Solving Your Summer Floor Care Woes

“Summertime and the livin’ is easy,” says the song lyrics. Well, that may be true for some, but it certainly isn’t for school facility managers. They have their hands full cleaning schools top to bottom — including the floors — in preparation for the new school year.

“We team clean in the summer,” Charles Alexander, manager of Custodial Operations for Garland Independent School District (GISD) in Texas, offers as an example. “We group five schools together, and the custodians of those schools clean — from top to bottom — one school a week for five weeks. We strip, reseal and wax the hard floors. We spot clean and extract carpet as needed.” With seven million square feet under roof, team cleaning works best for GISD.

Administrators at Beaverton School District in Oregon are switching from site-based to centralized school maintenance, as a result of both budget cuts and the need to have better-cleaned schools. “We’re going to spend a full day retraining, which was lacking,” says Ken Anderson, Beaverton’s administrator for Maintenance Services. “We’re bringing in all our vendors to train on products and equipment, including equipment maintenance and care.”

Beaverton’s change to a centralized system is occurring during the summer, when buildings also have to be scrubbed so, naturally, the maintenance and custodial personnel have their hands full. Part of the switch includes team cleaning, hopefully making the changes more bearable as employees work together. Similar to GISD, Beaverton is grouping schools: elementary schools into fours; middle schools into twos; and each of the five high schools will remain singular, with the staff coming together for team cleaning. “We feel that it is a major advantage to help each other out and be efficient,” says Anderson. “They will start with the light fixtures on the ceilings and work their way down to floor stripping and waxing and carpet cleaning. Then they’ll return to their respective schools and complete smaller tasks.”

With 5.5 million square feet under roof, Anderson is confident that working with standards (this is your route, the tasks that need to be accomplished and the time in which you have to complete the work) and inspections (done by a foreman) will help the district get the job done and stay in budget.

Floor Care Basics
Staying in budget does indeed hinge on standards and inspections. And when it comes to the details of summer floor care, here’s what the experts recommend.

Hard Floor Coverings:
“VCT needs to be finished, which protects the surface,” says Allen P. Rathey, president of Boise, Idaho-based InstructionLink/JanTrain, Inc. (ILJT), an educational marketing company. After that, he notes that preventing soil from impacting the floor allows the finish to last longer. The best way to do this is to use walk-off mats at building entrances, dust mop daily and scrub on an interim basis. “The more you scrub on an interim basis,” he says, “the less you have to strip. And you don’t want to strip more than you have to because it’s intensive.”

Wood Floors: To keep hardwood floors looking great all year round, Rusty Swindoll, Technical Services manager for Chesterfield, Mo.-based National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), which provides training and resources for wood flooring professionals to assure that buyers get high-quality flooring that lasts a lifetime, echoes Rathey’s recommendation: use walk-off mats to capture dirt and prevent it from coming in contact with the hardwood in the first place. Also, he recommends not using vinegar and water to clean hardwood, as vinegar is an acid.

When the floor begins to lose its luster, and you want to refinish it during the summer months, NWFA recommends using a professional to restore it to its original beauty.

For additional information, NWFA offers two resources. The first is Real Wood Floors, a cleaning and maintenance brochure. The second is Maintenance and Recoating of Hardwood Floors, Second Edition, which is available for purchase. Visit NWFA at

“One element of a strong carpet maintenance program is summer maintenance,” says Werner Braun, president of Dalton, Ga.-based Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), a science-based source for facts about carpet and rugs. “In that program, you do what you normally do during the school year, plus a little more. For example, one thing we recommend highly is, if a carpet receives a spill, remove it quickly when you’re more likely to get all of it out.”

In addition to spot removal, Braun suggests deep carpet cleaning. “Let me just point out one thing you’ll find important in a summer program,” he notes. “When you talk deep cleaning, it’s a composition of good vacuuming to get out as much loose soil as you can and extraction in combination with the right cleaning agent. Do this, and you’ll have lovely clean floors by the time the students return.”

For more information on carpet maintenance, download Five Steps to Well-Maintained Carpet in Schools, a free PDF located on CRI’s website.

Advice From the Experts

Summer floor care doesn’t have to be something you dread. In fact, because there’s so much to accomplish during the summer, having a leg up on floor care is to your advantage. To help you gain that advantage, the experts in this article have advice based on their own experiences and training.

  • “A strong floor care maintenance program begins with the selection of the right flooring products,” says Rathey. “If the flooring doesn’t require high maintenance, then you’re already ahead of the game. If you invest in flooring that requires high maintenance, you’ll be investing money there that you could have been spending elsewhere.”
  • “Follow a floor care plan based on the manufacturer’s recommendations,” says Swindoll. “Hardwood floors are easy to care for and, as long as you follow a maintenance program, they will last a lifetime.”
  • Hand in hand with following the manufacturer’s recommendations is training. “Train your workforce in appropriate soil removal techniques,” says Rathey. “You want to create a system of maintenance that is proactive rather than reactive.”
  • No matter how tight your budget is, do perform regularly scheduled maintenance. “This saves money through time,” says Rathey, “in that it prevents the floor from becoming impaired and a liability to you.”
  • Jess Hudson, GISD’s executive director of School Facilities, is even more specific: “Develop a plan, refine it, follow through with it and then, when you’re finished, reevaluate the plan to prepare for next year,” he says. “Keep making changes until you get something that works for your district because floor care doesn’t come in one-size-fits-all.” Be sure to constantly evaluate staffing, product choices and scheduling — don’t be afraid to step back and say, “This isn’t working.”
  • Part of developing a plan includes thinking of the building as a system and looking at ways to make systemic improvements so that you’re not eliminating one problem and creating another. “For example,” says Rathey, “where is the soil coming from? Where is it going? What are the consequences? There are a variety of answers to these questions.”
  • “Work smarter, not harder,” says Anderson. “There are better equipment and better chemical supplies out there. We need to investigate those products in order to get the work done as quickly and efficiently as we can.”
  • One place to look for better carpet care equipment and chemicals is the CRI’s Seal of Approval products. “We test spot removers in-tank and pre-spray cleaning chemicals, extractors, vacuum cleaners and more and certify that they perform well,” says Braun. “There are a lot of products out there that don’t do a very good job. Period. CRI does not make one dollar on our testing certification program. Our motivation is to make sure the customer is as absolutely satisfied with his or her carpet purchase as can be.”
  • “There’s not a school district out there that does not have budgetary concerns these days,” says James Beach, CRI’s Marketing director. “If you use your resources effectively to keep carpets well cleaned and maintained, they will last as long as the manufacturer indicates.” Not only does this ensure an appropriate return on investment, it also ensures that carpet doesn’t prematurely end up in a landfill, negatively impacting the environment.
  • Finally, simple advice: “Put felt under chair and table legs so they don’t cause scratches,” Swindoll advises. “And then change out the felt periodically because grit gets under them and scratches the floor.” This is good advice for hard floor coverings as well as hardwood floors.

Focus on Floors
Another way to make sure your floors have all the attention they need is to follow GISD’s lead — the district has a five-person crew dedicated to floor care. “They go into the schools on an as-needed basis and take care of whatever needs to be done, whether it’s carpet cleaning or hard floor care,” says Hudson. “For carpet, we mostly use steam cleaning. The main traffic areas — entryways and corridors — are the areas we have to work at hardest to keep looking nice. And both of those challenges are why we have the specialized floor crew. They may spend an entire night in one building. They may visit multiple schools in one night. It just depends on what needs to be done.”

Hudson notes that the floor crew works well because that’s all they do — they know floors, they know their job and they get the job done. “You can have great cleaners, but they’re not always the best at floor care,” he stipulates. “And you can have people who are good at floor care, but aren’t necessarily good cleaners. From the perspective of stripping, sealing and recoating, not everyone has the expertise to do a lot of it and be productive about it. Our floor crew gets it done and does it right.”

While you have your hands full preparing buildings for the new school year, proper planning in terms of floor care policies, procedures and products ensures peace of mind that you have the advantage and won’t experience any unwelcome surprises.