ICS Magazine

Maintaining Clay/Masonry Floor Coverings

April 15, 2004
The maintenance of clay/masonry floor coverings can be relatively easy, and a good cleaning program should be developed early on. The properties of these floor coverings allow them to be used in many diverse locations and facilities.

Clay/masonry floor coverings may be found in very decorative settings as well as at industrial sites. This is not surprising since clay floors are excellent at repelling soil, exceptional at chemical and water resistance, and can be relatively low-maintenance.

The different classifications of clay/masonry floor coverings have properties that are desirable in various areas of use; therefore, hard floor maintenance service procedures will vary. That is why hard-floor maintenance programs developed for these floors must take their classification into consideration.

Ceramic tiles may be glazed or unglazed, and they come in a wide assortment of colors. They can be arranged in any assortment of geometric or mosaic type patterns. The tiles range in a wide selection of sizes; the thickness of the tile will depend on the type of tile and its intended use. They are typically found in restrooms because of their ability to repel soil and water.

Porcelain tiles consist of special clays and minerals similar to fine chinaware. They are mosaic or paver tiles. Their composition results in a dense, impervious, fine-grained tile with smooth and sharply formed face. Because of their strength and durability, they are found in many high-traffic situations, such as lobbies and malls.

Quarry tiles are made for heavy traffic situations and are commonly seen in kitchen areas. They are usually 6-inches square, approximately 1/2-inch thick, and come in a wide variety of colors. The surface, although generally smooth, is coarser than ceramic tile, so its natural slip resistance is appreciated in grease and oil environments. These same properties make cleaning relatively easy because the surface is not easily damaged.

Paver tiles are unglazed and very similar to quarry tiles in appearance. Instead of being extruded, paver tiles are made by the dust-pressed method. Like quarry tiles, paver tiles are made for heavy-traffic areas and are used in a wide variety of locations.

Brick-type floors are extremely durable and can be found in rugged industrial environments as well as commercial designer surroundings. They are usually rectangular in shape, approximately 6 inches by 3 inches with a thickness of about 2 inches. They can be installed either flat or on their side.

Initial Maintenance
The space between tiles or brick is usually filled with grout. It becomes part of the surface and, therefore, part of the cleaning process. Grout is more porous than the floor covering and will capture soil. During the process of installation, the installer will wipe down the surface of the tiles to remove excess grout and clean the tiles surface. The installer generally seals the grout shortly after installation to prevent discoloration by soils. In most cases the type of sealer will be a penetrating seal or impregnator.

Other than an occasional application of penetrating seal or impregnator, clay/masonry floor coverings do not require aqueous seals or finishes. In some situations, however, the property manager or owner may request that the tile floor covering be sealed or finished to either enhance the appearance of the tile or improve the resiliency of the grout. Issues and complications may arise when applications of coatings are used.

Daily/Routine Maintenance
Clay/masonry floor coverings should be swept or dust mopped on a daily or routine basis to control large debris and grit. The type and amount of soil in conjunction with the foot traffic will dictate the frequency of service.

A daily/routine wet-mopping program will also be necessary. The environment will dictate the classification of the wet-mopping service procedure and the frequency of the service. The wet-mopping procedures may differ slightly regarding the cleaning or sanitizing chemicals used, depending on the environment.

Clay/masonry type floor coverings in kitchen areas may require a good degreaser and a fresh-water rinse. Restrooms may be mopped with neutral cleaner or disinfectants, while health care may require a good sanitizing chemical.

The daily/routine maintenance procedures may be used on clay/masonry floors with or without chemical coatings on them. Traditionally the service is performed on a daily basis, but in heavy-traffic situations the procedures may be performed multiple times in a single day.

Periodic Maintenance
Machine-scrubbing a clay/masonry floor covering will be required from time to time, again predicated by the amount of foot traffic. In most cases, the periodic service will be the medium-scrubbing service procedure. In heavily soiled environments it may be necessary to build in a heavy-scrubbing procedure to get deeply embedded soils.

In many environments, powerful, all-purpose cleaning chemicals or degreasing chemicals may be required to remove the soil. Remember to rinse thoroughly when using these chemicals and neutralize when possible. Crystalline-type cleaning chemicals should not be used on these floor coverings; the crystals will form in the pores of the grout and cause problems. Also, avoid the use of acids on these types of floors, as they can attack the grout and cause deterioration.

If the area is using a conventional floor seal or finish system, periodic machine scrubbing should be incorporated into the hard-floor maintenance program schedule. In some situations application of additional coating may be required.

Salvage/Restorative Maintenance
Generally, periodic services are sufficient for clay/masonry floor coverings without coatings on them. Approximately once every year or two an application of penetrating seals or impregnators will be required. This will protect the grout from liquid soils from penetrating into them.

Although clay/masonry floor coverings do not require floor seals or finishes, they can sometimes be maintained in excellent condition using many of the resilient-floor covering maintenance chemical systems. No-buff, buffing/polishing, spray buff, high-speed and ultra-high speed systems can be very successful on clay/masonry floors when used correctly.

The downside to using aqueous coatings on clay/masonry floor coverings is in salvage/restorative operations. When using a floor finish program on these types of floors, keep in mind that the removal of old floor finish can sometimes be time consuming. Although removal of old floor finishes from clay/masonry floors is not difficult, getting the old seal or finish out of the grout can be nothing short of a nightmare.

The stripping and refinishing service procedure is generally done on an annual basis for clay/masonry floor coverings. Some floors can extend that time considerably with a good preventative maintenance program.