Getting to the Floorfront

June 1, 2000
So you think cleaning floors is a daunting task with the wide range of polishers, scrubbers, sanders, edgers and refinishers on the market? Spare a thought

So you think cleaning floors is a daunting task with the wide range of polishers, scrubbers, sanders, edgers and refinishers on the market? Spare a thought for the high school janitors of the 1960s and '70s charged with removing the scuff marks on classroom wax floors.

"It was a constant process because every time you walked on it you left a scuff mark," says Chuck Shipp, president of Conyers, Ga.-based Shipp Rental Cleaning Systems. "The janitor had to use a pad and wool blanket every day to get the floor back to that shiny look."

Like other tasks that once took countless hours and energy to complete, floor care has gotten much easier since then with improvements in equipment and technology, much of which is no doubt because of home and business owners wanting their floors to look like the floor in the local grocery store. And, there is no shortage of services available to achieve that, evidenced by glancing through the Yellow Pages or by visiting the local rental center.

But don't be intimidated. In most cases, individuals with little or no mechanical proficiency can operate floor cleaning equipment with little risk of damaging themselves or the floor surface.

"They are trying to simplify maintenance to the point where 90 to 95 percent of floor care can be done by someone who is not mechanically inclined," says Kevin Hughes, a purchasing agent with Manufacturers Sales Co. in Texarkana, Ark. "It's a lot easier to use than you might think, particularly with the wide range of videos available and the knowledgeable rental store salespeople that are there to help."

The many different floor types include wood, ceramic tile, marble, terrazzo, concrete and vinyl.

Here are the best tried and tested ways to clean and maintain those surfaces.

Wood Wood floors, considered by many to be the easiest to look after, often require little more than a damp cloth and cleaning solution to remove stains. Of larger importance to the rental center staff or retailer is the condition of the wood should the customer want to restore or polish the floor. Is it a new floor? Is it level? Are the boards sticking up? Is the wood worn?

"For old antique floors that can be 80 years old, you want to restore it, and it's almost like putting down a new floor," said Greg Meinhart, a supervisor at MTA Distributors in Whites Creek, Tenn. "Often, the boards are uneven, and you'll need to use a drum sander. For floors that are up to 15-20 years old, an orbital sander can be more effective."

To clean, polish and refinish a wood floor, several pieces of equipment are often needed, including an orbital or square buff/rectangular sander, a drum sander, an edger, and a refinisher or floor polisher. Both oil- and water-based finishers are available for that purpose depending on the look desired, says Frank Barous, CEO of EssexSilver-Line in Dracut, Mass. The water-based version does not bring out the contrast in different shades of wood, so customers who prefer to see the warmth of those shades should be advised to use an oil-based finisher, he said.

Ceramic tile Users should avoid using abrasive powders and cleaning solutions to clean ceramic tile. Like wood, it is popular for use in homes and businesses because of its low maintenance requirements and ability to resist abuse.

Shipp said heavy-duty degreasers such as Crest and LB-60 are suitable cleaning agents because neither will damage the tile. For tiles with a matte or dull finish, all-purpose cleaners and degreasers, such as Crest or Eco-tec, are considered the most effective. To preserve tile with a high-gloss finish, natural pH cleaners dry film-free, promoting the shine of the natural gloss, he says.

Ceramic tile is held together by masonry grout, which, if it is dark in color can be easily cleaned, but if white or light in color requires a solution of water and chlorine bleach to remove the dirt. It should be noted bleach does not clean the oil or grease filmed over the grout. In that case, a degreaser should first be used before applying an acid-based cleaner.

To maintain the "wet look" on tile floors, the floor should be swept regularly and mopped daily with cool water mixed with mild, diluted cleaners but not ammonia or bleach.

Marble The porous nature of marble makes it an easy target for stains, but by priming the surface ahead of time, damage can be minimized.

Depending on your preference, acids may be used to enhance the natural shine. Others prefer to use natural cleaners and polishers.

Dick Hammond, applications manager at Alto U.S. in Chesterfield, Mo., said once the marble has been honed with a marble polisher, he applies a slightly abrasive marble polishing cream, similar to automobile polish, because it leaves no coating. It is just as effective as acids, he says, in bringing out the natural beauty of marble.

How often should a marble floor be buffed and polished? "It depends on the traffic and when it loses its shine," Hammond says. "In hotels, for example, it should be polished every two to three weeks, while less traveled floors can go longer between polishes."

Should anything spill on marble, it should be wiped off immediately. Use paste or seal to prevent stains from being absorbed into the marble surface. Do not use nylon pads to buff marble floors.

Terrazzo New terrazzo floors require the application of a penetrating sealer to seal the pores in the cement, preventing stain absorption. Commercial cleaners are made especially for terrazzo. All-purpose household cleaners should not be used because they usually contain alkalies. Should stubborn soil stain the floor, use an electric scrubbing machine with a stronger solution of neutral cleaner periodically. To buff terrazzo floors, Chip Wirsing, owner of Manhattan Floor in New York says soap and water is most effective. As is the case with marble floors, don't use nylon pads because they will likely cause dull spots on the floor surface, he says.

Concrete and cement Porches and patios can absorb stains easily, regardless of how smooth or rough the surface is. To combat stain absorption, the floors should be sealed or painted. Painters should, however, evaluate just how the floors will be used before sealing or painting.

According to home improvement Web site, latex floor paints react to rubber tires, including those on cars, bicycles and lawn mowers with the likely result being paint peeling. Alkyd floor enamels perform better under those circumstances but become slippery when wet, thus creating additional safety hazards. Also, moisture below the surface can cause the floor to rise and cause the enamel floor paint to peel.

One of the biggest floor cleaning advances has come in the area of concrete floor polishers, said Shipp.

The addition of better bristles to buffers and polishers, which are now available in two speed configurations - 175 rpm or less and the high-speed models up to 1,500 rpm - has improved the quality of work and ease of operation.

Vinyl As with all floor types, regular maintenance is key to keeping vinyl attractive and effective for many years. Vinyl floors, by many accounts, are often among the easiest to maintain.

Regular sweeping and vacuuming of vinyl floors are usually sufficient to keep the surface clean. For tougher stains, a damp mop with cool or lukewarm water will do the job. If mopping is not sufficient, Alto's Hammond says use a mild cleaning solution with scrubbers and polishers and an auto-scrubber for larger foors. Two types of polishers can be used for that purpose: a buffable, soft-finish polisher and a high-speed burnisher, powered either by battery, electricity or propane and most often used in commercial applications.

Self-polishing or solvent-based wax or floor polish can also be applied to the vinyl surface when washing fails to bring back the shine.