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The Exclusive Magazine for the Building Service Contracting Industry Since 1981

Simple Strategies for Solving Common Floor Care Problems

Written by  Debby Davis

Wet Vac

A building service contractor and his cleaning crew in California had just stripped the main walkway of a pier along San Francisco Bay. The pier’s relatively narrow walkway is about the length of a city block, and everything was going fine until it came time to apply the third coat of finish to the floor. The third coat—as most BSCs know—is very important because the first two coats of finish provide a “foundation,” while subsequent layers add to the shine of the floor.

At the beginning of the third application, the BSC realized that he did not have enough floor finish to complete the job, so he rushed back to his office and pulled another two gallons of finish. While this floor finish was made by a different manufacturer, the assumption was the two different types of finish would blend together and all would be fine. Unfortunately, that was a poor assumption.

As the finish dried, it became apparent that one section of the floor was shinier than the other. There was a relatively high gloss in areas where the original floor finish was used; however, in areas where the finish made by a different manufacturer was used, there was considerably less gloss. This scenario points out one of the key problems cleaning contractors may have in floor care—it’s usually best to use the same chemicals from the same manufacturer to complete a single job.

The reason for this is that many manufacturers specifically design floor care products to work together as part of a system. There is a synergy between the products, which may be broken if another manufacturer’s product is mixed in with it.

This is just one of many floor-care challenges BSCs may encounter. Some of these challenges, including the one just discussed, can easily be corrected if they are caught in time. Unfortunately, it is often after the strip and refinish job (commonly referred to as floor restoration) has been completed that the problems fully materialize.

Cold Weather
This article was written in January, when it was hovering around zero degrees (F) in many parts of the country. During times like these, when everyone is wrapped up and going about their business, the cold weather can be particularly problematic for floors and their finishes. Snow, ice, ice melt, and all types of debris become big threats to floors and finishes during the cold winter months. Plus, people are inside more often during these times of year, so floors typically receive much more foot traffic. The result is that a harsh winter can lead to floors that look drab and discolored, which is something most facility managers do not want, especially in lobby areas.

If this was happening at one of your accounts, would you strip and refinish the floor to get it spruced up and looking its best? In most cases, the correct answer is no. There are two key reasons for this:

• During the winter months, the air tends to be very dry. This can negatively impact how the finish dries.

• Secondly, if the floor is cold, the finish may not properly “cure” and adhere to the floor.

“Stripping and refinishing floors during the winter months is both logistically impractical [because of the increased foot traffic] and a waste of money,” says Bill Wilhelm, director of operations for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. “[Instead], I put down several layers of a very durable finish before [the winter months], building up the depth of the finish [and] allowing it to be burnished more frequently.”

In other words, it’s the buildup of floor finish before winter that will help keep the floor looking its best through the winter months.

Safety is at the top of a BSC’s list of priorities when it comes to floor care. The floor finish selected should have a coefficient of friction (COF) of 0.5 or higher. A COF of 0.5 ensures the floor is designed to help prevent slipand- fall accidents. Even better, check if the finish has been certified by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). Certification verifies that the finish has been independently tested and proven to meet certain standards and criteria to help promote floor safety.

If the finish begins to “powder,” forming a fine, light-colored film on the floor’s surface—and it’s a new floor—it is possible the manufacturer has applied a protective coating for shipping and delivery. This protective layer needs to be removed before finish is applied. But one of the most common reasons for powdering occurs when a high-speed burnisher is used on a finish that is designed for a low-speed machine. Solutions can vary, but the best option is to strip the floor and then use the right machine to match the finish.

Note that some powdering when using a high-speed burnisher with a ultra-high speed floor finish is not unusual and should not be a cause of alarm. However, contractors should wait at least 72 hours before burnishing a newly finished floor.

Poor gloss
As mentioned earlier, it’s typically after the third thin coat of finish that a shine begins to appear on the floor. Some BSCs will apply four to six thin coats to overcome the next problem, which is poor gloss. Using thin coats—and allowing each coat to thoroughly dry before applying the next—is very important because heavy coats of finish can impede the shine. Other potential causes for poor gloss include floors that are not thoroughly cleaned and rinsed before finish is applied or when soiled mops and buckets are used in the cleaning process. Cleaning the floor, applying a thin coat of finish, and then buffing/burnishing can typically solve most problems with poor gloss.

Scuffing and Scratching
Another common floor-care challenge is excessive scuffing or scratching after the finish has been applied. This can happen for several reasons: the finish was applied too thick, the finish was applied on a cold floor, or too few— and in some cases, too many—coats of finish were applied. Scrubbing and then burnishing the floor (or using a low-speed buffer if a low-speed finish has been applied) will usually rectify this problem.

Equipment Issues
Since it was just mentioned, this is an opportune place to discuss automatic scrubbers. These machines are one of the most important pieces of equipment BSCs can own, especially if they handle large floor areas. The big benefit of automatic scrubbers is that they can clean a floor considerably faster and more thoroughly than using a mop and bucket. This can significantly reduce labor costs and allow floor areas to be put back into service relatively quickly.

Automatic scrubbers are one-pass machines—they scrub clean, squeegee, and dry the floor all in one step. However, when selecting an automatic scrubber, most BSCs will find that’s about all they have in common. Today, these machines come in all shapes and sizes with varying features, some which truly help the user and others that are more “decorative” than helpful.

When selecting an automatic scrubber, look for features such as:

• A battery-operated machine that operates up to four hours on one charge

• Electronic motion control for forward and backward power assist

• A machine with an effective squeegee system to ensure moisture is thoroughly captured—curved squeegees typically remove the most water

• Multi-stage vacuum motor to more powerfully recover waste and slurry

• Large recovery and solution tanks

• Easy access to batteries and mechanicals (Important: while the user should be able to tackle minor service issues, especially on scrubbers with a removable solution tank, major servicing should always be handled by a repair professional).

The size of the machine selected is critical. Equipment that is too large will limit the number of facilities it can be used in, If it’s too small, it will take too much time to scrub the floor, defeating one of our key goals in selecting the machine in the first place.

Remember the BSC in Northern California we discussed earlier? This was not the first time he had restored the floors on this pier. The first time was when he was just learning how to strip and finish floors, and he used this pier—his client’s building—to learn how to do it. As you might imagine, he ran into an array of problems, and there was only one solution: he needed to become thoroughly trained before tackling an actualy job of this magnitude. So the last piece of advice we’ll offer on floor care is to always provide your staff with a sufficient level of training before they are tasked with real work. This will not only make your customers significantly happier, but it will make your job tremendously easier.

Debby Davis has been involved in the professional cleaning industry for several years and specializes in floor care cleaning and training. She is now product manager for Powr-Flite, a leading manufacturer of floor care equipment. She may be reached thru the company website at Powr-Flite.com.


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