Floor care - how hard can it be?

6th of November 2019
Floor care - how hard can it be?

The hard floor market is constantly evolving as manufacturers continually seek to develop new products – or repurpose old ones – to meet changing customer demands. But how does this affect the floor cleaning challenge, asks Ann Laffeaty?

The most important attribute of any hard floor is that it should be – well, hard. A durable surface that can withstand the passage of many feet and heavy wheeled traffic is the basic requirement of most customers.

But clients are increasingly seeking to make a statement with their flooring choice. Some opt for new materials that offer a high gloss and create a good impression on guests, while others deliberately choose natural products to demonstrate their sustainability credentials.

Floor manufacturers are keeping pace with demand and supplying natural floors made from bamboo and cork as well as coming up with a whole raft of new products including laminates, vinyl, fine porcelain stoneware, travertine and granolithic.

But each of these floor surfaces has its own maintenance challenges, which means cleaning product and machinery manufacturers have their work cut out to keep pace with the change.

New types of floor coverings are coming on to the market practically every week, confirms application technology trainer and consultant for cleaning machine producer Hako, Klaus Serfezi. “Common materials tend to prevail but it is important that contract cleaners study the cleaning and maintenance instructions of all floors before setting out to work,” he said.

“This is particularly the case with natural stone because one needs to consider whether or not the floor should be impregnated with a cleaning solution – and that will depend on the surface structure. Another important consideration is the time likely to be required for the job in hand since this has to be weighed up when calculating costs.”

He says granolithic floors can be tricky to clean because they often incorporate acid-resistant granite. “However, the main component of such floor coverings is concrete, which is not acid-proof at all,” he adds.

Use the right products

According to Serfezi, most hard floors are easy to clean provided the cleaner understands their composition. “Mistakes are often made when stoneware tiles are cleaned with detergents containing surfactants because these clog the microporous surface and seal in the dirt instead of removing it,” he said. “And one could then make matters worse by using wiping products or sealing the tiles.”

Conversely, he says that floors made from glazed or stoneware tiles or from granite are relatively easy to clean. “However, when using cleaning chemicals it is extremely important to dose them correctly because overdosing usually results in a layer of smudgy residue on the floor, which is not very pretty to look at,” he said.

Hako offers a range of scrubber dryers and vacuum sweepers along with a line of matching cleaning tools.

Non-slip surfaces probably pose the greatest cleaning challenge according to product manager for scrubbers at Kärcher Christian Mrowka. “Floors that incorporate tactile strips or that have a microporous structure are an issue because dirt collects in the structure and is difficult to remove,” he said.

“Level, smooth floors with no texture such as polished granite are among the easiest to clean. With regular maintenance cleaning these types of floors will retain their appearance without much effort.”

Vinyl sheet flooring, vinyl composition tile (VCT) and luxury vinyl tile (LVT) are among the latest floor covering materials to have entered the market, says Mrowka. “These are a challenge to clean because they are made up of a variety of different materials - and not every combination can be tested with regard to its cleaning requirements,” he said.

“However, issues such as these can be quickly tackled and cleaning systems may be developed in our application test centre.”

Kärcher offers a range of accessories such as exchangeable brush heads, suction lips/squeegees, roller brushes, discs, brushes, pads and microfibres plus cleaning agents. “Cleaning parameters such as contact pressure, speeds and suction power can be individually adjusted to the machines,” he said. ”There is no one universal solution that fits all requirements: it is all about weighing up the customer’s priorities.”

Fine porcelain stoneware and natural stone floorings are among the latest products to have come on to the market, says Filmop’s Italy area manager Jimmy Vardanega. “In both cases, a correctly treated smooth surface is easy to clean with microfibre mops, though some finishes and surface effects may highlight an imperfect clean,” he said.

Absorbent materials

“Travertine and granolithic are both natural materials that tend to be very absorbent. This means you need to thoroughly wash the floor in order to dissolve the dirt but without leaving it too wet, particularly in the case of a polished finish. So the mop needs to be impregnated with the optimal dose of cleaning solution depending on the surface to be cleaned.”

He adds that lapped stoneware is among the most difficult type of surface to clean. “The dirt is hard to remove from a lapped surface and any residue from the cleaning solution may cause streaking,” he said. “Rough surfaces such as non-slip stoneware and natural stone also pose problems since the roughness causes high friction which prevents the mop from gliding on the floor, compromising the cleaning performance.”

Natural stoneware, treated micro-cement and smooth stone surfaces with a wax finish are all easy to clean, he adds. “The mop glides effortlessly over these, removing the dirt that always remains on the surface.”

Filmop is constantly developing new solutions to meet ever-changing needs, according to Vardanega. Products include Equodose, a mechanical dosing device that allows mops to be soaked on demand directly on site.

The type of floor in question has a substantial impact on the cleaning task according to IPC communications director Gabriella Bianco. “Travertine surfaces are particularly delicate, especially if these are external floors and exposed to rain,” she said. “They can be damaged over time and become a breeding ground for moss and lichens, losing their lustre and attracting permanent stains.

“And the cleaning of granolithic floors requires specific scrubber dryers equipped with advanced cleaning programmes and microfibre pads in order to achieve long-lasting results.”

Particularly hard to maintain are the ultra-shiny floors found in shopping centres, gyms, hotels, airports and public areas, she said. “Scratches are far more evident on shiny floors since the bright surface brings these imperfections to everyone’s attention,” she said. “And scratches can easily be made by rubber shoes, heels, wheelchairs and prams.”

Concrete floors are probably the easiest to clean, she adds. “However, even these can be difficult to maintain if there’s no consistency in the cleaning operation because concrete floor substrates are easily stained.

“But generally speaking, all floors are difficult to clean and maintain if the operator fails to use the right tools. An ongoing maintenance programme plus appropriate machines are needed to keep the shine.”

Bamboo, cork and reclaimed materials are all becoming particularly popular with today’s environmentally conscious customers, she adds. “In fact natural-looking surfaces are now in greater demand than traditional wood flooring,“ said Bianco. “And laminate, vinyl and tile are also becoming increasingly popular – but again, an ongoing maintenance programme and appropriate tools are the magic words when it comes to cleaning and maintaining these new kinds of flooring.”

IPC Group has launched a new range of sweepers said to provide for an accurate collection of both light and heavy debris while also offering a high degree of dust control. The company also claims its CT 51 walk-behind scrubber dryer to be sufficiently versatile to cope with today’s floorcare challenges since its interchangeable brush heads allow it to become four machines in one.

New floor types come and go with many different materials and coatings being used to create hard floors, says Tennant product manager Stefan Sehmke. “Each of these requires a specific approach to cleaning,” he said.

Tennant scrubber dryers can be equipped with a range of scrub decks for use on smooth, rough or porous floors. “These in turn can be equipped with a variety of brushes or pads, and each machine can be set to use the right amount of water and down pressure,” said Sehmke. “Customers can also use our ec-H2O technology to scrub floors without the use of detergents. This prevents any residue being left behind on the surface which could lead to it becoming dull.”

Uneven floors and those with worn-out grouting or coatings are the most challenging to clean, he said. “There is a risk here that the scrubbing action will not be consistent and some of the water will not be picked up,” he said.

“Floors with no grouting should be easy to scrub but a lot depends on the type of debris, the cleaning cadence and the choice of equipment and tools.”

So, how do manufacturers manage to keep abreast of ever-changing flooring trends?

Tennant works closely with global suppliers of brushes, pads and other cleaning products and then tests its innovations on various floor types, says Stefan Sehmke. “We are constantly improving and fine-tuning our machine designs,” he said.

“When offering a cleaning solution, our sales representatives always perform a detailed site survey. And when this introduces us to a new floor type, we connect with the flooring company to double-check on cleaning requirements.”

Hako carries out a site visit before a customer purchases a machine, says Klaus Serfezi. “One of our sales consultants will inspect the local conditions to ensure that the machine is equipped with the right kind of brushes or pads and that the appropriate cleaning chemicals will be used,” he said.

And Kärcher works closely with floor manufacturers and visits trade fairs to keep abreast of market developments, says Christian Mrowka. “This involves testing our accessories and cleaning agents on new floor coverings and adapting them accordingly,” he said.

“Our goal is to continuously improve our products in terms of efficiency and material protection, and in order to make it easier for users to care for their hard floors we compile care instructions for different surfaces.”

Kärcher also uses customer surveys and on-site visits to ensure its customers have the right products and systems for the task in hand.  “This cooperation with floor covering manufacturers and customers benefits us greatly and helps us to ensure that we never lose sight of our users’ requirements,” said Mrowka.


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