Caring for Concrete
During the past year, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) has focused more and more on the cleaning and maintenance of concrete floors. There’s a good reason for this: The popularity of concrete in commercial and residential settings is increasing.
Concrete flooring has a variety of benefits. It comes in a variety of colors in addition to gray. Its surfaces can vary from very smooth to textured for added safety. Concrete tends to be less expensive to install than some traditional hard-surface floors. It can also be durable and with proper care, long-lasting.
Concrete is considered sustainable because it does not deplete natural resources and requires less energy to make than many other types of floors. It is typically produced locally, which reduces fuel needs for transport, and contains few or no volatile organic compounds. It also can help minimize heating and cooling needs.
In addition, concrete does not necessarily require as much attention as other types of hard-surface floors, although it does require cleaning and care. This is why some concrete installation contractors suggest to their clients that they establish a formal written concrete cleaning and care strategy. This will help keep the concrete floor looking its best and remaining durable for years to come.
Cleaning and Maintaining
A formalized concrete cleaning and care strategy begins with the same item that helps to protect other types of floors—walk-off mats at all key entries. As reported by McGraw-Hill in a 2015 continuing education article, “Entrance Mats Keep It Clean,” studies indicate “as much as 80 percent of all the soil, dust, contaminants, and moisture entering a facility are tracked in on the shoes of building staff and visitors. Sustained tracking of dry soils into the building is a prime factor in the wearing of floors.”
This is especially true of concrete. Dry soils can scratch and work their way into the concrete floor because concrete, especially if it has not been sealed, is porous. As this happens, it can mar the appearance of the floor and have a negative impact on its durability.
Other steps that should be incorporated into caring for concrete include the following:
Vacuuming. Sweeping or dust mopping can mar indoor air quality, and it is not necessarily the most effective way to clean concrete floors. The goal is to thoroughly remove dry soils from the floor, and this is best accomplished with the use of backpack vacuum cleaners. Backpacks pull soils from the floor whereas dust mops push soils into the pores and abrasions of the floor.
Cleaning spills promptly. Remember concrete is porous, and spilled materials can work their way into the floor.
Autoscrubbing. Unless the floor area is very small, you should use an automatic scrubber to clean the floor. Along with scrubbing the floor clean, the machine also will collect and vacuum up the water and solution. Once again, this is important because moisture buildup on the floor can be damaging. Water + foot traffic + time = wear.
Polishing. There are ways to polish concrete and terrazzo floors—which are also made with concrete—that do not require chemicals, making this an environmentally friendly way to maintain them. Floor pads are available that contain thousands of microscopic diamonds, providing added agitation for removing any surface soils on the floor and restoring its shine. These pads are often used on ultra-high-speed machines or burnishers.
In one test on a floor that was installed all the way back in 1925, a gloss meter indicated the gloss on the floor went from 6.2 to 78.9 using the following steps and no chemicals:
- Strip and remove all sealant or finish from the concrete floor.
- Vacuum or dust mop the floor.
- Attach a white diamond cleaning pad to a floor machine; spray/mist the floor with tap water, covering about a 10-square-foot area at a time, and make multiple passes.
- Repeat the process using a yellow diamond cleaning pad.
- Finish using a green diamond cleaning pad, repeating the same steps.
Why does the color of the cleaning pad matter? Darker pads are more aggressive on the floor; red and black pads may be appropriate for more soiled floors.
Sealing. At this point, the concrete floor does not necessarily have to be sealed. The daily care and polishing methods just discussed should be able to keep the floor clean and provide a nice luster.
However, experts often recommend sealing the floor, especially in heavily trafficked areas or large floor areas. A sealant helps prevent soils and moisture from working their way into the concrete. However, the sealant will start to wear off over time. When this happens, consider using an automatic scrubber on the floor and apply more coats of sealant.
The Big Picture
Concrete floors may have a lot of benefits, including a long life span, but just like any other type of floor, they require proper care to help them last.