By Amy Milshtein

Your Guide to Maintaining Commercial Floors by Type
Using an AutoVac to clean a VCT entryway.

Maintaining commercial floors can be tricky. Floors make an important first impression on customers and guests while taking abuse day in an out. Keeping them in top shape is important but different materials require different tools, techniques and approaches. What works best on the terrazzo in the grand front lobby may not perform in the tiled restrooms upstairs or the wood in the underground retail court.


While each space and material require its own method, the outcome should be the same; safe, dirt-free floors that perform well and look great


Commercial Flooring Types: Endless Choices

New commercial flooring trends continue to emerge offering architects and designers a nearly infinite variety of materials to choose from.  "New product technologies and more extensive manufacturing information will expand choices for the Building Team in all types of projects, including healthcare, academic, hospitality, retail, and workplace," according to C.C. Sullivan and Barbara Horwitz-Bennett in Building Design + Construction. 


Each material has its own list of attributes and cleaning requirements. 

  • Tile: Ceramic tile is long lasting, durable choice that is cost effective and looks great. While common in restrooms and kitchens, grout lines can harbor dirt and germs if not cleaned correctly.
  • Vinyl Composite Tile: Affordable, durable and easy to install, VCT is the workhorse of commercial flooring. It absorbs sound making it quiet underfoot and resists water accrual. Recoating the finish should be considered part of routine maintenance.
  • Luxury Vinyl Tile: Be on the lookout for LVT. One of the fastest growing options, LVT can mimic natural stone or wood flooring but has completely different care requirements.  
  • Terrazzo: This man-made stone is durable, beautiful and expensive upfront. Suitable for large lobbies, the material is ground, polished and sealed to resist stains, but any spills should be attended to quickly. Grit and dirt must be removed from the floor daily to prevent micro scratches. Clean weekly with a Ph-neutral cleaner. 
  • Wood: Suitable for retail, restaurants, conference rooms and public venues, wood offers extensive design choices and a warm homey feel. Daily cleaning should include removing grit and fine dirt. 
  • Carpet: Another common choice, carpet is appropriate in education, retail, office and hospitality. Daily vacuuming keeps fibers looking and performing well. Deep cleaning should be scheduled regularly either with a maintenance company or with an in-house device that extracts grease and soils.  
  • Entrance Way Matting: Entrance mats trap a large amount of dirt and debris at the door. Between 12-15 feet of matting works best but mats need to be vacuumed during heavy traffic hours to be effective. During rain and snow events, change mats as they get soaked for peak efficiency. 


Hard Surface Floor Cleaning: Myths Versus Science

Mopping may be the go-to-method for maintaining hard surface floors like VCT, tile, laminate, terrazzo and even wood. However, "mops can be a serious potential source of [floor] contamination," according to a quote from the March 2000 issue of The Pharmaceutical Journal. "…even when soaked in disinfectant overnight, contaminants could still be detected."


New mop technology also leaves a surprising number of germs on floors. The American Society of Microbiology found that a new microfiber mop only removes 50 percent of surface bacteria, a number that gets smaller with each subsequent use. 


Mops are also unwieldy, heavy and hard on janitor's hands, back and shoulders. They leave the floor wet creating a slip, trip and fall hazard for customers, guests and staff. 


Spray-and-vac technology cleans hard surface floors more completely. Dr. Jay Glasel in Controlled Environments magazine found that, when used with water only, the spray-and-vac machine removed almost 90 percent of bacteria from the grout lines of tiled floors, and, when used with all-purpose cleaner, the spray-and-vac system was about 60 times more efficient than mopping in removing bacteria from the grout line.


Entranceway Cleaning: A Fresh Start

Entranceways are your building's first chance at a great impression. An astounding 95% of shoppers report that exterior appearance influences where they spend their dollars, according to Retail Customer Experience. More telling, 52% of consumers have avoided a business altogether because it looked dirty from the outside. A beautifully-presented storefront will attract customers; consistent entryway cleaning will keep them coming back.


Entranceways also bear the brunt of harsh weather. Wet from rain or melting ice, the floors can be damaged by road salts commonly used in the winter. While a comprehensive walk-off matting program will offer some protection, entranceways should be kept dry to prevent slips. 


Road salts may make the streets safer, but their high pH break down floor finishes on contact. Treat salts with an acidic neutralizer before removing the materials completely with an autovac.  


Cafeterias, Malls, Airports and More: How to Clean Large Surface Floors

Large surface floors, think gyms, hallways, retail spaces and more, require a practical, effective approach. These high-traffic areas, demand a quick cleaning turnaround. Hand mopping that much square footage would not be practical or remove dirt fully while an autoscrubber remains an expensive and unwieldy choice. 


There are other options. For cafeterias, the National Education Association (NEA) recommends "time-and energy-saving floor care machines" that prevent injuries, control cross-contamination and effectively capture dirt, dust and microbes. A battery-powered autovac is nimble enough to navigate between seats and tables yet powerful enough to clean and dry large floors quickly. 


Autovacs also work well on hardwood gym floors, VCT, wood and concrete. 


Offices, Classrooms and Patient Rooms: How to Clean Smaller Floors

Smaller spaces need daily maintenance too. Remove dirt, grit and pathogens to prevent floor damage and cross-contamination to other areas. Deep cleaning can be accomplished with an autovac. Nimbler than an autoscrubbers, autovacs are appropriate on a variety of flooring surfaces.


Carpeted floors should be vacuumed daily. Extraction cleaning can be outsourced or done in house with a carpet extracting tool.


Tile and Grout: How to Clean Restrooms and Other Tiled Floors

Tile presents a unique cleaning problem. Grout, which holds the tile in place, is porous. Liquids soak into the grout and provide food for odor causing bacteria. Conventional mopping makes the problem worse as the rough-textured material actually pulls contaminates from mop surfaces. The result is darkly-stained grout lines and a perpetually smelly floor. 


A high-flow fluid extraction system works much better on tile and grout floors. Paired with a grouter tool, the machine cleans and dries quickly and completely. 



Floor Safety: Cleaning to Prevent Slips and Fall

Proper cleaning will help prevent slips and falls. According to the ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, more than three million food service workers and one million guests are injured in slip and fall accidents each year. The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) estimates this cost more than $2 billion annually in medical expenses, absenteeism and lost productivity. More shocking, slip and fall accidents happen everywhere: schools, retail and offices. 


To combat the rise in these kinds of accidents the NFSI has certified floorcare products that meet specific criteria to help prevent accidents. 


Not surprisingly, mops and buckets don't make the cut. "The NFSI finds that alternative floor cleaning equipment such as spray-and-vac, dispense-and-vac, or spray-and squeegee systems that clean floors without the use of mops can better help promote floor safety. Related to this, when cleaning floors with a mop and bucket, there is always a concern that someone might slip on the floor while it is drying.  The alternative cleaning equipment helps dry floor minutes after they have been cleaned.

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. 

Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.

She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.

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