Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Shopping Center Floor Care

July 12, 2007
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It’s generally accepted that people spend as much – if not more – time looking down as they do looking up. This is especially true when walking into an office building or a large facility such as an airport or convention center. And surprisingly, this is also true in large shopping centers and malls, where both store tenants and shopping center developers have gone out of their way to design facilities encouraging shoppers to look here and there – anywhere but the floor.

Floors in malls simply cannot be overlooked. They must be clean, shiny, and in excellent condition because they play a significant role in shaping shoppers’ perceptions. However, caring for them can be a challenge. Many flooring experts and building service contractors involved in retail and shopping center floors and floor care say that poor planning on the part of a shopping center’s developers and architects is a major cause of many floor care problems. They indicate that flooring materials are often selected based more on appearance – and how well they will fit the image the shopping center is trying to present – than on the maintenance needs of the floor.

This was proved out by a survey asking shopping center developers and managers what their considerations are when selecting a floor. Of the top four items listed, “aesthetics” came in No. 1 by an overwhelming margin, while “ease of maintenance” was No. 4. According to Andrew Levine of Stone Care International, Baltimore, Maryland, “Maintenance [for shopping center floors] is one of the most neglected aspects…when it comes to floor care selection, and, worse, the first budget cuts always go to maintenance.”

Another problem encountered in maintaining floors in large shopping centers and malls is the fact that often the cleaning professionals have not been adequately trained on how to care for the floors installed or how to perform floor care tasks in general.

“As soon as a wear pattern shows up, the first thing some maintenance people want to do is put a coating [of finish] over it,” Levine said. “There are usually other procedures that should be taken to care for the floors that keep them looking good all the time.”

And often, the proper floor care products are not being used to care for a mall’s floors. Jeanne Nichols of GranitiFiandre, an Italian porcelain floor and wall tile maker, works with developers selecting floors that can best hold up in a shopping center based on the expected mall traffic, the appearance desired, and the developer’s budget. “I can’t believe how many times I get called about floor care problems after installation only to find out the incorrect cleaning products [chemicals and floor machines] are being used.”

There is usually little BSCs can do about floor selection. However, selecting the proper floor care chemicals and equipment, performing cleaning tasks at appropriate frequencies and making sure cleaning professionals are properly trained in floor care are directly the BSCs responsibility. When enacted, this can help alleviate-if not eliminate-many of the floor care challenges encountered in shopping malls.

Chemical Selection

“When it comes to floor care chemicals for shopping centers and malls, most end users are looking for products that dry quickly, have enough coefficient friction – the dimensions quantity used to calculate friction on a clean surface to help prevent slips and falls – keeps the floors attractive and durable, and can help reduce costly refinishing cycles,” said Mike Sawchuk, Vice President of Enviro-Solutions, a manufacturer of environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals and products. “And, because floor care chemicals are some of the most powerful in the industry, many more end users are now looking for ‘greener’ chemicals as well.”

Sawchuk believes that some jansan chemical manufacturers now produce environmentally preferable floor care chemicals that perform as well as conventional floor care chemicals; products that are long lasting, relatively easy to apply (helping to reduce labor time and costs) and that help prevent slips and falls, a liability and litigation issue that is always a concern in a large public facility such as a shopping center. Additionally, green-certified floor care chemicals and metal-free floor finishes are now available that minimize cleaning’s impact on the environment.

“However, this does not mean any floor care product from any manufacturer will work,” Sawchuk said. “Product testing may be necessary. No two shopping centers are exactly alike when it comes to foot traffic, floor layout, soil type and load, climate, and other factors.”

According to Sawchuk, in one testing procedure, approximately 20,000 square feet of floor space was used to evaluate a metal-free finish, restorer, and neutral cleaner using a 17-inch auto-scrubber for a nine-month period. “They also tested how difficult it was to remove the finish,” he said. “Stripping is very labor-intensive, and some floor finishes are formulated so that they require prolonged exposure to potent strippers and several passes with the floor machine to remove.”

Sawchuk says that in this test, the chemicals held up well, provided a satisfactory gloss, and were easy to use. On top of that, they actually produced a $1,267 chemical savings. However, he cautions that it may take two or three tests to find chemicals that work and work together well.

Equipment Selection

“Obviously, for a large shopping center, an auto-scrubber is your best choice,” said Mark Cuddy, director of sales-east for Tornado Industries, a manufacturer of professional cleaning equipment. “Auto-scrubbers can contribute to overall floor safety and greatly improve worker productivity because they can mop, scrub, rinse, squeegee, and vacuum floors all at the same time.”

When selecting an auto-scrubber or any floor care equipment for use in a shopping center or mall, Cuddy says that end users should base their product selections on such items as:
  • The size of the floor area to be maintained
  • Width of aisles and walkways
  • Type of floor (brick, tile and grout, VCT, stone, etc.)
  • Adequate solution and recovery tank size
  • Solution flow rates
  • Width and head pressure of the machine
  • Operating time between charges


“Additionally, they should compare rotary machines versus cylindrical brush technology,” Cuddy said. “Many times, this can make a big difference in worker productivity and floor appearance depending on the type of floor installed.”

For instance, some malls and shopping centers install brick or tile and grout floors because they are so durable, according to Cuddy. But these floors are porous, and even if they are well sealed and finished, soil and grit can penetrate the sealant/finish and become embedded in the floor.

“A rotary machine may not be able to penetrate the surface of the brick to remove the embedded soils,” Cuddy said. “But a cylindrical machine uses counter-rotating brushes that can remove these soils and restore the floor’s appearance.”

Cuddy adds that end users often find cylindrical machines easer to use. “This helps reduce worker fatigue, allowing more area to be cleaned safely and efficiently,” he said.

Working Together

Both Sawchuk and Cuddy say that the cleaning chemicals and floor equipment selected for the care of shopping centers and malls – especially because they can be such large areas – must work well together. In some cases, the chemical manufacturers will develop floor care products, and then the equipment manufacturers will tailor certain of their floor machines to work specifically with that chemical makeup.

A knowledgeable jansan distributor can help end users select the chemicals and equipment that are best suited to each other. This will also help improve worker performance and the floor’s appearance.

“This translates into reduced labor costs, along with the glossy and durable results shopping center managers like for their floors,” Cuddy said.

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