Simple Steps Toward More Sustainable Floor Care

Categories: Cleaning Best Practices, Sustainability & ESG

By Jim Flieler | July 11, 2019 << Back to Articles

It’s no wonder that floor care consumes a large portion of most cleaning budgets (it has been estimated that approximately 67% is related to floor care) and generally more labor intensive than any other cleaning task.

But when it comes to environmental impact, floor care is one of the biggest culprits in any cleaning program. The industry is bringing even safer green floor care options to the forefront, and more and more facilities are adopting sustainable floor care practices. These practices significantly decrease your program’s environmental impact, and also can save money and time when implemented correctly.

Strip less by cleaning more

Of all the processes that go into a floor care program, stripping and refinishing can have the biggest impact on human health and the environment. That’s because floor strippers can be much harsher for the environment and human health, plus the process is very labor and time intensive. Keep in mind that these harsh products are flushed down the drains into the water treatment facilities or waterways. One of the easiest ways to make your floor care program more environmentally preferable is to make your floor finishes more durable, reducing the need to strip and recoat your floors frequently. 

While many newer, trending floor types like concrete, terrazzo and luxury vinyl tile don’t need to be stripped or finished, more traditional flooring like wood floors and VCT (vinyl composite) will continue to need this step. However, there are ways to prolong the time in between the stripping and finishing process. Some educational institutions are now able to prolong the time in between stripping and finishing for more than five years, protecting the health of the students and staff in their buildings without compromising the integrity of their floors.

Implementing that schedule can be simpler than you realize. By simply following five critical elements of floor care and paying close attention to pre-routine, routine, and interim procedures, you can drastically cut down on the required frequency of stripping and refinishing your floors.

Pro-tip: Preventive matting and frequent dust mopping may be two cost effective ways to prolong the need to strip. Frequent dust mopping is an easy way to extend the life of your current floor care program and reduce the risk of slip-and-falls, airborne debris, and allergic reactions within your building.

Five critical elements of floor care

There are five critical elements of floor care that need to be incorporated into any program to protect occupant safety and preserve flooring substrates. However, the goal of a more environmentally preferable floor care program will be to strictly adhere to the first three elements regularly to prolong the need for completing the fourth and fifth elements.

Pre-routine: Imagine the advantage of preventing up to 85% of all dirt from entering your facility. That’s what pre-routine floor care will do for your entire floor care program, cutting your job virtually in half. Soils originate and are tracked long before a facility is entered. Parking lots, garages, and sidewalks are all areas where debris and other contaminants are picked up on footwear and ultimately tracked into a facility. Using the right equipment to manage these soils, and a highly effective entrance matting program, will protect your flooring and prolong its life. What are the two most effective ways to do this? Regularly sweep sidewalks and parking lots that are in close proximity and implement an appropriate entrance matting program. You can manually sweep or use a walk-behind, power, or ride-on sweeper for your sidewalks and parking lots, but the most important part will be doing it regularly.

Routine maintenance: Routine maintenance is actually the easiest and least costly element of your floor care program. It is imperative in keeping your floors safe, consistently clean, and preserving the finish and floors themselves. Your routine floor care will include dust mopping, damp mopping, and a good quality cleaner. Color-coded microfiber dust mop systems contain dust better than traditional dry mops and use less water and chemical when used in a damp mop system. Because over 90% of the cost of floor care is labor, a simple change to microfiber will have significant cost savings because of the time-saving factor. Autoscrubbers can also significantly reduce cleaning time and improve efficiency. Remember that a very small percentage of your floor care budget goes toward product. A high-quality, neutral floor cleaner for daily cleaning is recommended. Use disinfectant products only when needed, and winter floor cleaners only during the months when you are combating winter residue, to keep your staff’s chemical exposure to a minimum.

Interim maintenance: Soils permitted to penetrate through floor finish can cause your floors to look scratched and worn, reduce traction, and lead to slip-and-falls. Interim maintenance, which includes spray buffing and traction enhancement, will restore shine while preventing slip-and-falls. Spray buffing, burnishing, autoscrubbing, and frequent damp mopping are all elements of interim maintenance that, when performed regularly, will help preserve your finish and prolong the time in between deep stripping/finishing.

If you are following the first three critical elements of your floor care program regularly, you will need to complete steps four and five less often, thus protecting the environment and human health while saving time and money in the long run.

Partial restorative: When your floors stop responding to interim maintenance, you will want to consider partial restorative, also referred to as scrub-and-recoat, to get your floors into shape. Partial restorative floor care is the process of removing one to two coats of damaged finish and embedded dirt to prepare the floor for a fresh top coating. This is done in half the time, with half the chemicals, of the deep stripping process. This step prolongs the time your facility can go between the need to deep strip floors. You will find excellent results in half the time of deep stripping, and by saving time and reducing the intensive floor stripping process, you can even improve your team’s morale.

Complete restorative: Eventually, you will need to deep strip your floors. Some facilities can prolong the need to strip floors for years when adhering to the first four elements of floor care listed here. When the time comes, consider using a sealer in conjunction with a finish to preserve the finish even longer the next time around. In fact, tests have shown that a floor coated with two coats of finish and two coats of sealer will stand up to more wear and tear than a floor coated with just four coats of finish.

By regularly adhering to the first three of these five critical steps and paying special attention to the details, your floor care program will shine.

Equipment to Include in a Sustainable Hard Floor Care Program

Here are some expert tips to help match floor equipment to do the work described in this article. Many facilities have expensive pieces of floor equipment sitting in their custodial closets. If that’s you, use them!

  • Sweepers: A broom with an attached dustpan and microfiber dust mops are traditional pieces of equipment that will get your routine floor care accomplished. But when you’re working in a larger facility and time is of the essence, consider investing in a sweeper. Floor sweepers pick up dry debris just like a broom with an attached dustpan would, but they move much quicker and can work on a variety of surfaces.
  • Floor scrubbers: Floor scrubbers use water and a cleaning solution to remove dirt from floor surfaces. They leave floors dry because they pick up the water, rather than spreading it around.
  • Scrubber-sweepers: Can’t decide if you need a scrubber or a sweeper? Scrubber-sweepers combine a scrubber and sweeper into one machine, with sweepers in the front and scrubbers in the back.
  • Floor machines: Floor machines, sometimes referred to as swing machines, are like multi-tools for floor care. They are used for scrubbing to polishing floors. But they can also perform burnishing, stripping, and sanding with interchangeable pads.
  • Burnishers: Burnishers polish floors using a spinning mechanism combined with weight and a forward and backward motion to achieve a glossy, high sheen.
  • Air blowers: For an extra safety precaution, an air blower can quickly dry a floor to ensure that building occupants will be able to safely walk on the surface quickly after it has been treated.

About the Author.

Jim Flieler is vice president of Canadian sales and marketing for Charlotte Products Ltd., a producer of innovative cleaning solutions that help make work and living environments healthier and eco-friendlier, while supporting business sustainability. Jim is a frequent trainer for organizations across North America, educating employees on cleaning related and sanitation issues. He can be reached at [email protected]