Floor Exercises

Floors get stomped during the school year. In the fall, at the beginning of the term, the first students, faculty and staff to walk the halls deposit dirt, grit, cookie crumbs, skin flakes and all sorts of other stuff onto the floors. The second wave of people drops off more grime, while grinding what is already there deeper into the flooring materials. Hundreds more people will follow.

Schools in some areas of the country develop dusty and gritty floors. In other areas, rain and other kinds of precipitation turn the dust and grit to mud.

So it goes, day in and day out for 180 school days.

And, when classes end for the summer break, the facility director and custodial staff race to get the carpet, vinyl tile, concrete, rubber and other kinds of flooring across the district back in shape for next year, which, of course, is only a couple months away. To coin a phrase, you have to floor it.

You have to inspect the floors across the district, assemble teams and set a schedule to clean or replace every piece and every kind of flooring you own.

Take the Floor
Inspecting the flooring is key to any reconditioning effort. “Trust your eyes and nose,” says Allen Rathey, president of the Boise, Idaho-based Healthy Facilities Institute, a company that provides educational information for creating and maintaining clean, healthful indoor environments. “Look for wear patterns. They will point you to problems with maintenance, prevention or both.”

To inspect hard floors, you can buy or rent a tribometer, a device that measures the risk of slipping and falling on a flooring surface. “If the floor is slippery, it’s dirty,” Rathey says. “Slip resistance testing is a good way to measure cleanliness as well as slipperiness.”

You can also test hard floors for adenosine triphosphates (ATP). All cells, living and dead contain ATP, adds Rathey. Organic soiling that will support microbial growth contains ATP. It’s another way to determine if your floors are clean enough.

Kneel down on carpeted areas and take a close look with a mini-microscope or triple lens magnifier. “You can see stuff in between the fibers,” Rathey continues. “If you see debris of any kind, chances are that the carpet isn’t being properly cared for and that creates the potential for growing microbial life — germs and bacteria.”

“The first thing I look for is soap build-up,” says Rex Morrison, president of Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PCHS), a nonprofit company that trains pre-K through 12 custodians in modern cleaning methods. “When you look with the microscope, if you see diamond-like crystals all over the fibers, there is soap build-up. This tells me that the carpet has been improperly cleaned.”

In recent years, carpet has developed a reputation as bad for indoor air quality, but the real problem is poor maintenance and cleaning, adds Rathey.

Make notes of the findings. Which carpets need improved cleaning regimens? Which floors need to be stripped and waxed and which don’t?

“Most schools strip and wax floors every year,” observes Morrison. “You don’t need to do that. It isn’t good for the floors, and it isn’t good for the budget.

“Floors that need to be stripped and waxed show brown build-up around the edges. You should scrub other hard surfaces with a pH-neutral cleaner and apply a coat of wax.”

Another way to do this is to hire professionals to inspect the flooring and make recommendations for improving your care regimen.

After the inspection comes planning and scheduling.

Creating a Floor Plan

“If I have 20 schools to clean, I have to put together a plan,” Morrison says. “I will divide the custodial staff up into several teams. For instance, one team will strip and wax; another will scrub and wax; still another will deep clean the carpets.”

Next, Morrison checks the inventory for cleaning equipment, solutions, wax and other necessary tools, filling out purchase orders when necessary.

Decisions include buying wax that will last a long time or wear out sooner. Will you buy the cheap vacuum bags or the better quality, more expensive ones?

In each case, the best quality items will ultimately save labor, which, says Morrison, represents 80 percent of custodial costs. Wax that wears out sooner requires more frequent waxing. Better vacuum bags form a better barrier to fine particles. Cheaper bags allow fine particles to escape and fall back into the carpet.

“Change the vacuum bags frequently, too,” Rathey says. “What you don’t pick up because the bag is full stays in the carpet,” and probably means more frequent deep cleaning will become necessary.

Morrison creates visual cleaning schedules for all of the buildings, one building at a time, with large At-a-Glance monthly planners. “I might have a green, a red and a blue team,” he says. “I’ll fill in the each team’s assignment for each day of the month, indicating which rooms in what school each team will clean. I’ll use red, blue and green markers to record the assignments.”

As assignments are finished, they are crossed off the calendar, so on any given day, Morrison can look at the calendar, see where the teams are supposed to be and where they are. If it is Wednesday and the green team has not yet crossed off Tuesday’s assignment, he will know that the green team has fallen behind schedule.

Slow teams have to be pushed to catch up. If that doesn’t work, an extra person may help.

The point is, the effort is easier to manage when the schedule is written large and hung on the wall.

Floor Your Teams 
With Information
If your inspection found instances of poor care, you might want to spend some time educating your teams about proper floor cleaning procedures.

For instance, if you found soap crystals clinging to carpet fibers, you staff is using the wrong deep cleaning methods that will soon destroy the carpet.

“When the carpet is soapy, it cleans the dirt off the bottom of your shoes, and the dirt stays in the carpet,” Morrison says.

Morrison’s procedure for cleaning carpet starts with vacuuming thoroughly and apply a carpet cleaner with a pump sprayer to break up particulate matter.

“Most schools clean carpet with a pressure cleaner that applies water with pressure and sucks it up with pressure,” Morrison says. “Usually this equipment has insufficient pressure to break up the particulate matter and vacuum it up. You need to punch the carpet with 500 psi.

“If you have a spray and vac restroom cleaner, you have one of the best cold water extraction units on the market. You can convert these machines for carpet extraction by adding a wand. It will apply water at 500 psi and vacuum it up again at high pressure. It will get all of the water back out of the carpet.”

A mistake commonly made cleaning hard surface floors involves pH. According to Morrison, you must clean hard surfaces with a neutral cleaner before waxing. Many floor cleaners and strippers are highly acidic or alkaline. Waxing an acidic or alkaline floor will cause an adverse chemical reaction. “It may soften the wax; the wax may not dry properly; any number of things could go wrong,” Morrison says. “You just take the floor to pH neutral before waxing.”

Go Floor It
Time to go to work. While the teams are working the plan in the field, you may be able to reduce labor costs by creating a matting plan that will prevent dirt from coming into your buildings in the first place.
According to 3M Commercial Data, 100 people will track 2 ounces of dirt into a building every day.

“The cost of supplies, equipment and labor to remove 16 ounces of tracked in dirt is $500,” Rathey says. “If you prevent 16 ounces of dirt from coming into the building, you will save $500.

WalMart, in an effort to reduce floor-cleaning costs in its stores, has made a study of matting. The study found that 5 feet of matting removes 30 percent of the dirt on people’s shoes. Thirty feet of matting removes 99 percent. “The more matting you use, the less it will costs to clean your floors,” Rathey says.

Create a Floor Routine
Another plan you can lay while your teams are in the field begins with diagrams of the traffic patterns in your buildings keyed to types of flooring. Such a diagram will enable you to develop a floor-care routine that will keep the floors cleaner with less work.

“For instance, if you know that 300 
students pile out of the gym every day at 3:00 p.m., you know that those corridors need extra attention every day — right after it happens, before the soil is embedded in the floor,” Rathey says.

Rathey recommends diagramming daily and weekly routines tailored to the floor traffic. He also suggests planning out deep cleaning routines, which must be done when school is closed.

Proper cleaning techniques, more matting and cleaning routines geared to traffic and flooring types, scheduled for both the short term and the long term will produce a cleaner school and a leaner budget.
In fact, you might find yourself with schools so clean that you can eat off the floors.