The Big Finish

by Katie Lee

After the freeze comes the thaw. Are your floors ready?

By Matt Morrison

With all the preparations for Christmas quickly followed by the after-Christmas sales, retailers have a lot on their plate. And along with preparations for the holiday season and sales, there is one more preparation retailers must make sure they take care of — one that is often overlooked. And that is preparing the store’s floors not only for the holiday sales rush, but for the cold, icy weather that is now gripping large areas of the country.

And how do they prepare their floors? The best way to ensure floors, especially busy walkways, are ready for winter is to increase the number of coats of finish applied to the floor. While three or four thin coats of finish will typically suffice most of the year, another two or three should be added to the floor after it has been scrubbed and cleaned.

While it is true that a finish can put a shine on a floor, which is often the reason retailers want it applied in the first place, the key function of floor finish is actually to protect the floor. Picture a thin plate of slip-resistant glass over your store’s floors and you have a fairly good idea of how a floor finish works. It keeps soils, moisture, grit and other contaminants from penetrating into the pores of the floor and potentially damaging the floor. Plus the added coats help maintain the shine, which typically can be brought back to a high luster either by using a burnisher or by buffing with a low-speed floor machine.1

Another reason several coats of finish should be applied to a floor is that stripping (restorative cleaning) — removing all the floor’s finish along with soils, heal marks, etc. — is not advised during the cold winter months. Once an application of finish is applied to a floor it must dry and then “cure” before the next application of finish can be applied. By curing, we mean the finish is not only dry to the touch but thoroughly dried and hardened. Winter’s cold and moisture can impact this curing process. If new finish is applied over finish that has not thoroughly cured, there is considerable possibility that it will not adhere properly and will be removed with foot traffic.

If several coats of finish have been applied to the floor ahead of time, then it should not need to be stripped and refinished until spring or summer, which are better times of the year to complete this task. Instead, the floor can likely be maintained by burnishing or buffing, as mentioned earlier. However, the key to this winter maintenance strategy, and ensuring that a store’s floor finish continues to shine and protect the floors until warmer months have arrived, is how well the floors are cleaned. And for this, retailers must become familiar with automatic scrubbers and related floor care technologies.

Retailer Meet Scrubber

Automatic scrubbers were developed about 50 years ago and were originally intended for use in very large facilities such as airports, shopping malls and convention centers. Over the years, smaller machines have been introduced that can be used in more moderate-sized settings such as retail stores.

An automatic scrubber cleans, scrubs and then dries floors all in one pass. It typically has a squeegee and a vacuum system that catches and absorbs moisture as the machine is used. The fact that automatic scrubbers clean and dry the floor so quickly helps promote safety and allows cleaning professionals to open “just cleaned” areas of the store more quickly.

However, the most significant benefit of automatic scrubbers is that they speed up the floor cleaning process. According to ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, a 17-inch automatic scrubber can clean nearly 13,000 square feet per hour, which is three times faster than what can be accomplished by one cleaning worker using a mop and bucket. And because mop and bucket floor cleaning strategies tend to spread soil over the floor as they are used, the floor is much cleaner and healthier using an automatic scrubber.

Many manufacturers now make automatic scrubbers and many of these are fine machines. Be sure to select a machine that is the right size for your store — too large and it will be difficult to maneuver, too small and it will take too long to clean the floors — and be sure to select a battery operated system. By untying the machine from electrical outlets, worker productivity is increased, as is safety.

IMG 2421New Scrubber Technologies

As effective as these machines are, they do have some drawbacks. For one thing, an automatic scrubber is costly. Expect sticker shock. Automatic scrubbers are also complex pieces of machinery so users do need proper training; and while they may provide years of quality service, downtime due to repairs should be anticipated.

In recent years, new automatic scrubbing technologies, referred to as “crossover” or “autovac” systems, have been introduced that have addressed some of these issues with traditional automatic scrubbers. These systems require little training, have a lower cost, fewer parts and less downtime. Some of these machines are also cordless.

While autovac machines can be used instead of traditional automatic scrubbers, they do take a different approach to floor scrubbing. The system spreads fresh cleaning solution over the floor and grout areas; a microfiber pad provides agitation to help loosen soils which are then vacuumed up. The floor is left clean and dry and ready for use quickly and no mops or mop buckets are used in the process. The process also tends to be a bit gentler on the finish, helping it last longer.

Tests by the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, Massachusetts, reported the cleaning effectiveness of these new systems is comparable — if not slightly better — than a traditional automatic scrubber at a considerable cost savings. While floor coverage can vary, these machines can clean as much as 20,000 square feet per hour.

The Here and Now

For those retailers who prepared their floors for the cold winter season — and the holidays — congratulations, your floors likely just need to be cleaned and polished right now before any more restorative strategies are needed. But what about those retailers who forgot to prepare their floors? What are their options?

Because we know that stripping and refinishing the floor is not suggested this time of year, the best option is to thoroughly scrub the floor, either using traditional equipment or the new technologies just discussed, and then apply thin coats of finish. This will help build up the floor and its shine until the warmer months arrive. But next year, remember that preparing for the holiday season and the cold weather involves the store’s floors as well.

1 Some floor finishes are designed to be used with a high speed machine and others with a low-speed buffer. It is very important that retailers know which type of finish is applied to the floor. Using a burnisher on a low-speed finish will likely remove the finish from the floor.

Matt Morrison is communications manager for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch® and Omniflex™ Crossover cleaning systems. He may be reached via his company website at

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