Winter Floor Care
by Scott DeFields
those of you in sunny southern climates, sit back and enjoy this article. For
the rest of us, winter often results in a mixture of increased labor and lower
floor appearance levels, not a very desirable combination.
In addition, slip concerns generally increase in the winter and spring
months. An understanding of the underlying causes of the problems, corrective
measures and preventive maintenance help to alleviate the problems associated
with winter floor care.
Procedures, Procedures, Procedures
Winter conditions stress a floor's finish to the point where any potential
problems may be amplified. The ultimate starting point for any floor care
discussion is the implementation of a proper floor care system. This includes
selection of products based upon variables such as desired results, available
equipment and labor restraints. Equally as important is selecting and adhering
to a maintenance system which will keep the floor appearance at an optimum
level. Whereas we will not address these areas specifically in this article, a
proper overall floor care system should always be considered to be the basis of
any specific problem solving activities.
is the most significant and potentially damaging element to a floor associated
with winter conditions. Grit, in the form of salt, sand, or mud (sand, pebbles
in the dry state) will grind through any floor finish. Excessive grit can cause
dulling of a finish, visible scratching, or "powdering." In addition,
grit is a slip hazard on a floor.
The proper use of walk-off matting is the first line of attack against grit.
Using two types of matting is highly recommended. The main purpose of outside
and foyer matting is to remove and trap particulate soil (grit) from shoes. An
absorbent interior matting will help to remove additional soils and moisture,
thereby reducing labor requirements and slip concerns with the interior floors.
Equally as important as the type and quantity of matting is keeping the
matting clean, through vacuuming and extraction as necessary.
Frequent dust mopping is also required in order to keep the grit level to a
minimum. It may be necessary to dust mop entrance ways and major traffic lanes
several times per day; the entire facility should be dust mopped at least on a
Proper grit control procedures extend outside facility doors. In addition to
adequate outdoor matting, entrances and walkways should be swept regularly.
Excessive Water and Soiling
Due to the wet nature of the winter months, excessive water and greasy soils
are also tracked into our facilities. Besides increasing the need for a proper
matting system, it is also prudent to perform spot cleaning as frequent as
necessary. This may be accomplished by autoscrubbing or damp mopping. In
addition to eliminating water, thereby reducing reduce slip hazards, soil is
also removed. All floor surfaces should be cleaned daily following dust mopping.
If we have implemented a burnishing maintenance system, it is especially
important to ensure adequate cleaning before the floor is burnished during the
winter months. Otherwise, customers will grind the dirt into the floor finish,
resulting in a premature yellowing in high traffic lanes.
Ice Melter Considerations
Ice melters may be chosen based on a variety of factors, including
efficiency, their effective temperature range, and effect on concrete. Sodium
chloride and calcium chloride are two major types of ice melting compounds. In
terms of interior floor maintenance, the primary concern with sodium chloride
(rock salt) is its abrasive character, leading to a possible grit control
problem as previously described. Calcium chloride is the major alternative to
sodium chloride. By nature, calcium chloride will absorb moisture from the air
and revert to a liquid. Inside warm buildings, an oily residue results and forms
a greasy film.
A calcium chloride film is often very difficult to remove. Damp mopping with
a neutral cleaner will not usually remove a build-up. Neutralizer rinses (mild
acids) used at the recommended dilution are more effective at removing this
residue. Scrubbing followed by a wet vacuum recovery (or preferably
autoscrubbing) is recommended as a daily or at least periodic maintenance step.
Buffing or burnishing will also help to grind the residue away from the finish.
Dust mopping immediately after buffing or burnishing is essential. Ice melter
residue can also show up in carpeting or walk off matting. Here, extraction with
a neutralizer rinse will remove both sodium and calcium chloride residues.
As mentioned previously, winter conditions tend to amplify any potential
floor care issues. For example, a floor finish system on a quarry tile floor
with marginal porosity may produce acceptable results in the summer months.
However, gritty conditions in the winter may force a much quicker adhesion loss.
Improved grit control (matting, dust mopping) will help the situation. In
addition, it may be necessary to recoat more often in the winter months.
Finally, some facilities will simply clean this type of floor in the winter,
abandoning a tile coating all together. Usually, if a quarry tile lacks
sufficient porosity necessary for adequate coating adhesion, then it will also
be non-porous enough to resist soiling without a coating. If desired, the
grouting can be sealed without using a coating on the actual tile surface. After
properly cleaning the floor/grout (a brush is essential), the grouting may be
sealed with either a penetrating sealer or a non-resilient floor sealer. For the
latter, the sealer is poured onto the floor and removed from the tile surface
using a soft window type squeegee, depositing the sealer into the grout.
Every floor finish requires a specific minimum temperature to form a coherent
film. If the substrate temperature is below this temperature, cracks may develop
in the finish when drying. In the best case scenario, this will result in soil
entrapment, which often shows up as dark "mop" marks in the finish.
For more severe cases, the finish will powder off the floor. As a general rule
of thumb, the minimum film- forming temperature for a floor coating should be
considered to be around 50°F (10°C). If the floor temperature is less than
50°F, the finish should not be applied. For example, floors near meat counters
in supermarkets may pose problems.
Low humidity is another factor to be considered. Low humidity causes the
solvents and water in a finish to evaporate much more quickly than they would
under more desirable conditions. Similar to low temperature, low humidity
stresses the film formation process. Of particular importance is recoat time.
The finish will be dry to the touch much more quickly during low humidity months
than under humid conditions. However, the finish still may not have cured enough
for recoating. Always wait at least 10-15 minutes after the finish is dry enough
to walk on, and a minimum of 30 minutes total dry time before recoating.
All of these winter floor care problems are often blamed on frozen product.
In reality, most finishes and sealers are formulated to withstand a few
freeze/thaw cycles. The main reason for the "Keep From Freezing"
stickers on many floor care products is that customers simply will not accept
frozen finish. However, some coatings are susceptible to freezing. Here, the
polymer solids will coagulate and separate out of the liquid mass. In such a
case, the product cannot be used. Also, it is possible that a product could go
through several freeze-thaw cycles in route to its final destination in
non-heated trucks. As a general recommendation, the floor coatings should be
shipped in heated trucks, and stored in environments where freezing is not
For all of the reasons outlined previously, environmental conditions in the
winter months in northern climates stress our floor care system.
As a result, in order to maintain a desirable appearance level, we may need
to shorten our maintenance cycles from the summer months. That is, we may have
to put more labor into routine cleaning, or may need to scrub and recoat or full
strip more often. This heightened schedule becomes our standard system in order
to keep our floors shining in the winter months.
Scott DeFields is a scientist at Ecolab Professional Products in St. Paul,