The Dirt Road

By Amy Milshtein

  • The Dirt Road
The Dirt Road

Clean floors don't just happen. Maintaining smooth surface hard flooring like terrazzo, polished concrete, vinyl composite tile or luxury vinyl tile is pretty straightforward; service it everyday and it will perform well and look great for years. 


Defer that daily maintenance and eventually the whole facility suffers. Light, loose soils accumulate, track further through the building and become harder to remove. Stuck dirt from spills stay stuck, attracting more dirt and potentially staining the floor. The overall appearance of the floor degrades and what started as a quick, easy job turns into a major expense.


Want to start clean and stay clean? Learn about the different kinds of dirt and soils that travel through your building and the best way to remove them from smooth surface hard floors. 


The Popularity of Smooth Surface Floors


Smooth surface hard flooring makes up a large percentage of commercial and industrial spaces for a reason. Materials like terrazzo and polished concrete have withstood the test of time. These floors are extremely durable. They hold up well against foot traffic and rolling loads, making them the perfect choices for large, heavily-travelled public spaces like airports, malls, showy atriums and lobbies. 


Vinyl composite tile (VCT) and the newer luxury vinyl tile (LVT) are also popular choices. VCT has been around longer and is popular in k-12 school applications and healthcare. LVT, a more advanced option, is grabbing a bigger share of the market. "In 2003, resilient flooring comprised 13.8% of the market," according to Dean Thompson, executive director of the Resilient Floor Covering Institute in Building Design + Construction magazine. "Now it's up to 19%. LVT, in particular, is capturing some share from more high-cost, labor-intensive categories like ceramic and stone."


As a result, LVT, already popular in retail applications, is seen more and more in healthcare and education facilities. 


These floors have one thing in common: the large, continuous surface is relatively easy to maintain. Their sheer size, however, can make daily cleaning a daunting task. 


Three Kinds of Dirt

Most of the mess brought into buildings are light, loose soils tracked in on shoes. Accounting for about 90% of building soil, according to Mike Perazzo, vice president of business development, Kaivac, this includes loose dust, soil, and debris like sand and small rocks. 


Stuck dirt accounts for about 1% of common messes. This category includes accidental liquid and food spills that will leave a sticky residue if left to dry. "This also includes weather-related soils like tracked-in snow, ice and slush and melting road salts," Perazzo says. 


As it represents a slip and fall hazard, stuck dirt should be addressed immediately. Leave it to dry on its own and stuck dirt hardens, stains and becomes more labor-intensive to address. 


Embedded dirt includes scuff marks, gouges, salt scratches and other damage to floor surfaces. Making up about 5% of the kinds of soils in a building, removing embedded dirt is a time consuming, multi-stage job. First the offending stain must be reactivated and scrubbed out. Then the floor then needs refinishing to bring back the original luster and shine. 


Unsurprisingly, if a facility manages their loose and stuck dirt well, the likelihood of having a lot of embedded soils is lower. "A solid system that manages daily cleaning well means there will be less overall contamination," explains Perazzo. "Do a poor job with loose and stuck soil and expect an increase in the time and labor needed to clean."


No Entry?

While the HVAC system deposits some dust throughout a building, most dirt, soils and contaminants truck in through the front door. Ironically, that front door is often the building's showiest public space. "Most people don't see the senior executives' private offices," says Perazzo. "First and lasting impressions are made in the front lobby."


A solid walk-off mat program is the first step in maintaining the front entrance. Constructed to capture wet and dry soils, they absorb moisture and capture dirt and grit before they are tracked onto hard surface floors. Both indoor and outdoor mats are needed for the program to work effectively.


Indoor mats also need to be the right size. "Mats need to be 15 to 25 feet in length," says David Gurwell, assistant director of facilities at Iowa City Community School District in an article in American School & University. "After four steps with each foot, the mat loses its effectiveness." 


JoAnn Durett of Mats Inc. agrees. "With just 16 linear feet of matting, 75% of dirt, dust and moisture can be contained at the entrance to help reduce interior maintenance," she writes. That 16 feet is just a starter. Durett suggests going up to 30 linear feet, if space allows. "(That will) ensure that each foot makes contact with the matting approximately six times to remove nearly all of the dirt."


Mats require regular maintenance to remain effective. If accumulated soil is not removed, the mat will become overloaded and cannot prevent soil from entering the building, according to The Carpet and Rug Institute. Mats wet with rain or snow melt will also fail at absorbing moisture from shoes and boots. 


The Right Machine to Clean

While walk off mats are effective at trapping dirt, keeping your hard surface floor clean requires daily attention. Because of the massive size of these spaces, some building service contractors rely on an autoscrubber to do the job. This technology works well but at great cost, both literally and figuratively. Traditional autoscrubbers are:

  • Expensive to buy. They can run as high as $16,000 for a ride-on model. 
  • Expensive to maintain: Costing between $500 to $1800 a year depending on the model.
  • Require downtime: Two to three weeks is common for maintenance. 
  • Hard to use: Autoscrubbers require on the job training and need professional upkeep.
  • Hard on floors: The machines can potentially cause very heavy damage to buildings. 
  • Require multiple cleaning steps: Technicians must dust mop before using an autoscrubber.


There is a better way. The OmniFlex™ AutoVac™ removes light soils before they can contaminate the rest of the space. The technology is affordable, easy to master, simple to use and small enough to go up and down stairs and fit into a sedan. It removes 99% of soils in one pass, leaving floors clean, dry and ready to walk on. 


An OmniFlex™ AutoVac™ helps business start clean and stay clean by making it easy to keep to a daily maintenance program. "If you have a system that addresses loose and stuck dirt the likelihood of having embedded dirt is very low," insists Perazzo. 


Want to keep your hard surface floors clean? Click here for more


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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