Tile and Grout Maintenance in Clay-Component Restrooms

July 12, 2006
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Air movers can be very beneficial


I recently received a call concerning maintenance for ceramic tile in restrooms. A manager of a building service contractor company was charged with cleaning several restrooms for a newly acquired account.

The restrooms were of various sizes and spread out over an entire campus with some off-site facilities. Although it is generally not recommended, some of the restrooms had an acrylic polish on them. His technicians were complaining that, although they liked the performance of the stripper they were using, after a while the smell was getting to them.

Red lights were flashing and bells were going off in my head. I asked what they doing for ventilation. "Well, they propped the door open to let the air in," he replied.

Two topics surfaced as a result of his response: chemical selection and ventilation. Because clay component tiles are impervious to damage caused by most cleaning chemicals, they are often subjected to the most hostile chemicals in the arsenal. Ventilation is an often-overlooked safety procedure in all enclosed areas, but is particularly abused in the maintenance of clay-component restrooms.

Chemical Selection

There are many types of floor coverings used in restrooms, but the most difficult to maintain are clay-component tiles, primarily because of the grout lines. Tile has a naturally smooth surface, while the grout is very porous. The grout is usually lower than the tile, so soil is carried by the cleaning solution to the lowest point and deposited in the pores of grout as the liquid evaporates. This results in soiled grout lines that are unsightly and very difficult to clean.

The situation is compounded when floor seal/finish is on the tiles. Every time the floor is stripped, emulsified seal/finish is carried deeper and deeper into the pores of the grout, making it almost impossible to remove. Identifying the soil condition and understanding the properties of cleaning chemicals can help in selecting the right chemical for the clay component restroom cleaning task.

Neutral cleaners are primarily used for daily/routine and periodic maintenance service procedures such as mopping and scrubbing. They are safe enough to use in almost every type of environment that requires low soil removal. Neutral cleaners are safe enough for anyone to use, all that is required is that you read and follow the instructions.

Periodic hard-floor maintenance service procedures, generally classified as a medium or heavy scrubbing incorporates the use of all-purpose cleaners in conjunction with scrubbing machines (rotary or cylindrical) and abrasive pads or brushes. These maintenance procedures effectively remove heavy and embedded soil.

Degreasers are high-alkaline products developed to deal with the problems of removing fats, greases and oils. These products generally range high in alkalinity and are used in many environments; industrial, automotive, mechanical, food processing and kitchens.

Stripping chemicals are specially designed to emulsify floor seal and/or finish in order to remove it from an existing surface. They are also high in alkalinity, but they are specific to the needs of floor finish removal. Just because they do a great job removing floor finish does not mean they should be used a cleaning chemical; that is not their purpose. If there is no finish on the floor, it would be less costly and just as effective to use all-purpose cleaners or degreasers.

Porous grout can be a cleaning challenge

Ventilation

Cleaning-chemical selection is predicated by the type of soil to be removed. If a polish or a coating needs removing, a stripping chemical will have to be incorporated. If the main problems involve automotive or organic oils and greases, a degreasing chemical would better serve the purpose. If light, moderate or heavy soiling is to be removed, a neutral cleaner or all-purpose cleaner may suffice.

All floor-cleaning chemicals emit some odor. The odor's potency is impacted by the cleaning chemical, dilution ratio, the amount of product on the floor and the size of the area. The stronger the cleaning chemical the more the likelihood it will not be healthy to breathe. Ventilation becomes more and more important the stronger the potency of the cleaning chemical.

Restrooms are, generally speaking, confined areas with limited ventilation. When using harsh chemicals (acidic or alkaline), just propping the door open will not create enough ventilation to evacuate the unpleasant odors. This is the perfect opportunity for a floor fan or air mover. They may be placed inside the restroom blowing contaminated air out or outside the restroom blowing fresh air in and, in some extreme cases, it may be prudent to have one blowing in and one blowing out to get maximum ventilation. Either way, air will be cycled through the area, making it much safer for the technician.

When performing floor maintenance on clay component tiles, particularly in small, enclosed areas such as restrooms, chemical selection is very important. Of course the chemical should be powerful enough to remove the soiling condition, but of equal importance is making sure that safety is always in the forefront. Always ensure that your technicians understand the importance of ventilating the area they are working in. Without proper ventilation, physical conditions may cause difficulty in breathing, headaches and in some cases severe respiratory conditions.

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