Flooring materials have been around since humans began inhabiting buildings. For most of that time hard surface flooring materials have been comprised of natural materials; stone, wood and ceramic. These hard surfaces were often covered with textile materials such as carpets and rugs, which date back as far as the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Floor maintenance for these hard flooring materials would have been simply crude sweeping and a good dousing with water.
Ultimately, flooring material integrated textile materials such as canvas with water resistant natural oils and waxes; these were the first stages of the evolution of resilient flooring materials. Natural rubber flooring tiles were in use in the early 1800’s, but with limited success. In the mid 1800’s Frederick Walton invented linoleum, which may be considered the first real resilient flooring. Later asphalt tile entered the picture, but it was the invention of vinyl that firmly established modern resilient flooring materials and dominates the resilient flooring market today.
The resilient flooring category includes
- asphalt tile
- rubber (homogeneous, recycled crumb)
- vinyl products
- polymeric poured seamless floors
The largest classification within the category are the vinyl products. These include:
- sheet vinyl (inlaid, heterogeneous, homogeneous)
- solid vinyl tile (SVT)
- solid vinyl tile/plank – class III printed film (LVT)
- vinyl composition tile (VCT)
- vinyl enhanced tile (VET)
- vinyl asbestos tile (VAT)
There are also some specialty vinyl flooring materials such as ESD and safety flooring. The flexibility and durability of these products range from very elastic such as rubber flooring to extremely hard as is the case of poured seamless epoxy flooring.
Some resilient flooring materials do not require polishes and coatings such as rubber, epoxy and some ESD flooring. Others such as VCT require field applied polishes or coatings after installation. Contemporary resilient flooring manufacturers have taken steps to provide protective surfaces to their products at the factory by applying different polymeric films from acrylic polishes to polyurethane coatings. Although these applications provide a certain degree of protection, they are not invincible; once installed they are all subjected to soil, moisture and foot traffic.
Regardless of flooring materials, one of the primary functions of floor maintenance is to protect the flooring investment. To do this field applied floor polishes and coatings were invented and like the flooring materials, they have evolved. From natural waxes, shellacs and lacquers, to today’s polymeric films, they were all created to act as a sacrificial protective barrier between the soil and the surface of the floor.
Field applied polishes and coatings each have properties and characteristics that contribute to their performance. These attest to the polymeric films hardness and durability, ease of cleaning and maintenance, appearance and safety and should be considered before selection. Evaluation includes the objectives of the customer, the environment of the facility, and the traffic conditions. Of course there are cost assumptions and other criteria that will be specific to the customer and the needs of the facility.
Protective Surfaces on Resilient Floors:
“Although these applications provide a certain degree of protection, they are not invincible; once installed they are all subjected to soil, moisture and foot traffic.”
There are primarily three accepted terms used when describing polishes and coatings, they are permanent, semi-permanent and maintainable. Permanent products are usually reserved for epoxy or polyester products used for repairs, while semi-permanent are associated with the urethanes and polyurethanes, and maintainable products are often associated with the acrylic polymers. As the names imply, each of these products have different degrees of protection that describe their ability to be removed.
The definition of permanent is; lasting or intended to last or remain unchanged indefinitely. This leaves very little room for interpretation, however, in terms of resilient flooring this would mean that the floor coating will last as long as the flooring material. The only coating that can achieve that objective is the poured or seamless flooring materials, which are also called fluid applied resins and epoxies. These flooring materials and their coatings are generally associated with interior concrete. These are the most durable of the coatings and can withstand the rigors of warehouse and other high traffic environments.
Although they are extremely durable they are not necessary good for all flooring materials. These coatings are very difficult to apply and next to impossible to remove. The industrial environment and decorative concrete industry are the primary users of these products and they require a great deal of training to master them.
Urethanes and polyurethanes are coatings that occupy the semi-permanent category. These types of coatings are very durable and often applied at the factory. Although urethanes and polyurethanes were developed primarily for wood flooring due to that durability, they are being used extensively as a topical coating on the solid vinyl – class III printed film products, which contributes to them to be sold as a low maintenance product. True, these products are very durable, but they are not indestructible and ultimately the coating will wear and develop traffic patterns, even though it may take years to do so in some environments.
These floor coatings are not considered to maintainable because they do not respond to buffing burnishing and traditional scrubbing, however they can be restored with urethane and polyurethane field applied coatings. It is recommended that technicians be trained and certified in the use of these coatings before attempting preparation and application. These coatings have four distinct features that contribute to the need for training. They can be problematic to apply, very difficult to remove, challenging to maintain or repair (scratches and gouges), and contain isocyanates that are potentially dangerous irritants to the eyes and respiratory tract.
Acrylic polishes occupy the majority of topical treatments and are considered maintainable products. There are different types of acrylics, such as pure, styrene and urethane fortified acrylics and they all have different properties and characteristics, especially when speaking about durability. Of all the polymeric films, acrylic polishes are by far the easiest to scratch and scuff. That being said, they are also the easiest to maintain due to that very same property.
Routine maintenance of acrylic polishes may incorporate a buffing or burnishing program to sustain a wet look finish; high gloss in some environments are deemed critically important. Periodic maintenance may incorporate scrubbing and recoating to replenish worn and abraded product. And stripping and refinishing will be required from time to time as restorative maintenance to remove all existing coats of seal and/or finish and replace them with new applications. The frequencies of each of the processes and procedures will be predicated by the objective of the customer, the environment, and the traffic conditions. Acrylic polishes require an ongoing maintenance program to attain maximum results.
When soil is broken down into its primary components, it will be made up of humus (natural organic decomposing material) and various minerals. The most common mineral found in dirt are silicates which are often made up of the mineral quartz. Floor maintenance programs are designed to combat the damaging effects of erosion due to micro scratching by these minerals.
Resilient flooring materials, particularly vinyl products manufactured from polyvinyl chloride and other synthetic materials are technically plastics. The polymeric films we employ to protect them are also considered plastics with various ranges of durability. Both the flooring material and the polishes and coatings are much softer than the minerals they are exposed to. Quartz has a hardness of 7 on the Moh’s Hardness Scale and all plastics fall below 2.5. Although some plastics are much more durable than others, they will all succumb to the damaging effects of abrasion.
Resilient Flooring Maintenance:
“All resilient flooring will require a floor maintenance program of some sort. The program will be dictated by the objective of the customer, the types of soils in the environment and how those soils are moved across the surface of the floor.”
Permanent protection in the form of epoxies and resins, which will in effect last as long as the floor. Semi-permanent protection provided by urethanes and polyurethanes will be very durable, but still require some restorative maintenance from time to time. Acrylic polishes which are the most common and the easiest to use are the most maintainable.
Each of the floor maintenance protective films have their properties and characteristics. Each will have their strengths and weaknesses. Determining the benefits and liabilities before incorporating the floor maintenance program may help in selection of the proper program for the floor.
A PDF version of this article is available for download. No form submission required. Get it here today!