Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Residential Hard Surface Floor Care

September 9, 2001
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A floor is a floor is a floor. Not really. And as professionals, you should know the difference.

In July, we discussed the care of residential wood floors. But what about the other hard floors found in residential homes, such as stone, clay masonry, concrete and resilient floors?

Our focus here will be on the care of resilient floors, particularly those in older homes. Let's take a look at the kinds of resilient floors you may encounter, and how to care for them.

What is a Resilient Floor?
A resilient floor is defined as having the ability to absorb impact, and will bounce back to its original position after pressure has been applied. These floors are elastic in the fact that they have a slight give to them when pressure is applied. The most common floor found in residential homes is sheet vinyl (so-called 'no-wax floors'). Common floors found in older homes are linoleum, rubber and asphalt, and vinyl asbestos tile.

Although linoleum is making a bit of a come back, it is primarily recognized as an older floor. Linoleum is made of cork, linseed oil, resins and talc. These components are mixed, compressed and heat cured.

While most people have replaced the original linoleum floors in their older homes with newer, longer lasting floor types, it can still be found -- and you may be asked to clean it.

Care of these floors should include daily dry soil removal. (i.e. sweeping, dust mopping and/or vacuum cleaning with a hard surface floor tool). After the dry soil removal process has been completed, it should be followed by a wet or damp mopping procedure using a neutral floor cleaner. Caution should be used when performing more restorative cleaning procedures such as scrubbing and/or stripping.

When scrubbing these floors, avoid using harsh chemicals such as powerful acids or alkaline. Instead, use neutral or slightly alkaline products and a mild abrasive scrubbing pad. A red pad is the most commonly used scrubbing pad. When stripping these floors, avoid ammoniated or high pH strippers, which can cause the floor to bleed, pull color and cause discoloration. A green or black pad is the most commonly used stripping pad.

Older, dried out floors that are cracked, brittle and damaged can sometimes be restored. Try applying boiled linseed oil and then let it sit for about 12 hours. After 12 hours, wipe up the excess, wait another 12 hours or so, and then apply a sealer followed by several coats of floor finish.

Older rubber - not to be confused with today's state-of-the-art rubber - was manufactured in and around World War II and made from natural rubber. While a mixture of natural, reclaimed and synthetic rubber was later used, back then the most common rubber floors came in 9-inch tiles. They could also be found in 6- and 12-inch tiles as well. Today, rubber is often found in 4-foot by 4-foot squares, 6-foot wide sheets or rolls, or as 12-inch tile.

Rubber floors are extremely resilient, very slip resistant, durable and long wearing, especially if properly maintained. Rubber floors have been called quiet floors because of their ability to absorb noise.

Care of these floors should include daily dry soil removal and wet or damp mopping with a neutral floor cleaner. On older rubber floors, avoid scrubbing or stripping with aggressive chemicals and pads.

The application of sealers is not (normally) necessary. However, the application of a commercial floor finish will enhance the appearance of older floors. Do not confuse these older floors with today's newer rubber, especially when applying finishes. Today's rubber floors require a finish that will allow the floor to breathe. Furthermore, today's rubber floors are often called self-polishing floors because floors finishes are not used. A trained technician can polish these floors by simply buffing them with a low speed machine and the proper pad or brush.

Asphalt Tile
Most common during the 1940s and into the 1960s, asphalt tile floors can still be found in many homes.

While most commonly found in 9-inch tiles, this floor type was also manufactured in 12-inch tile as well. A hard tile that becomes brittle with age, it was considered 'loud' because of its poor sound absorbing characteristics. Originally manufactured using materials taken from natural deposits of pitch, it was later made with asphaltum, a by-product of the petroleum industry. These tiles also contained ground limestone or wood flour, resins, plasticizers and asbestos.

While the percent of asbestos contained in this floor is small, these floor tiles should be treated as a vinyl asbestos tile and all federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines must be followed. Another reason to treat asphalt as a vinyl asbestos tile is because it is visually difficult to tell the two apart.

Care of these floors include daily dry soil removal and wet or damp mopping with a neutral floor cleaner. Scrubbing should only be performed if an adequate amount of floor finish is present. Stripping these floors can be performed, but follow EPA recommendations when doing so.

Vinyl Asbestos Tile (VAT)
VAT floors contain vinyl resins, asbestos fiber, and wood flour and color pigment. They were very popular during the 1960s and 1970s, and were available in many colors and styles. Almost all 9-inch tiles installed during this period contained asbestos. VAT was also manufactured in 12-inch tile as well.

Although the manufacturing of asbestos tile was outlawed in 1977, it was still being installed well into the '80s. In fact, my home (built in the early 70's) has 12-inch asbestos tile installed in the kitchen; a beautiful floor I might add, and virtually impossible to tell from a 12-inch vinyl composition tile (the replacement for VAT).

Care of these floors include daily dry soil removal and wet/damp mopping. These floors can be scrubbed and polished so long as an adequate amount of floor finish is present. As for stripping floors always follow the EPA guidelines.

EPA guidelines for stripping VAT
* Avoid stripping VAT floor coverings
* Only properly trained staff should perform these procedures
* Follow all industry accepted and appropriate work practices
* Wet strip only: Never dry strip VAT
* Use a low speed machine: 175 rpm or less
* Avoid highly abrasive pads and strip with the least abrasive pad as possible
* Do not over strip.

Before attempting to strip VAT floor I highly recommend contacting one of the following organizations to obtain the in-depth description of the EPA standard for stripping VAT.

On the Internet go to Or, by phone, call the Environmental Assistance Division at 1-202-554-1404; EPA Public Information Center at 1-202-382-2080; EPA Asbestos Ombudsman at 1-800-368-5888 or 1-703-557-1938; or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) at 1-800-638-2772.

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