Setting a Standard for Cleaning Floors

April 17, 2003
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Floors, by and large, are taken completely for granted by the thousands of people who walk on them, track dirt on them, scuff them with every imaginable type of heel and wheel and, occasionally, admire them for their clean, crisp shine. Too often, the only time floors receive attention is when they are dirty or someone slips and falls. By then, of course, it’s too late.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, the prevention is a well-trained workforce with the proper equipment and chemicals and following appropriate procedures. It’s what we call best practices.

If you want to know your floors are clean and providing the safest possible surface, start with appropriate matting at every entrance. It’s the first line of defense. You should also adopt a maintenance schedule based on the level of traffic. For hard floors, this includes cleaning the mats, dust mopping, damp mopping or auto scrubbing, buffing and/or burnishing, scrubbing and recoating, and stripping and refinishing (see “Spend Time, Not Money, For Better Looking Floors,” in CFC Winter 2003). Carpet maintenance should include corresponding procedures such as vacuuming, bonnet cleaning, extracting and protecting.

By following all the above you will have safer, cleaner floors. But how can you be sure? How can you actually check the floor for cleanliness? The easiest way is to look at it, first 2 feet in front of you and then 10 feet in front of you. Viewing the floor 2 feet in front of you is called the 20-degree gloss reading, which represents the image clarity, or how many light bulbs you can see in the finish. At 10 feet out, or the 60-degree gloss reading, you can distinguish the “wet look.” The clearer the light bulb at 2 feet out and the “wetter” the floor appears at 10 feet, will indicate the level of cleanliness of the floor. A way to numerically measure the 20- and 60-degree gloss is with a gloss meter. It measures the light reflectance at 20-, 60- and 85 degrees. The higher the read-out, the cleaner your floors are.

There are several other tricks used to check how clean your floor is. A really easy way is to look at your burnishing pad. Is it dirty? Are there pieces of floor finish or high point build-up? This is a sign of a dirty floor. What color is the debris on the pad – white; light gray; or dark gray, almost black? If your pad has dark build up, you are burnishing the dirt into the floor, giving it a yellow appearance and reducing the effectiveness of the pad. If your pad has high-point build up, you are scratching the floor giving it a dull appearance. In both cases the floor does not look as good as it is capable of looking.

Always auto-scrub and dust mop before burnishing. This allows the pad to do its job of restoring gloss. It is also good practice to use the center of the pad to clean the surface of the pad as needed, to minimize loading and maintain performance. Dust mopping after burnishing to remove the powdered finish will also help to maintain your floor’s appearance over a longer period of time.

Slippery floors, in addition to not being safe, are an indication of a dirty or damaged floor. Floors become slippery when scratched or contaminated. Contamination is easy to envision. Water or sand on the floors results in a reduction of the coefficient of friction (COF). Static coefficient of friction (SCOF) measures how much force it takes to start a shoe slipping, and dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) measures the force required to keep your shoe slipping. Walkway testers can measure the SCOF and DCOF of your floors. Depending on the type of contamination, laboratory measurements of dirty floors will often produce a SCOF of less than 0.5, which is below federal standards. Those same floors after dust mopping and auto scrubbing should achieve numbers above 0.6 SCOF, which is suggested by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Not everyone will be able to purchase this $4,000 piece of equipment, but a floor care professional will be able to feel the difference. Remember, a dirty floor can be a slippery floor.

There will be times when you will need to scrub and recoat, or strip and refinish, to get the desired appearance. There are little tricks that you can use that will help with this. The first is to make a comparison tile. I make comparison tiles that have one quarter of the tile with no finish at all, the second quarter of the tile with two coats of finish, the third quarter of the tile with four coats and the last quarter of the tile with six coats of finish (Fig. 1). After burnishing, I hold my sample tile to the floor. By comparing the floor to the matching section of my sample tile, I have a good idea of the existing condition of the floor and can plan the appropriate maintenance procedure – auto-scrub and burnish, scrub and recoat, or strip and refinish. By using this technique, I can help prevent problems by staying ahead of them. Another very easy trick is to mark a dot on the floor for each coat of finish as it is applied so the dots line up as shown below. Make sure to put the dots in the traffic lane and use small dots so they blend with the pattern of the tile. I would be surprised if anyone but you notices the dots (Fig. 2).

As the dots disappear you know how much finish is being walked off the floor. This will guide you to the appropriate maintenance procedures.

The best way to maintain floors is by having a committed professional that is given the necessary products, tools and budget to sustain the beauty of your floors, which also means cleaner and safer floors. I hope these tips help make your job of determining a standard for clean floors a little easier.

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