Things can turn out in mysterious ways… and often for the better. And believe it or not, for those of us who are strong advocates of greener and more sustainable cleaning strategies, this appears to be happening today when it comes to floorcare.
One of the key reasons is because luxury vinyl floors (LVT) have mysteriously become much more popular than anyone even in the flooring industry expected.
LVT floors were introduced a good 15 years ago for the residential market. To use the term “luxury” to describe these floors is a bit of a misnomer because this is not a luxury floor in the traditional sense, as we would call a marble or parquet hardwood floor. Instead, LVT floors are designed by computers to look like traditional luxury floors. In fact, some LVT floor manufacturers have such advanced technology that their floors even have a texture, similar to the texture of the type of floor they are mimicking.
But LVT floors have jumped through the residential market and are now being found in commercial facilities bigtime. According to market reports as of February 2015, some of the most recent data available, LVT now accounts for nearly 40 percent of the resilient floor industry installations. This is far more than ever anticipated. While VCT, vinyl composite tile, still holds the top spot, LVT sales have been increasing at about 11 percent per year; VCT sales at only about 2.6 percent per year.*
But here is where the green and sustainable factors come in. VCT floors, as most cleaning professionals know, is traditionally finished, scrubbed, stripped, and then refinished once again on a regular basis. In fact, it is typically recommended that a finish be applied to a VCT floor. The primary objective of a floor seal and/or finish is to protect the flooring from the damaging effects of erosion from foot traffic. In addition, the finish helps protect the floor’s grouting, makes it easier to keep clean, as well as enhances the floors appearance.
Stripping and refinishing is not necessary with most LVT floors. In most cases, an LVT floor already has a shine and only needs to be damp mopped or cleaned using what would be termed “daily” floor cleaning procedures. Scrubbing or interim cleaning may occasionally be necessary but these floors do not need restorative care, meaning no finish need be applied. The refinishing cycle is broken, and that is what is good for the environment.
Before going further, we should complement the many jansan chemical manufacturers that have made great strides in making environmentally preferable floor care products and finishes.
But traditional floorcare such as strippers and other floor cleaning agents often contain ingredients known to be harmful to the environment. Some floor finishes contain “metals” such as zinc that improve their durability but can also have a negative impact on the environment. Even buffing these floors can be harmful if the floor machine used does not vacuum up dust and impurities as it is operated.
Another likely reason LVT floors have become so popular in the commercial market, other than the environmental reasons just discussed, is because floorcare, specifically stripping, can be a traumatic experience for the floor and hazardous to the cleaning staff.
When floor finish is stripped from the floor, typically high-alkaline chemicals (sodium hydroxide) are required to remove the old finish. The level of alkalinity or pH is often close to 14 and will permanently damage eyes and burn skin upon contact. Plus the solvents (ethylene glycol mono butyl ether) is readily absorbed through the skin and is considered a reproductive toxin.
Furthermore, an abrasive pad is attached to a floor machine, and as the machine is passed over the floor it essentially sands the floor to remove multiple layers of finish. The abrasive action, over time, can reduce the floor life expectancy.
In addition to these issues, the process is usually expensive, time consuming, disruptive, and often dangerous. At one time, schools had their floors stripped and refinished two or three times per year. In most school districts, the costs and staff to perform this task at such a frequency is long gone.
So what can end customers do if they have a traditional VCT floor or similar floor that is normally finished? They must find ways to stretch refinishing cycles and this can be done by taking the following steps:
- Use only high durable floor finishes and floorcare chemicals, preferably those that are Green-certified which ensures that they have been independently tested for health and environmental impacts, as well as performance.
- Install a floor mat system at all building entries, preferably of high quality (heavy enough to remain flat and in place during foot traffic) and made with recycled materials. A floor mat system refers to the use of scraper, wiper/scraper, and wiper mats, each at least five feet in length. This should keep as much as 70 percent of outside soil from being tracked into the facility.
- Spot mop as soon as spots or spills occur using a neutral pH cleaner that is Green-certified or consider one of the new engineered-water devices that produce an effective cleaning solution upon demand. The use of microfiber mops and cloths with reduce chemical and water consumption, and color-coded tools reduce the potential for cross-contamination to further protect occupant health.
- Increase daily mopping frequencies; Regularly wet mopping, which includes the use of automatic scrubbers for larger floors or even vacuum cleaners in some situations will help keep grit and soil build-up to a minimum, soils can adhere, embed, and scratch the floor, eventually marring the shine and damaging the floor.
- Machine scrub the floor on an as needed basis using the least aggressive pads and scrubbing procedures possible; aggressive floor scrubbing can remove floor finish
These steps save money, reduce operating costs, promote safety, and protect the environment, all things building managers now place at the top of their list when it comes to floorcare.
Definitions: Stripping a floor means the complete removal of all floor seals and finishes on a floor. The process also removes heal marks and soils from the floor.
*Source: Resilient Flooring Market Update; by Darius Helm, Floor Daily, March 2016