- By Michael Fickes
- December 1st, 2007
If you insist on allowing students, faculty, administrators, maintenance people, and the occasional animal to walk, run, trip, spill liquids, drop heavy objects, and drool on floors all across campus, then you must also protect your floors (or replace them) constantly.
Here’s what flooring experts recommend for protecting different kinds of flooring. You may be surprised to find that it isn’t nearly as difficult or time consuming as it used to be.
Protecting Vinyl and Linoleum
“Vinyl composition tile (VCT) is arguably the cheapest flooring material to install,” said Carla Remenschneider, interior department coordinator and associate with the Indianapolis-based architectural firm of Fanning Howey. “It will go in for about $1.50 per square foot. If you maintain it right and use walk-off mats at the doors, you can preserve VCT for some time.”
Since 1985, VCT has been easier to protect, thanks to a manufacturing change that many maintenance and janitorial departments may have failed to notice.
Prior to 1985, manufacturers applied a coating of paraffin to VCT to protect the surface during shipment and installation, said Kathy Bultman, territory manager with the commercial division of Armstrong Flooring in Indianapolis. The paraffin had to be stripped off before acrylic polish could be applied.
“Today, people waste a lot of time stripping new VCT floors when it is no longer necessary,” Bultman said. “I’ve seen people ruin new VCT floors by stripping them with aggressive chemicals.”
Today’s VCT flooring comes with a protective coating of acrylic already applied, continued Bultman. To protect the flooring, it is only necessary to scrub it lightly — to remove any dirt that has gotten onto the factory-applied acrylic finish. Next, apply two to five more coatings of acrylic finish. VCT is 85 percent limestone, which is extremely porous. The additional coatings fill up the pores and provide protection.
Periodically, you must re-apply the acrylic coatings. How often depends on the kind of acrylic used — there are soft and hard acrylics — and the speed of the burnishing equipment used to polish the floor. Ask your vendor for recommendations.
Sheet vinyl is different. It isn’t as porous as VCT. Two coats of acrylic will probably prove sufficient. But it is important to ask the manufacturer whether or not you can polish the brand of vinyl you have purchased.
“Some manufacturers coat their vinyl flooring with ultraviolet (UV) cured urethane,” Bultman said. “A coat of acrylic polish on top of the UV-cured urethane might prolong the life of the floor — or ruin its appearance. Some UV-cured urethanes cannot tolerate acrylic finishes. When they start to develop traffic patterns, the floor gets ugly. Nothing will bring it back because the dirt is embedded in the flooring. You can use the floor, but it will be unsightly.”
Bultman says that some manufacturers won’t reveal what kind of UV-cured urethane they apply. So it is important to ask a question they will answer: Is it okay to polish this floor with acrylic? If the answer is no, there is no way to predict the life cycle of the floor. Depending upon where it is in the facility, it may last a long time or a short time. “It might be best to use a different product,” she said.
If the floor will tolerate acrylic polish, it need not be applied right away. After a few years, when the floor begins to lose its luster, it can be brought back with a couple coats of acrylic finish.
While it is a natural product, linoleum can be cared for like vinyl sheet. Bultman’s recommendation is to put on a couple of coats of acrylic finish. Just be sure to ask to manufacturer if the floor will tolerate an acrylic polish because the same problem with different kinds of UV-cured urethane crops up with linoleum.
Protecting Carpet Against Stains
Most manufacturers today apply some form of stain protection at the factory that makes stains much easier to clean off.
Lees Carpet, for instance, uses a patented stain protection called Duracolor. “This provides permanent stain resistance,” said Glen Vandermark, a Lees account executive in Indianapolis. “It is not a topical treatment; it is a chemical process that makes stain protection part of the nylon fibers.”
According to Vandermark, Duracolor is essentially a dying process that gives carpet fibers a negative charge. Chemicals that stain are acids, which carry negative charges. Since like charges repel, Duracolor prevents a stain from adhering to the carpet.
DuPont Stainmaster works in a similar fashion. According to the Quality Discount Carpets Website, Stainmaster uses the electrical properties of carpet fiber and builds stain resistance into the fiber itself. Like Duracolor, Stainmaster does not wear away and does not have to be re-applied like topical stain protection.
As long as the carpet has fiber, it will repel acid-based stains.
John Santarossa, owner of the 87-year-old Santarossa Mosaic & Tile Co., Inc. in Indianapolis, provides these recommendations for protecting stone floors.
After installing a granite, marble, porcelain ceramic tile, or quarry tile floor, apply one coat of polysiloxane sealer and nothing else. Santarossa said that polysiloxane is a penetrating sealer that will protect the floor from water and oil for six to seven years.
But don’t use anything on top of this sealer. If you do, the polysiloxane will blister off.
Terrazzo floors used to be protected by polishing with a 120-grit grinding pad and then applying an acrylic sealer. The sealer must be re-done twice a year.
A newer method called liquid vitrification raises the cost of installation, but provides long-lasting protection for many years. With this method, polishing begins with a 120-grit grinding pad and moves through 400-, 600-, and 800-grit pads. Then comes a spray application of liquid vitrification, or liquid glass. This surface treatment is buffed with steel wool. The resulting surface is hard and shiny, but not slippery. The only maintenance required is a daily dry dust-mopping.
Surface finishes and penetrating finishes are used to protect wood floors, according to the Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association.
Surface finishes blend synthetic resins, plasticizers, and other ingredients to make films that adhere to the surface of the wood. They include polyurethane, Swedish finish, moisture-cure urethane, and water-based urethanes. They are recommended for kitchen floors and other areas where liquids may be spilled.
The Association also notes that surface finishes should not be waxed. Once waxed, a floor protected by a surface finish must be sanded down to the raw wood to be recoated.
Penetrating sealers protect by soaking into the wood and hardening. The Association cautions against using penetrating sealers in areas where liquid spills are likely. While the sealer will protect the wood, exposure to liquid will stain it.
These floors may be waxed but only with a wax designed for use on hardwood floors, and never with a water-based wax. While some manufacturers recommend water-based waxes for woods, the Association advises against them.
In closing, Fanning Howey’s Remenschneider notes that the best possible protection for a flooring material “won’t live up to its potential if you don’t clean and maintain the floor on a regular schedule.”