Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Solving Rest Room Floor Maintenance Problems

February 1, 2001
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One of the most challenging areas for a facility manager or a hard floor maintenance technician is the rest room. Some facilities may see minimal usage while others receive excessive traffic. As many facility types there are, there are just as many types of floor coverings used in rest rooms. The most utilized, and most difficult to maintain, is ceramic tile.

Ceramic tile is used considerably in rest rooms because of its ability to repel water and soil. Although some may use 12" x 12" tiles, the most common is 1-2" square embedded in a standard sanded grout. These tiles may be glazed or unglazed, while others have a highly polished or high gloss look. The common denominator to all ceramic tile floors—they are all surrounded by grout.

This presents the technician with the challenge of maintaining a surface that on one hand is smooth, hard and relatively impenetrable, but on the other hand is surrounded by a porous surface susceptible to staining.

Additionally, the grouted surface generally lies lower than the ceramic surface. Water will always seek the path of least resistance and migrate to the lower lying grout areas carrying with it all soiling. This soil will rest in the pores of the grout areas and become trapped—creating darker grout lines are unappealing.

Initial Maintenance

Before performing any maintenance procedure, set and secure a safety perimeter using wet floor signs, placards, and 3" danger tape. I have found that red danger tape works better than yellow caution tape.

As with all hard floor surfaces, maintenance begins directly after installation. The installer generally cleans the surface area to remove grout residue and eliminate hazing. Allow the grout to cure properly before the initial maintenance or you will spread uncured grout on to the surface of the tile, thus, creating a haze that will be difficult to remove if allowed to dry.

Once the grout has set, inspect the area to ensure there is no staining or other anomalies that should be removed before sealing. You may have to spot areas using a mild phosphoric acid cleaner to eliminate them. After inspection, apply neutral or all-purpose cleaning solution to the floor surface (in accordance with the recommended dilution ratio) and agitate with a scrubbing pad or brush. Brushes work better on irregular surfaces than pads, but avoid using a stripping pad or brush on the initial or periodic cleaning because of the stiffness and abrasives inherent to the pad or brush. Detail the edges, corners, baseboards and hard to get areas with an edging tool and pads/brushes. Pull solution from hard-to-reach areas to the center of the area and remove solution with wet vacuum. Rinse the floor twice and allow it to dry completely.

Seal the tile and grout using a penetrating sealer designed for clay/masonry floor coverings. Apply a moderate coat of seal to the floor with towels or mop and allow a few minutes for penetration then remove excess with dry towels or a wrung out mop. The objective is to remove as much excess from the surface as possible.

Allow the seal to cure (approximately 8 hours) and apply an additional coat in the same manner. Penetrating sealers are not high gloss and will not produce the wet floor look. They will however give your floor protection that can last up to a year under normal circumstances.

One of the questions that I am most frequently asked is whether or not to use aqueous or water-based, acrylic or urethane seals or finishes. These are not the recommended types of products to use on ceramic type floors. But, property managers, managers or supervisors may ask you to do this to produce a high gloss shine. It does not hurt the floor and in some instances may be cost effective for that particular customer. Be aware that using these types of seal or finishes will impact your maintenance program and may end up costing considerably more in maintenance costs.

If you are in a position of applying aqueous seals and finishes, apply appropriate number of coats of seal followed by floor finish. The desired gloss level will dictate the number of coats applied.

Daily/Routine Maintenance

Daily or routine maintenance is critical to the success of your ceramic tile maintenance program. Removing soils regularly decreases soil build-up by reducing the amount of contact time the soil has to penetrate the grout. Maintaining the effects of urine and soap residue is difficult. If dealt with routinely, it can be reduced or eliminated.

Remove all dry dirt, grit and dust using a broom or dust mop. Wet mop the floor using a solution of neutral cleaner or sanitizing chemicals. Agitate build-up areas, such as under urinals and sink areas where soap residue (from dripping wet hands) accumulates, using a bristle brush. Wring the mop out and damp mop the floor to pick up excess solution. In some situations, a fresh water rinse may be necessary. Remember, detailing the areas you know are going to build-up will save you time in the long-term.

Periodic Maintenance

Periodic maintenance is generally accomplished by scrubbing the floor with a 175-rpm rotary floor machine together with a scrubbing pad or brush, and cleaning chemicals. Use the scrubbing procedure described in the “Initial Maintenance” section above.

If the floor is on an aqueous- or water-based system, then spray buff or burnish the floor to a high gloss or apply one or two coats of floor finish depending on how aggressive of a scrub you performed. Also, detailing edges, corners, baseboards and key areas will help to avoid soil encapsulation, which extends the time between stripping the floor.

Salvage or Rescue Maintenance

Regardless of how well you maintain your ceramic tile, there will come a time when regular maintenance will not bring it up to a desirable level or you may inherit one that is in an undesirable state. When this occurs, you will need to perform a salvage or rescue operation.

If the floor has acrylic, urethane seals or finishes on it, then remove them using conventional stripping procedures. Once all pre-existing coats of seals and finishes are removed, apply one or two coats of penetrating sealer using the procedure described in “Initial Maintenance.” If the ceramic has eroded beyond the level you desire, then use ceramic tile polishing compounds to bring them back. Tile polishing is accomplished using a standard 175-rpm rotary floor machine and appropriate pads. Apply one or two coats of ceramic penetrating seal. If an aqueous- or water-based chemical system is utilized, apply the appropriate amount of coats to achieve your objective.

Summary

Ceramic tile rest rooms do not require aqueous or water-based coatings and can be easier to maintain if the appropriate methods are used. Polishing compounds and penetrating sealers can deliver cost-effective results in the long run. They require more maintenance time for the initial and salvage or rescue procedures, but require less maintenance time in the daily/routine and periodic maintenance. These processes, which eliminate labor-intensive spray buffing and stripping, will result in long-lasting floors that make you look good. In the end, reducing maintenance costs will make the customer happy and you more profitable.

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