With a pandemic underway, the quest to clean and disinfect is greater than ever before. Individuals in their homes and in their businesses have heightened awareness for cleanliness that we would not have considered before COVID-19. Not that we all lived and worked in dirty surroundings, we didn’t, but the new clean involves attention to detail and disinfectant cleaning like never before. Truly cleaning your floor is often easier said than done, and when you add disinfectant to the process it adds steps. You have to decide for yourself or your business how much time and effort you are willing to put into cleaning and disinfecting and whether you have the equipment you need to get the job done right.
Having said that, floors are typically the dirtiest part of any home or business interior. This is true for hospitals, schools, restaurants, gyms, doctor offices, retail stores and more. With gravity doing it’s natural work, nearly everything airborne will eventually land on the floor, from the smallest droplet of moisture venturing from a nose or mouth via a cough or sneeze… to the steak knife that slips from our hand during food prep, the floor is the final landing area. Most airborne contaminants are not noticeable on the floor until it becomes heavy build up, prompting a deep cleaning. Obviously the steak knife will require immediate attention but not necessarily the residue it leaves behind. COVID-19 has polarized our attention to cleanliness causing the need for interior spaces to be AND LOOK CLEANER than they ever have before.
Some facilities have always given more attention to cleaning floors than others yet residue and dirty build-up have long been problematic, even in hospitals where strict cleaning regiments have long been in place. Lots of quaternary disinfectants used in healthcare settings can build up over time if the floor isn’t also washed with the appropriate floor cleaning solution and the right equipment. The result of disinfecting without separate steps of cleaning and rinsing is dirty-looking floors.
So let’s talk about the factors involved in truly cleaning a floor and why each step matters-
- Type of floor you have;
- Equipment and cleaning solution you use to clean the floor;
- How much time and effort you are willing & able to put into the cleaning job;
- If disinfecting is part of the floor cleaning process.
Keep in mind that floor care procedures and frequency will vary between residential and commercial facilities dependent upon the amount of foot traffic within a space and the level of cleaning/disinfecting that is required. Most of my consulting work is with resilient floors in commercial facilities so the information I provide here will be focused in this arena. Residential floors with similar problems, can take the same type of approach though the equipment and frequency may change for a home environment.
Inquires and issues that fall into the category of floor maintenance overwhelmingly come from healthcare facilities and food service establishments. The complaint is often that floors look and feel dirty so the business owner or facilities manager believes there is something wrong with the floor because it is too hard to keep clean. Floors are NEVER “no maintenance” as explained in my blog post, LOW Maintenance Does Not Mean NO Maintenance. The amount of time and effort put into cleaning a floor will often pay off so my goal is to educate and let end users decide how they deal with floor maintenance procedures.
The type of floor you have in your facility matters when it comes to cleaning and maintenance, and whether it is textured or smooth. Type and texture will dictate they equipment and cleaning products required to get your resilient floor truly clean.
Type of Floor – Textured Resilient
Let’s start with textured floors because they are particularly challenging to get and keep clean. Textured floors might be rubber, vinyl, LVT and other resilient compositions. Dirty wash water (aka slurry) tends to land in the low spots of the texture and dry there. At first, this may not be noticeable however after several washings with a mop and bucket, the low-lying dirt will begin to show. The overall appearance of the floor becomes dingy which often leads customers, who bought a new textured floor, to lodge a complaint with the flooring manufacturer, believing there is something wrong with the flooring material. This exact situation has come up in universities, assisted living facilities and gyms where textured flooring is ideal for slip resistance.
Mop and bucket cleaning, even when the cleaning solution is changed often and the floor is rinsed, simply does not possess the mechanics required to lift the dirty solution up and off a textured flooring surface. Floor auto-scrub machines with contra-rotating brushes can help break down dirt and loosen it from the floor’s texture when combined with properly diluted cleaning solution. Typically it’s a matter of getting the right floor cleaning equipment on the job to clean into the low spots of the floor texture. An auto scrub machine with contra-rotating brushes is the ideal tool for routine cleaning of textured rubber or vinyl floors. There are many options available in autoscrubber floor machines ranging in size from a small, lightweight Caddy Clean machine for tight spaces to a mid sized Tornado walk-behind BR 16/3 for larger areas of texture flooring. For cleaning most resilient floors, including rubber and luxury vinyl, fit soft bristle brushes to your auto scrub machine to avoid damaging the floor. The key to cleaning textured flooring surfaces is the rotating brushes that allow you to clean into the texture, using the brushes to scrub and lift the dirty slurry out of the low spots. Follow with a wet vac, or better yet use the vacuum on the machine if it’s available to you, to lift residual moisture. Do a clean water rinse following the same process to completely remove all slurry left behind from previous washing.
Whenever possible use a floor cleaner product, in your auto scrubber, as specified by the flooring manufacturer. This information can usually be found in the installation or maintenance guide included with new flooring material or on the floor brand website. Most rubber, WPC and LVT floors will specify a quality neutral cleaner such as Hilway Direct Neutral Cleaner– a highly concentrated floor cleaner that dilutes with water and can be used in an autoscrub machine or mop & bucket for daily or weekly floor cleaning. To clean heavy soil buildup and residue, move up to a heavy duty cleaner/finish remover like Hilway Direct Allsafe Stripper that won’t harm the floor but it will lift the ground in dirt and use it diluted as a heavy duty cleaning agent.
Clean machine brushes and wipe down machine assembly after each use. Change to new brushes when the old ones are worn. If you use dirty equipment, there is not much chance of getting your floor truly clean.
Type of Floor – Smooth Resilient
For smooth resilient floors, routine cleaning with mop & bucket or auto scrubber machine fitted with a 3M red scrub pad, in lieu of scrub brushes, will do a good job of cleaning providing your equipment is clean. When mop & bucket cleaning, use a 2-bucket system to include 1 bucket for cleaning solution and the other for rinse water. The rinse water bucket is for rinsing your mop after using it on the floor and before dipping it back into the cleaning solution. When you use a cart-style 2-bucket set with wringer, you can easily replace the rinse water as needed and your cleaning solution stays clean providing better results and a cleaner floor. For a smaller 2-sided mop bucket, the Libman Pro 4-gallon bucket is ample yet manageable to carry.
Much of the same logic stays in play for smooth floors that applies to textured floors- use flooring brand recommended cleaning products and rinsing the floor after cleaning helps to remove residual dirt left behind. Mop heads should be cleaned and rinsed thoroughly between uses and changed periodically. This is easy with an O–Cedar Quick Change mop because the mop heads are machine washable and easy to put on and take off of the mopstick. If your mop setup doesn’t have a built-in wringer, consider a self-wringing mop such as the Libman Big Tornado Mop that let’s you wring the mop without getting your hands into the cleaning solution. This pairs well with the Libman Pro 4-gallon bucket.
For machine cleaning on smooth resilient floors, a red floor machine pad by 3M or similar is the most aggressive you will want to use for scrubbing rubber, linoleum or luxury vinyl floors. I like to use a Square Scrub machine with a red pad to clean heavy build up on a smooth resilient floor, even for VCT. Without low spots and nowhere for the dirty slurry to hide, as on textured flooring, a mop & bucket is a good choice for rinsing the floor after auto scrubbing. Change the rinse water frequently when lifting dirty slurry to ensure a completely clean floor.
Time & Effort
Keeping a floor looking and feeling clean takes time and effort. Not every business has time to put into routine cleaning to get the best results so they will have to decide for themselves where to compromise. Less frequent cleaning or maintain frequency knowing that time limits will mean not rinsing the floor or not scrubbing. Either way, the results may be that the floor doesn’t look super clean because it’s not. When choosing a new resilient floor- rubber, LVT, vinyl sheet –keep in mind that some floor colors, patterns and textures are better than others at camouflaging dirt and soil. This may be a good feature for a facility that can’t spend as much time as they need to clean the floor.
Disinfecting & the Floor Cleaning Process
Disinfectants tend to leave a sticky residue on the floor so cleaning after disinfecting removes the residue the disinfectant leaves behind thereby reducing the amount of dirt that is attracted to the residue. This extra cleaning cycle gets rid of that gross feeling of your shoes sticking to the floor as you walk on it and eliminates the appearance of footprints in the residue.
When disinfecting is part of the floor cleaning process, more time is required because you are adding, not replacing, steps to floor cleaning. Disinfectant cleaners do the hard job of disinfecting when used according to the product label instructions but they do not do a great job of cleaning the floor. This is where healthcare facilities and restaurants make compromises because they don’t always have enough down time in their spaces for all the steps required to clean and disinfect.
Read the label on the bottle of disinfectant cleaner. It will typically tell you to clean the floor as you normally would before and/or after disinfecting. In my experience it is best to clean and rinse the floor before and after disinfecting. The reasoning here is that you want to disinfect the floor, not dirt that is on the floor so first, clean the floor with an appropriate floor cleaning solution, typically a neutral cleaner for resilient floors and rinse with clean water. Then apply the quaternary disinfectant, diluted per label instructions, and allow it to dwell on the floor as specified on the disinfectant label. Following dwell time, mop up residual disinfectant cleaner, wash the floor again with neutral cleaner or other cleaning product specified by the flooring brand then rinse. If time constraints are a reality, at least rinse the floor after disinfecting.
Floors that are not cleaned before and/or after disinfecting will look dirty because of the residue build up and the dirt it attracts. If you have a floor that fits this description and you want it to look clean and be truly clean, you will need to do an initial deep cleaning to removes layers of dirt and residue with a heavy duty cleaner/stripper and an autoscrub machine before you can fall into a routine of disinfecting and cleaning the floor. Depending on the layers of grime, you may need to repeat deep cleaning more than once.
There are several factors to consider when you want your floor to be truly clean, with or without disinfectant. Look at the texture, is it smooth or does it have a raised texture or pattern? Know your flooring type so you can purchase the right cleaning products for LVT, rubber, linoleum, WPC. Check equipment to see if you have the right type of scrub brushes, pads or mop & bucket set. Is your equipment clean and in good shape? Change out worn parts and accessories to avoid damaging your floor and to get the best possible clean. Figure out how much time you or your janitorial team can devote to floor cleaning and/or disinfecting and set up a schedule for regular maintenance procedures and for deep cleaning. Do you need to disinfect the floor? Choose a reliable disinfectant that is safe for you on your flooring material and be sure to add time to the cleaning process because disinfecting adds a step or two to regular cleaning.
I didn’t get into the topic of flooring finishes/polishes, which is another worthwhile consideration for most resilient flooring. It can make routine cleaning easier and help to protect a floor from scuffs and scratches, which tends to improve overall appearance.
Products identified in this post can be purchased at 1877floorguy.com. Call 877-356-6748 or email [email protected] if you need assistance to identify the right floor cleaning supplies for your home or business.