Polish Application & Maintenance Challenges

by Stan Hulin, President of The League of Hard Flooring Professionals

Regardless of manufacturer or formulation, all acrylic floor polishes will share some common issues that will challenge the technician. Stan Hulin, President of The League of Hard Flooring Professionals, outlines the problems and challenges associated with applying and cleaning floor finishes and provides valuable solutions to these everyday issues.

Floor Polishes

Technically, the world of floor maintenance chemistry resides in the realm of ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) Soap Standards and Polish Standards. These standards govern all chemicals used in floor maintenance and include soaps, detergents and bleaches as well as water-emulsion floor polish (wax emulsion and polymer-emulsion). Polishes are more often than not referred to as coatings, seals, waxes, finishes and seal/finishes, but they essentially all fall under the heading of floor polishes.

The primary reason for applying floor polish is to protect it from the damaging effects of abrasion caused by soil trafficked over the surface. However, polishes also make the floor easier to clean by smoothing the surface and reducing drag as well as improve the appearance. Finally, they provide a safe surface to walk on because all floor polishes have to pass a standard of slip resistance.

The most common types of floor polishes used today are polymer-emulsion seals and finishes constructed of variations of acrylic polymer formulations. Most manufacturers have combined the properties and characteristics of traditional seals and finishes into one product eliminating the need for seals. Regardless of manufacturer or formulation, all acrylic floor polishes will share some common issues that will challenge the technician.

Reasons to apply floor finish:

  • Protect floor from damage
  • Make floor easier to clean
  • Improve floor’s appearance
  • Provide a safe walking surface

Application Challenges

Figure 1- Bad Batch Separation

Figure 1- Bad Batch Separation

It is not uncommon for a floor technician that faces a problem to automatically assume that the problem stems from a “bad batch” of floor polish. Although this does happen, it is very rare and does not happen frequently. Formulations of floor polishes are very exacting in the method in which they are made and the same process is repeated over and over again. Like making a cake or assembling a product, if the same ingredients or parts are used in the exact same way every time, the end result will always be exactly the same. However, there is always the potential of human error; if an ingredient is not measured correctly or left out altogether, it will cause issues. If the product is mixed too little or too long or mixed out of sequence it has the potential of not turning out right. Bad batches are rare, but they can create extreme challenges.

It is much more likely that the alleged bad batch is the result of contamination in the applicator, receptacle or on the floor itself. Proof of a bad batch is usually ascertained if the problem occurs over several floors in different locations and products come from different containers but have the same batch number.

Figure 2- Powder Residue from Frozen Product

Figure 2- Powder Residue from Frozen Product

When a contaminated mop or applicator is used it can create a swirling pattern similar to the bad batch, but is usually isolated to one floor or one building and the culprit (mop, bucket or recepticle) is located there. The most common mistake that causes this condition is when a technician uses a mop that has been used for something other than applying polish. Always use a dedicated mop or applicator, bucket and recepticle for floor polish only. Never use a rinse mop or cleaning solution mop and by no means, never ever use a mop that has been used to apply stripping chemicals. This will result in disaster every time.

Weather can also impact floor polish in terms of temperature and humidity. Although humidity usually is highly impactive on drying time temperature can literally cause chemical reactions. In extreme hot temperatures the finish may dry too quickly which will result in separation similar to a bad batch, but heat related issues are rare. It is much more common to have freezing issues.

Most manufacturers of floor products will have a one or two cycle freeze/thaw capability, which means they can be frozen and thawed and still work. Most problems associated with freeze/thaw issues come in the form of powdering. When the polish is applied to the floor it looks fine, but when it drys, it crystallizes and turns to power and will not adhere to the floor.

Figure 3- Picture Framing Caused by Calcium Chloride

Figure 3- Picture Framing Caused by Calcium Chloride

In cold weather environments, there is an abundance of salt and calcium chloride used to melt snow and ice from the sidewalks adjacent to the buildings. These contaminants are carried into the building on the soles of the shoes and are distributed throughout. In liquid form they are unnoticeable, but when dried they can attack and break down the polish. Many times this is not an overall problem, but one that attacks the joints of the adjoining tiles. What happens is the contaminant is tracked into the building and dries. When the floor is wet mopped, it dissolves the salt or calcium chloride and disperses it throughout the floor. As the floor dries, the liquid evaporates and the chemicals are carried to the lowest point (the tile joints) and deposited. The concentration of salt or calcium chloride degrades the finish in the joints effectively picture framing the tile. The result is a breakdown of the polish with calcium chloride or salt residue remaining in the joints.

Figure 4- Bleach Contamination Causes Separation

Figure 4- Bleach Contamination Causes Separation

Daily/routine maintenance is seldom done by the floor maintenance technician. It is usually relegated to the janitorial staff and they do not always use chemicals that are conducive to floor maintenance. Murphy’s Oil Soap, bleach, ammonia, 409, Fantastic, Mop and Glow are just a few of the products that will be used and all have the potential of creating problems. In addition to cleaning chemicals that may be used on the floor, there are also the chemicals that are present in the environment that have the potential of damaging the floor. Chemicals included in this category are peroxide, iodine, oils (natural and synthetic), petroleum products and plasticizers. These chemicals have the potential of etching, eroding, discoloring and staining the floor polish.

One of the biggest culprits is the use of bleach to mop the floor. Some people believe that bleach is a good disinfectant and use it liberally, but when they do and the floor maintenance technician is unaware of it, separation of the finish can and will occur. Discussions with the janitorial or housekeeping staff regarding the use of bleach on a floor should be initiated to inform them of the potential problems that will arise. Sometimes old habits are hard to break and awareness of the problem is the only defense. When situations occur where a customer does not want to stop using problematic chemicals, additional time may have to be allocated to correct the problem before the regular floor maintenance can begin.

Soil Contamination Challenges

In addition to chemical contamination issues that usually affect the appearance of the floor finish by producing swirling and separation, there are soil contamination issues that are caused by soil and movement. These are not associated with the normal foot traffic and wear patterns that are seen with normal traffic conditions. They are the more extreme challenges that create heavy soiling situations.

Objects that are transported across the floor using various wheeled vehicles such as forklifts, pallet jacks, hand trucks, carts and other wheeled equipment also have the potential of creating soil contamination difficulties. The material that the wheels are made of will dictate the type of damage that may occur. Steel wheels are by far the most damaging, however, when soil becomes embedded in plastic, vinyl or rubber wheels, they can be equally damaging.

Damage caused by a combination of soil and continual movement in a stationary or semi-stationary area are very common. These are usually associated with movable objects and the most common is caused by chair movement. Chairs are used every day and are generally equipped with, glides, wheels or castors.

Figure 5- Damage Caused by Glides

Figure 5- Damage Caused by Glides

Glides are protective caps that are used to prevent or reduce the potential damage that non wheeled chairs can cause without them. The glide has a wider base than the leg of the chair and distributes weight more evenly across the surface of the floor. They are made of plastic or metal and have a smooth surface to “glide” over the surface.

Old worn out glides can be a contributor to abrasion to the floor. Plastic glides in particular can become very soiled and pick up tiny particles of grit that will abrade the polish. They also require cleaning from time to time to keep the grit from becoming embedded in the material.

Figure 6- Circular Soil Pattern Caused by Wheeled Chair

Figure 6- Circular Soil Pattern Caused by Wheeled Chair

Although wheels are less damaging to the floor than glides, they still can create some heavily soiled conditions. The objective of the wheel on a chair is to allow the occupant to move about freely in an area without having to get up all the time. Wheels are made of metal, vinyl and rubber and variations of hardness. Metal wheels are the most damaging and exceedingly rare, but they do exist sometimes. Vinyl and rubber are usually the product of choice, however, grit and soil can become embedded in these softer materials and act as abrasives to the polish. Continual movement in the work station can create heavy circular patterns that abrade the surface and then embed the dirt into those scratches. This type of soiling is common and very difficult to remedy.

The aforementioned challenges are just a few that the floor maintenance technician might encounter. If the technician has no idea of how to identify the problem, there is literally no chance of success in solving it. Once a problem has been identified and solved, the results can then be added to the technician’s knowledge base and skill set. Over the course of a career, the technician will encounter and solve the challenges discussed and many more.


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Author:
Stanley Hulin

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