ICS Magazine

VCT Floor Maintenance

April 12, 2010


Vinyl composition tile (VCT) can be found in almost all environments. It is cost effective, durable, and relatively easy to repair or replace. The popularity of VCT over the decades has ensured that the floor maintenance technician will undoubtedly encounter it in the field.

The fact of the matter is, most floor-maintenance technicians learn their primary skills on VCT flooring. The specifications and standards of VCT are established by the ASTM F 1066 Vinyl Composition Floor Tile technical information sheet. VCT may be a solid color tile, through-pattern tile or surface-pattern tile with either smooth or embossed surfaces. It is comprised of filler, pigments and vinyl resin binder, and manufactured in 12-by-12-inch tiles with a thickness of 1/16”, 3/32” or 1/8”. In addition, they must also be tested to ensure other criteria are met.

The traditional floor maintenance methodologies for VCT incorporated floor seal and/or finish systems that fall into five systems:
  1. No buff
  2. Buffing
  3. Spray buffing
  4. High-speed buffing, and
  5. Ultra-high-speed buffing/burnishing
The polishes used in most of these systems are generally cross-link metal interlock systems made of acrylic polymers, but there is also considerable use of semi-permanent and permanent coating systems that incorporate urethanes and or urethane fortified products.

Selection of the floor maintenance system for any building should be considered carefully before initiating the program. Expectations of end results – and budget restrictions – from the customer will help to establish the cleanliness and appearance levels, while environment, traffic conditions, congestion and time factors determine methodology and frequency.

Regardless of the polish system selected, all VCT floors will have four maintenance periods.

Initial Maintenance

Initial maintenance is the first maintenance that the floor will be subjected to after installation. This is not to say immediately after the floor is installed; most manufacturers of VCT recommend a waiting period of 3 to 5 days after the installation before wet maintenance is performed.

The timeframe allows for the adhesive to completely cure before being subjected to the moisture inherent in floor maintenance. This is particularly true of VCT because it has four sides in which the solution can penetrate and get under the tiles. If maintenance is performed too soon after installation non-adhesion may occur resulting in individual or groups of tiles releasing from the substrate.

Additionally, the adhesive may become saturated from the cleaning solution and ooze out of the seams, which creates another issue all together.

For optimum results, VCT requires seals and or finishes to be applied. Before application of these seals and/or finishes, construction and installation soils must be removed. This is generally accomplished using the medium scrubbing procedure, consisting of a general or all-purpose cleaning solution agitated with a low-speed rotary floor machine with a medium scrubbing pad or brush attached.

Once the VCT has been cleaned, coatings or polishes may be applied. Acrylic floor seal/finishes will generally take between four to six coats of finish (depending on solids content) to achieve the desired thickness and gloss, while semi-permanent and permanent urethane coatings generally require two. Some finishes may be buffed or burnished to increase durability and gloss of the product; others, such as matte finishes and no buff systems, will not.

Daily/Routine Maintenance

Walk-off matting programs will reduce the amount of soil entering any facility; the daily/routine maintenance is designed to remove soil that has gotten past them. Dust mopping/cloth systems, sweeping and vacuuming are the primary procedures used to remove superficial and dry soil that has entered the building, while spot and wet mopping techniques are used to remove light and moderate soiling. In some situations the light scrubbing procedure, using an automatic scrubbing machines, is used instead of mopping and is highly effective in large open areas.

Beyond the normal dry service procedures and mopping procedures, some VCT may require buffing or burnishing on a daily or routine basis. This is especially true of high-speed and ultra-high-speed systems. The “wet look” appearance that many stores try to attain requires buffing or burnishing on a routine basis.

Periodic Maintenance

Over time, VCT with polish on it will begin to show traffic patterns. These are a direct affect of the polish or coating being eroded away due to the traffic conditions of the facility. The dullness created does not go away with mopping alone, because it is caused by dirt and grit being ground into the floor finish. Some of the finish is eroded and some of the soil is embedded into the polish which causes the floor to look unsightly.

Depending on the level of soiling, the light, medium or heavy scrubbing procedures will be incorporated to remove it. While performing the medium and heavy scrubbing service procedures some of the floor finish will be abraded away during the process, so floor finishes will need to be applied after to replace the finish that has been removed.

Restorative Maintenance

No matter how careful the technician is, over time soil will become encapsulated in the floor finish causing the floor to look soiled all the time. In other situations encapsulated soil along the edges will create a situation called edge build-up which is very unsightly and can only be removed using the stripping and refinishing procedure.

Regarding VCT maintenance, the definition of a strip and refinish is to remove all pre-existing coats of seals and/or finish, detail all edges, corners and cove base and reapply multiple coats of new seal and/or finish. The stripping procedure begins by applying a liberal amount of stripping solution (measured in accordance with the manufacturers recommended dilution ratio) to the area of VCT to be stripped. After allowing the stripping solution to dwell 10 to 15 minutes, the solution is agitated with a brown, black or high productivity stripping pad or brush. The contaminated solution is then removed using a wet vacuum with a floor squeegee, and the floor is rinsed.

Detailing is best done between the first and second rinse. This allows the technician to see the detailing required and to keep those areas free of stripping solution. Once the floor is stripped, rinsed and detailed, multiple applications of seal and/or finish will be reapplied.

Depending on the finish applied, buffing or burnishing can now be performed. In the case of no buff systems, once the floor is dry, it is ready to receive traffic.

VCT maintenance is required of most floor maintenance technicians. Understanding the flooring material and the different procedures required to maintain them is the responsibility of the technician. The skilled technician who can perform these various service procedures will always have an opportunity to work.