one grit is removed by the next grit creating finer and finer scratches. This process is continued until the scratch pattern becomes microscopic. The shine is placed on the stone by continuing this abrading process using very fine powders.

Polishing Procedures

To maintain the high degree of shine, the stone’s surface must be abraded to remove damage caused by the sand, dirt and grit. To accomplish this task, we use what is commonly called polishing powders. A polishing powder is an abrasive powder (aluminum oxide, tin oxide, etc.) that is worked into the stone using a buffing machine and a floor pad. The process is relatively simple and requires a little practice. There is no need to purchase expensive equipment. All you need is a 175-rpm buffing machine, a few buffing pads (white or hog hair pads work fine on most stones) and polishing powder, which is available at most marble supply companies.

For large areas, such as a mall or department store, an automatic scrubber can be used. Place approximately one tablespoon of powder on the stone, add a small amount of water and work into a slurry with the pad under the buffing machine. It may be necessary to experiment with the ratio of powder to water. Some stones may polish with a very wet consistency and others may require almost buffing till dry. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Once you find the right combination, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to polish stone.

This polishing process should be used to repair worn traffic areas. A home may only require polishing once a year where a hotel may require daily polishing. The frequency will depend on the type of stone, the amount of traffic and how good a job you’re doing dust mopping the floor.

One of the most often asked questions using this process is, “If we are abrading the stone, won’t we eventually wear the stone till there is no stone left?” The answer is a simple no. The amount of abrasion is so fine that most stone can be polished in this manner everyday for a very long time and still not wear the stone significantly. Keep in mind there are many types of stone and numerous factors that will determine the best maintenance program for a given situation. Please consult a stone care expert if in doubt.

Caution: Individuals familiar with commercial buffing machinery should perform the polishing process described above. It is not recommended for the homeowner.

Restoration

Periodically, the stone will need to be restored. Perhaps a proper maintenance program was not followed, or the type of stone you have is not suited to the conditions it receives or for other reasons, the stone just isn’t responding to maintenance. How often this will need to be done is difficult to determine. Generally, if all the precautions above are followed, restoration may only be needed as often as once per year or as little as once every five years. The restoration process re-hones the stone to remove deep scratches and is then re-polished. Do not attempt the re-honing process yourself. A great degree of skill and experience is necessary for this task, so please call a reputable restoration company.

Conclusion

Natural stone was the first building material used by man. Its care and maintenance is one of the oldest tasks performed by our ancestors. The above guidelines were developed by years of experience with this beautiful material and with the addition of modern science, it will provide many years of beauty.