What's New in Floor Care

What’s new in floor care? That depends on your perspective. From one point of view, the answer is not much. A lot of time and money are still spent stripping floors and applying floor finish. Most of us use the same old dust mop, wet mop and wringer that have been in use for the last 100 years. And, in most cases, instead of maintaining floors on a daily or weekly basis, we wait for summer break to do our deep cleaning and refinishing. So from that perspective, it’s business as usual. Not much has changed.

At the same time, if you take a closer look, a lot has changed. We now use synthetic detergents instead of natural soaps. We use floor pads instead of steel wool or natural fiber brushes. Floor machines now spin at 2,000 rpm instead of 175 rpm, and we use polymer-based floor finish instead of carnuba wax. These are significant changes that have come to pass in the last 30 years.

But what about today? What’s new right now that affects the way you maintain hard and resilient floors? Is there anything new in floor care that has a significant effect on how, when or how much it costs to keep your floors looking good? There is. Much.

Students, staff and the public are more aware than ever of the value and importance of cleaning. Dirty is no longer socially acceptable. Most people want clean, which they equate with safe, secure and good. This doesn’t necessarily translate into being willing to pay a lot more for cleanliness. But when there is a choice, clean wins every time.

There are also significant changes taking place in the floor surfaces market. The installation of hard and resilient floor covering materials is on the increase.

From a cleaning standpoint, floor care professionals are realizing, because of training and experience, that prevention and regular maintenance on a daily, weekly or monthly basis are more cost effective and give better results than once- or twice-a-year restoration efforts. This is causing them to take a closer look at and give more thought to staffing, scheduling, frequencies, procedures, products and equipment when it comes to floor care.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s new with equipment, chemicals and procedures, as a lot is changing. And, more importantly, facility managers should take these changes into consideration when planning budgets and developing floor care programs.

Equipment

The trend is toward mechanization and away from manual labor. It’s more cost effective and less potentially damaging to the body. Riding equipment can’t be manufactured fast enough to meet the growing demand. Whether it be sweepers, dust mops, vacuums, burnishers or autoscrubbers, riding equipment is, on average, at least 40 percent more productive than walking, and it does a better job of cleaning.

In the past, when we thought of autoscrubbers we would think big, heavy and costly. That is no longer true. Recent imports now provide a wide selection of small, lightweight and inexpensive walk-behind autoscrubbers that are ideal for restrooms, kitchens and other confined spaces. Not only are these machines more productive but, more importantly, they actually remove soil because they use clean water - something you’ll never get with a mop and pail once you finish cleaning your first room.

Alternative power sources are increasing equipment productivity. Propane burnishers provide a high-gloss shine as fast as you can walk, and battery-powered machines give you almost the same results. With this increased production, there is no reason to let the condition of your floors deteriorate to the point that restoration is required, when on-going maintenance can keep them looking like new all year long.

Several new types of floor machines have been introduced on the market that are easier, safer and more productive to use. As the price continues to drop, robotic equipment is gaining popularity in facilities that have wide-open spaces such as gymnasiums; multipurpose rooms; and long, wide hallways.

With a focus on dust control due to concerns over Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), the dust mop is being replaced by backpack vacuums with HEPA filters and wide area hard floor tools. Within a few years, every burnisher and floor machine sold will come equipped with a positive vacuum containment system to prevent dust from becoming airborne.

Chemicals

Higher concentrations and environmentally preferable products that are part of a "systems approach" to cleaning are the trend. Chemicals no longer stand alone. They are being sold as one part of a system that may include detergents, strippers, finish, pads and equipment. No one item is as effective alone as it is when used as part of an entire cleaning system. It is not uncommon today for an equipment manufacturer to provide or at least have available an entire line of chemicals for use with their equipment.

Chemicals are building in additional features. As an example, a detergent might also be a disinfectant that kills germs and a deodorizer that leaves the room smelling good. Floor finish might include an antimicrobial to kill germs and an abrasive to help prevent slips and falls.

Automated dilution systems are quickly replacing the "glug-glug" method of dispensing cleaning chemicals. In almost every instance, a dilution system of any kind reduces chemical costs by at least 30 percent and sometimes as much as 70 percent over the conventional measure-and-pour approach.

Advances in polymer technology have resulted in floor finishes that last longer, resist black marks better, don’t yellow and can be burnished to restore the shine. Unless the floor is brand new or in poor shape, most chemical manufacturers agree that the use of a sealer as a base coat is no longer required when applying floor finish. A couple of extra coats of finish give the same results and are easier to remove when the time comes to strip the floor.

Several companies make a topcoat finish that is designed to extend the periods between stripping and recoating the floor in high-traffic areas. When properly applied and maintained, these products reduce labor costs by extending the frequency cycle.

As with anything new, it is best to test the product or concept in a small area for six months to a year before making a decision to switch chemicals, equipment or procedures facilitywide. This way, if things don’t turn out as planned, you won’t have to wipe so much egg off your face.

Procedures

The actual step-by-step procedures that outline how each job

should be done haven’t changed much recently, the exception being that procedures now take into consideration concerns such as IEQ, blood-borne pathogen precautions and other safety issues.

The biggest change has been awareness on the part of management that written procedures are needed for reference and training and must be followed if you want to obtain the desired results consistently.

Procedures should be up to date and outline exactly how the work is to be done. This should include aspects such as: what chemicals and equipment are required, safety precautions that apply, and quality assurance guidelines that can be used to evaluate the quality of the work performed.

There is also a growing awareness on the part of management that on-going training is required for the custodial staff. It’s not just an issue of knowing how to do the work, but also understanding how the work that you do fits into a bigger picture. It also includes developing a positive attitude about your work and responsibilities. This includes learning how to work with others; taking pride in your work; and realizing that what you do each day makes a difference in the lives of students, staff and public. This positive attitude is as important as knowing how to hold a mop or clean a toilet.

Some local sanitary suppliers, as well as equipment and chemical manufacturers, support training efforts with videos, guest speakers, workbooks, product donations, cost reimbursement and gifts.

Another area that is changing is the use of computer software programs for the management of custodial operations, including work loading, cost analysis, employee records and timekeeping, quality assurance, inventory control and scheduling.

What Next?

All aspects of the cleaning industry and floor maintenance will continue to evolve and change in the future. The major difference will be the speed of change. What took 40 years in the past now happens in four years or less. Therefore, facility managers must work harder to stay on top of what is going on so they don’t fall behind.

William R. Griffin is president of Seattle-based Cleaning Consultant Services.

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