Infection Control Today - 02/2001: Winter Floor Care

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Winter Floor Care

by Scott DeFields

For 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.

Grit Control

Grit 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 daily basis.

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.

Adhesion Failures

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.

Frozen Finish?

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 possible.

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, Minn.

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