Safety floor cleaning: The hard facts
22 October 2019
Mark Brigginshaw, technical services consultant at Altro, provides advice on how best to clean safety flooring
Safety flooring is used in some of the world's most demanding environments. It helps to prevent innumerable accidents, reducing the risk of a slip to as low as one in a million. Over time, however, a number of myths have grown up around how best to clean it.
Cleaning safety flooring effectively is about more than just the aesthetic impact of the flooring. A build-up of contaminants on the surface of the safety flooring can impair its slip resistance performance and reduce hygiene standards. Cleaning professionals everywhere have their own views about how best to approach it, and some detergent and cleaning equipment manufacturers have claimed to have the answer to a perfect finish. Achieving that first class finish, however, does not require one particular product or secret formula. So here are some hard facts.
1. Single out the soil
Cleaning is much easier and more effective if you identify the type of soil on the floor and choose the right equipment and detergent to get rid of it. You can do this by asking:
1. Is it organic or inorganic?
2. Is it soluble or insoluble?
3. If it is insoluble, is it greasy or particulate?
Organic: There are three types of organic soil:
- Material that is alive such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa (tiny animals). This will be most common in areas where there is food waste, such as kitchens and canteens, or in bathrooms, changing rooms and hospital wards where there is human waste such as skin, body fats, faeces and blood.
- Material that was part of a living thing such as food, sawdust and rubber shavings.
- ‘Man-made’ material including plastic fragments, mineral oil and paints and glues. Common in manufacturing areas and workshops, or where repair work is underway.
If the soil is organic it is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and will need disinfecting or steam cleaning.
Inorganic: This is soil made of material that has not been part of a living thing and does not contain carbon, for example glass, salt, rust or brick dust.
Whether organic or inorganic, soil behaves in a certain way when you try to clean it:
Soluble: This is soil that will dissolve in water, such as sugar and salt, so it is common where food is sold, prepared or consumed. Detergent powder is another example. Because it dissolves, it is generally easy to deal with.
Insoluble: This is soil which won’t dissolve in water so will need detergent to remove it. Examples include oil, skin, plastic fragments, wood shavings, glass and fibres. Some of these can be removed at the first stage of cleaning either by sweeping or vacuuming.
Insoluble soil can be greasy or particulate:
Greasy: This is soil which sticks to surfaces and smears when touched, such as oil, fat and grease. It’s often carried into communal areas on shoes.
Particulate: Soil in powder form such as sand, skin, washing powder and broken fibres.
Greasy and particulate soils are often found together as powdery soil sticks to any grease with which it comes into contact.
Abrasive: Soil which may scratch a surface.
Stubborn/tacky: Soil which may stick to a surface such as syrup, wax or glue.
2. Precise product and potency
Having identified the nature of the soiling, you can select the most effective detergent to tackle it. Whichever detergent you choose, it is the dilution ratio that is critical. Not enough detergent means a less effective clean. Too much detergent can leave a film on the flooring that reduces slip-resistance and attracts contaminants, encouraging bacteria growth. It is also a common cause of staining/discolouration and problems associated with chemical damage such as shrinkage.
The acidic or alkaline properties of the detergent will determine its effectiveness with different types of soiling. Alkaline detergents (measuring above pH 7.0), for example, work by dissolving fat and emulsifying soils. So an alkaline detergent such as AltroClean 44 is suitable for greasy and organic soils. The more alkaline the detergent, the more effective for removing grease but the more corrosive it becomes, which can damage paintwork so thorough rinsing is very important. Acidic detergents (measuring less than pH 5.0) are good options for inorganic soils such as limescale, and neutral detergents (pH 7.0) are less aggressive and contain fewer chemicals, making them more user friendly, with less environmental impact. Neutral detergents are effective on everyday levels of contamination across a range of surfaces, but will not cope as well with heavy soiling. They are also not as effective for greasy dirt and fats where an alkaline detergent would be more suitable.
Combined disinfectant detergent/cleaning sanitiser is effective for organic soils such as food or human waste as it reduces bacteria growth.
3. The correct kit
Finally, the cleaning equipment and process need to suit the special characteristics of safety flooring, as well as the soil type already identified. In order to prevent accidents, Altro safety flooring is specially designed with a different surface profile to ordinary vinyl flooring. It incorporates surface aggregates which increase grip between the foot/shoe and the floor, providing greater slip resistance. As the surface profile of safety flooring cannot be completely smooth if it is to do its job properly, some items of equipment and cleaning processes are more effective than others. For example, cotton mop heads have a tendency to shed tiny fibres during use. These fibres can be left behind on the safety flooring increasing the likelihood of dirt and contaminant build-up on the surface of the flooring, giving a disappointing finish, undermining hygiene standards and reducing slip resistance of floors throughout the site. Our step-by-step cleaning guides at www.altro.co.uk/cleaning recommend effective mechanical, manual and steam cleaning processes.
Following these guidelines will help to give you a better result, with enhanced standards of hygiene. In addition, it will ensure that the flooring retains its important slip resistant qualities, whilst the most effective selection of process, equipment and (if appropriate) detergent, could provide the opportunity for time and cost savings.