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Addressing the concrete revolution

29 November 2019

Jamie Hunder fromĀ Spillz, a leading distributor of professional cleaning equipment based in the Netherlands, explores what some are calling the 'concrete revolution'

If you're one of those people that likes to plan ahead, mark your calendars for April 19, 2021. That's when the World of Concrete Europe trade show opens in Paris, France. According to show promoters, this is "the most impressive show for the concrete sector" in all of Europe. The three-day exhibition will include several educational forums regarding concrete, some of which will likely include seminars on how to clean and maintain concrete floors. 

This is a topic that many facility managers (FMs) and building service contractors (BSCs) in Europe may want to learn more about. Concrete floors are becoming more popular in Europe and around the world. According to Mark Warner from ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, many significant trends are occurring right now in hard floor care, including what he calls the "concrete revolution." 

Before we explore why there is a concrete revolution, as Warner calls it, we need to define some terms often used when referring to concrete floors. Among these are the following:

·      Concrete is a mixture of aggregates such as sand, stone, gravel, and sometimes marble and granite, all held together by cement and water

·      Cement is an ingredient in concrete. It comprises up to 15% of the concrete mix

·      "Portland cement" is not a brand name. Instead, it is a generic term for the type of cement used in virtually all concrete

·      Through a process called "hydration," the cement and water harden, binding the aggregates into a solid mass

·      "Finished" concrete refers to concrete flooring that has been treated with stains, polishes, or textures. This gives it a customised look often used in commercial and retail facilities.  

As to why concrete is becoming so popular, it appears the big reason is it's not just for warehouses anymore. New technologies have given it an entirely new look.  "This wonderfully tactile material can be made as slick and shiny as a mirror or as rough-textured and nonreflecting as sandpaper," wrote Peter Whiteley, a writer for North American design publications. "Today, you'll find colorful concrete used as counters, sinks, bathtubs, fireplace surrounds, and of course, floors."

Cleaning and care

Earlier, we mentioned that once the hydration process is completed, the concrete dries into a solid mass. However, as one concrete floor installer reported, "concrete is not bulletproof." 

It can crack over time and one of the most critical problems with concrete is that as solid as it looks and feels, it is very porous. Acidic liquids, such as citrus juices, wine, vinegar, and alcohol can seep into these pores, marring the appearance. One way to deal with this is to apply a penetrating sealer to the floor. However, be forewarned, in most cases, sealing the floor only buys time. Eventually spills and soils will work their way into the floor and interestingly, some of the ways we clean concrete floors can further damage the floor.

We should also add that a growing trend in Europe is to have no finish applied to hard surface floors, whether concrete or something else. This makes the cleaning and maintenance of these floors all the more paramount. Proper cleaning can extend the life and look of these no finish applied floors.

So how can this be accomplished?  Let's start with some things we should not do: 

·      Mopping should be avoided. While some cleaning experts will recommend the use of microfiber mop heads, instead of traditional string mops, no matter which is used, it is well-documented that the mopping process invariably spread soils and contaminants. Our goal in cleaning is to remove contaminants, not spread them 

·      Some of the cleaning solutions used to clean concrete floors can also damage the floor. If a sealant or finish has been applied, look if the manufacturer recommends what types of cleaning solutions to use. For instance, the label may indicate that the sealed/finished floor should only be cleaned using pH neutral cleaning solutions

·      The brushes and pads used with auto scrubbers and floor machines can prove too abrasive. With repeated use, the pads on these machines can grind down the sealant/finish, leaving the floor vulnerable to liquids and spills.

Now that we know what not to do or use, what are our best options for keeping concrete floors looking their best?

Among the options are the following:

·      If using a floor machine or an auto scrubber, use they types of cleaning solutions recommended by the manufacturer, and only slightly aggressive pads. As most cleaning professionals know, the aggressiveness of these pads is typically indicated by the color of the pad. However, this can vary based on the type of floor machine used. Be aware that over time, even with the least aggressive pads, sealants and finishes applied to the cement will slowly be sanded-off especially as the pads pick up soils and particulates

·      Another option is the use of a new generation of floor machines referred to as "auto vacs." They work very similar to auto scrubbers and rotary machines; however, they do not use brushes or pads. As the machine is walked over the floor, a neutral pH cleaning solution is applied to the floor. A pad at the rear of the machine provides the necessary agitation to loosen soils. These are then vacuumed up, along with the moisture, as the machine is walked over the floor. 

·      Finally, what ISSA refers to as "spray-and-vac" machines can be used. Again, no pads or brushes are used at all. After the cleaning solution has been applied to the floor by the machine, the system pressure washes the floor. This provides the agitation necessary to loosen and remove soil, which are once again, vacuumed up.

Cleaning professionals know that floor trends go in and out. Today, we are witnessing a slow decline in the installation of soft floor coverings such as carpet and more installations of hard surface flooring such as concrete. The information provide here should provide contractors with the knowhow to care for these floors, which, if Warner is right, we will see more of in the future.

 
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