Winter floor care strategies keep costs low

Sept. 11, 2009
Appropriate winter floor care strategies can ease budget constraints.

Chicagoans who lived through the winter of 2008 can attest that it was one of the coldest and snowiest in years. The temperatures, along with a series of snowstorms, caught many plant professionals off guard. In spite of the fact that most had purchased the usual amount of ice melt and implemented the typical winter floor care programs, 2008 found many of them ill prepared for nature’s reality.

To avoid such problems in the future, to protect plant floors and indoor environmental quality, and to ensure worker safety, plant managers should heed the Boy Scout motto, which admonishes one to prepare for the worst, hope for the best. This often is shortened to just two powerful words: Be prepared.

Preparing for the winter of 2009 properly requires plant managers to have a comprehensive winter floor care program that includes such things as installing matting to keep soil from being walked inside; cleaning tools and equipment; and a maintenance plan ready to handle both the expected and unexpected problems winter can bring. Furthermore, most cleaning consultants recommend formalizing this plan in writing — even indicating specifically who is responsible for what tasks to help ensure the health and safety of the facility and its floors during winter months.

Outside in

Most of us have been taught somewhere along the line that if we want to make changes on the outside, we have to make changes on the inside first. Well, when it comes to proper floor care, it’s just the opposite. The changes we make on the outside of a facility can have a major effect on the inside, especially for floors.


Typically, when ice and snow are a concern, maintenance crews blanket walkways, parking areas and driveways with a thin covering of ice melt. The modern ice melt, composed of sodium chloride (salt) and other ingredients, is essentially the same as that developed more than 60 years ago. The purpose of ice melt products isn’t to melt ice and snow. Its function is to break the bond between the snow or ice and the surface, such as a walkway.

Although it has proved effective and is relatively inexpensive, ice melt products that have been “walked” into a facility can cause considerable damage to concrete floors as well as other types of hard and soft floor coverings. Salt compounds can eat through floor finishes, leaving floors unprotected, and can produce freeze and thaw cycles that can crack concrete.

The best way to prevent these unnecessary maintenance problems is by using high-performance matting systems at building entries. A high-performance matting system traps and holds ice melt and other contaminants, safeguarding floor surfaces and helping to reduce the frequency of cleaning inside. (See sidebar.)

A plant can purchase these mats through a jansan (janitorial) distributor instead of renting them. Unlike a rental mat that might have a short life span and provide limited service, high-performance mats are guaranteed to last several years and are designed to work as a three-part system, with each mat performing a specific task. The three-part system is made up of:

  • Scraper mats: These mats aggressively scrape dirt, debris and snow from shoes and trap it beneath the mat’s surface. Referred to as the first line of defense, scraper mats are typically five feet long or longer and should be placed outside major entry points. They’re intended to trap as much as 50% of the dirt, including ice melt and moisture, found on shoe bottoms.
  • Wiper/scraper mats: These clean shoe bottoms and remove additional soil. They’re about five feet long and should be placed directly inside a doorway to remove soils and moisture not captured by the outdoor scrapers.
  • Wiper mats: Referred to as the final line of defense against outdoor soils and moisture, wiper mats help ensure that approximately 70% or more of outdoor contaminants are contained near doorways.

With the three mat types in place, plants have an effective soil-reduction system, a key part of a winter floor care program.

Maintenance, tools and equipment

Especially during the winter months, hard-surface floors are the first areas directly affected by weather. Even though a high-performance matting system prevents most of the moisture and contaminants from entering a building, it can’t prevent all. As a result, managers must implement other winter floor care procedures to help keep indoors clean, dry, safe and healthy.

This entails more frequent mopping and requires the use of a neutral floor cleaner. Neutral floor cleaners help balance the pH levels in ice melt, which keeps floor finishes from softening, becoming dulled and damaged, or breaking down entirely. Consider mopping key entryway floors every couple of hours in the winter instead of the more typical once or twice per day.

Additionally, it’s important to rinse mop buckets and use fresh water and cleaning solution. This avoids redepositing ice melt and other contaminants picked up from previous mopping. Just as important, a floor cleaner loses its effectiveness if it’s reused.

Facility managers also should include automatic scrubbers as a key component of a winter floor care program. Automatic scrubbers remove far more soils and contaminants than traditional floor-mopping methods. The machine applies cleaning solution to the floor and then agitates or “scrubs” the floor. To finish the job, a wet vacuum system and a squeegee dry the floor in one pass.

Scrubbers also are cost effective. Studies have shown that one person using a standard 16-inch buffer can clean 10,000 square feet of flooring in about 10 hours. Although this is much faster than mopping, the same area can be cleaned in less than 30 minutes with a 24-inch automatic scrubber. If the worker is paid $10 per hour, you would save $95 in labor costs every time this floor area is cleaned with an automatic scrubber.

More advanced automatic scrubbers have three-stage vacuum systems that not only improve moisture recovery so floors dry faster, but also help protect indoor air quality. Modern battery-powered automatic scrubbers have significantly longer run times than older machines, which improves worker productivity considerably.

Building the winter floor care plan

Many experts agree that instituting cleaning plan leads to floors that are maintained more effectively, and this is more necessary during the winter months. Among other things, the plan details when and how often floor care tasks are to be performed; what products, chemicals and equipment are to be used; and who will perform each task. Also, as mentioned earlier, it is formalized, which turns it into a contract, to guide facility managers and staff so they know what is being done, when and why.

The key steps to a winter floor care plan include the following:

    ISSA, the leading trade association for the professional cleaning industry, estimates that as much as 80% of soils found inside a facility are tracked in from the outside. The organization estimates that 24 pounds of soil can be tracked indoors by 1,000 people duing a 20-day work period.

    Further, ISSA studies indicate it can cost as much as $500 to remove just one pound of soil tracked into a facility from the outside.

  • Organize the team. Usually the team comprises the custodial crew as well as the facility’s manager; it’s wise to include some building occupants. The team works together to ensure the plan is developed, implemented and meets its goals.
  • Base the future on the past. Evaluate the effect past winter weather has had on the facility and its floors. Where was ice melt used? What building entries were most soiled? Were high-performance matting systems installed? What cleaning chemicals and methods were used to maintain the floors? What cleaning tools, products and equipment were used? How well did these products work?
  • Develop the plan. With a strong understanding of the plant’s needs as well as which cleaning products, equipment and systems were most effective and which must be changed, the team develops and formalizes a winter floor care plan.
  • Implement the plan. The team ensures that everyone is clear on why certain products and procedures are being used as well as the goal of the winter floor care plan: to improve the health and safety of the facility.
  • Evaluate results. Finally, the team should evaluate the plan on an ongoing basis. Although the plan is formalized, this doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. Facilities are ever-changing places. As a result, the floor care plan might also need to be changed.

Being flexible and staying aware of new floor care products, technologies and cleaning systems can go a long way to ensure a facility is prepared to meet this year’s winter challenges.

Rob Godlewski is vice president of marketing for Powr-Flite. Contact him at [email protected] or call (800) 880-2913 x137.

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