Infection Control Today - 02/2001: Winter Floor Care

February 1, 2001

Winter Floor Care

by Scott DeFields

Forthose of you in sunny southern climates, sit back and enjoy this article. Forthe rest of us, winter often results in a mixture of increased labor and lowerfloor appearance levels, not a very desirable combination.

In addition, slip concerns generally increase in the winter and springmonths. An understanding of the underlying causes of the problems, correctivemeasures and preventive maintenance help to alleviate the problems associatedwith winter floor care.

Procedures, Procedures, Procedures

Winter conditions stress a floor's finish to the point where any potentialproblems may be amplified. The ultimate starting point for any floor carediscussion is the implementation of a proper floor care system. This includesselection of products based upon variables such as desired results, availableequipment and labor restraints. Equally as important is selecting and adheringto a maintenance system which will keep the floor appearance at an optimumlevel. Whereas we will not address these areas specifically in this article, aproper overall floor care system should always be considered to be the basis ofany specific problem solving activities.

Grit Control

Gritis the most significant and potentially damaging element to a floor associatedwith winter conditions. Grit, in the form of salt, sand, or mud (sand, pebblesin the dry state) will grind through any floor finish. Excessive grit can causedulling 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 outsideand foyer matting is to remove and trap particulate soil (grit) from shoes. Anabsorbent 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 thematting clean, through vacuuming and extraction as necessary.

Frequent dust mopping is also required in order to keep the grit level to aminimum. It may be necessary to dust mop entrance ways and major traffic lanesseveral times per day; the entire facility should be dust mopped at least on adaily basis.

Proper grit control procedures extend outside facility doors. In addition toadequate 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 soilsare also tracked into our facilities. Besides increasing the need for a propermatting system, it is also prudent to perform spot cleaning as frequent asnecessary. This may be accomplished by autoscrubbing or damp mopping. Inaddition to eliminating water, thereby reducing reduce slip hazards, soil isalso removed. All floor surfaces should be cleaned daily following dust mopping.If we have implemented a burnishing maintenance system, it is especiallyimportant to ensure adequate cleaning before the floor is burnished during thewinter 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, includingefficiency, their effective temperature range, and effect on concrete. Sodiumchloride and calcium chloride are two major types of ice melting compounds. Interms of interior floor maintenance, the primary concern with sodium chloride(rock salt) is its abrasive character, leading to a possible grit controlproblem as previously described. Calcium chloride is the major alternative tosodium chloride. By nature, calcium chloride will absorb moisture from the airand revert to a liquid. Inside warm buildings, an oily residue results and formsa greasy film.

A calcium chloride film is often very difficult to remove. Damp mopping witha neutral cleaner will not usually remove a build-up. Neutralizer rinses (mildacids) used at the recommended dilution are more effective at removing thisresidue. Scrubbing followed by a wet vacuum recovery (or preferablyautoscrubbing) 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 melterresidue can also show up in carpeting or walk off matting. Here, extraction witha neutralizer rinse will remove both sodium and calcium chloride residues.

Adhesion Failures

As mentioned previously, winter conditions tend to amplify any potentialfloor care issues. For example, a floor finish system on a quarry tile floorwith 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. Inaddition, 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 lackssufficient porosity necessary for adequate coating adhesion, then it will alsobe non-porous enough to resist soiling without a coating. If desired, thegrouting can be sealed without using a coating on the actual tile surface. Afterproperly cleaning the floor/grout (a brush is essential), the grouting may besealed with either a penetrating sealer or a non-resilient floor sealer. For thelatter, the sealer is poured onto the floor and removed from the tile surfaceusing a soft window type squeegee, depositing the sealer into the grout.

Every floor finish requires a specific minimum temperature to form a coherentfilm. If the substrate temperature is below this temperature, cracks may developin the finish when drying. In the best case scenario, this will result in soilentrapment, 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 ruleof thumb, the minimum film- forming temperature for a floor coating should beconsidered to be around 50°F (10°C). If the floor temperature is less than50°F, the finish should not be applied. For example, floors near meat countersin supermarkets may pose problems.

Low humidity is another factor to be considered. Low humidity causes thesolvents and water in a finish to evaporate much more quickly than they wouldunder more desirable conditions. Similar to low temperature, low humiditystresses the film formation process. Of particular importance is recoat time.The finish will be dry to the touch much more quickly during low humidity monthsthan under humid conditions. However, the finish still may not have cured enoughfor recoating. Always wait at least 10-15 minutes after the finish is dry enoughto 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 fewfreeze/thaw cycles. The main reason for the "Keep From Freezing"stickers on many floor care products is that customers simply will not acceptfrozen finish. However, some coatings are susceptible to freezing. Here, thepolymer solids will coagulate and separate out of the liquid mass. In such acase, the product cannot be used. Also, it is possible that a product could gothrough several freeze-thaw cycles in route to its final destination innon-heated trucks. As a general recommendation, the floor coatings should beshipped in heated trucks, and stored in environments where freezing is notpossible.

For all of the reasons outlined previously, environmental conditions in thewinter months in northern climates stress our floor care system.

As a result, in order to maintain a desirable appearance level, we may needto shorten our maintenance cycles from the summer months. That is, we may haveto put more labor into routine cleaning, or may need to scrub and recoat or fullstrip more often. This heightened schedule becomes our standard system in orderto keep our floors shining in the winter months.

Scott DeFields is a scientist at Ecolab Professional Products in St. Paul,Minn.For a complete list of references click here