Canadian Property Management
Greening Floor Care
Well-maintained hard-surface floors in a medical, hospital, school, or office setting are very important. Floors usually make the first—and
most lasting—impression of how well cleaned, maintained, and
operated a facility is. If the floors are clean and shiny, visitors, patients, and workers feel more assured that the entire facility is clean and well managed as well.
Maintaining clean, shiny floors has additional benefits. They are usually easier to care for, which helps cuts labor costs and can reduce the ability of germs and bacteria to spread. Additionally, with the right tools, chemicals, and floor maintenance procedures, clean floors can also improve indoor air quality (IAQ) and help Green floor care.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), poor IAQ is a result of a building‟s inability to properly circulate fresh or
refreshed air free of chemicals, gases, bacteria, mold, and other
airborne impurities. In the many facilities, poor IAQ can be very detrimental to occupant health, worker productivity, and student performance, and in a medical setting, be one reason for the sharp increase in nosocomial infections.
Maintaining floors on a regular basis with vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, and polishing can help improve IAQ. However, care is required, for some of the very methods used to keep floors looking their best can also have an adverse affect IAQ.
For example, sweeping and dust mopping can “stir up” dust, making it airborne, according to Mike Sawchuk, vice president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions, a leading Green cleaning chemical manufacturer based in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. “This not only
affects the custodian and the area being cleaned, but if the airborne impurities enter the HVAC system, they can be spread throughout the building. Vacuuming hard-surface floors instead of dust mopping helps eliminate this problem,” he says.
Burnishers and IAQ
Another IAQ problem centers on burnishers, which are used to polish floors. “Burnishers produce the high-gloss look many facilities want.
But these machines can seriously hamper IAQ because of the way they work,” says Sawchuk.
According to Sawchuk, when polishing floors, one of the functions burnishers perform is to lightly sand the floor finish‟s top layer. “If
some type of vacuum system—„active‟ or „passive‟—is not built into
the burnisher, the dust can become airborne and mar IAQ,” he says.
Active vacuum systems, more prevalent in Europe, have vacuum cleaner motors built right into the machine to collect dust and contaminants. Passive floor machines, most often found in Canada and the United States, have a shroud covering the base of the machine. The motor used to polish the floor also acts as a vacuum, collecting and trapping dust and particulates within the shroud. According to Sawchuk, both systems work about equally well and can trap about 50 percent of the particulates before they become airborne.
Floor Care and Water Conservation
In the summer of 2001, most of Canada grappled with the worst drought in nearly 40 years. Climatologists at Environment Canada said that that summer's drought was not only one of the most extensive they had seen, but added that a University of Regina study warned "the big one," one that would be even more severe, should be expected in the next 30 years.
This drought triggered a number of facilities throughout Canada to take a serious look at water conservation measures. “Reducing water use has now become one of the bigger trends in the cleaning industry,” says Sawchuk. “And, with the growing interest in Green cleaning and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which awards facilities points for reducing water
consumption, finding ways to lower water needs will become even more important in the future.”
Some facilities are experimenting with different types of floor machines such as floor machines that use cylindrical brush technology to reduce water use. Instead of a rotary brush, as is found with conventional floor equipment, these machines have counter-rotating brushes located on each side of the machine‟s base, rotating at more than 1,000 rpm (rotations per minute). “They tend to use
about a third less water because of their higher rpm and still produce a very high-gloss shine,” he says. “Along with less water, these machines use less chemical as well. Whenever the cleaning professional is able to use less chemical, whether Green or not, it helps reduce cleaning‟s impact on the worker, building occupants, and the environment.”
A Key Component: Green Floor Care Chemicals
Of all cleaning chemicals, some of the most potentially dangerous to cleaning workers, building occupants, visitors, and the environment are those used in floor care. This includes floor finishes and strippers. Several studies from a variety of credible sources indicate that these products can cause skin and eye irritation, headaches, burns and, in rare cases, can even cause permanent health damage. This is because they often contain high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are released during and after the cleaning process and can mar IAQ. Additionally, many floor care chemicals
contain 2-butoxyethanol, powerful solvents, and ammonia, which pose major human health concerns because they can be readily inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Furthermore, zinc and other heavy metals known as “strengtheners or interlocks” are used in some floor finishes to help enhance
durability of the product. They also help produce that "wet look," mentioned earlier, which many facilities want. However, during the floor cleaning process, zinc and similar metals are often collected in rinse water and then discarded down building drains. If not properly treated, they are known to be harmful to aquatic life and other living things once they enter streams and water systems and can eventually enter the human food chain.
Because of this, many jansan distributors are encouraging their customers to select Green or environmentally preferable floor care products, many of which have just been introduced in just the past couple of years. They are also recommending the use of Green-certified floor care products such as strippers, sealers, and finishes
Mcertified either by The EcoLogo Program in Canada or Green Seal?
in the U.S. If the product has been certified, it means that it has been tested and evaluated and is proven:
; Safer for people, and the environment
; As good as, if not better, than comparable products used for the
; Cost competitive.
Not only are these Green certified floor care products less harmful to the environment, recent studies indicate that these products help shrink workers' compensation claims of cleaning workers and building occupants, and reduce other health-related liabilities as they help bolster worker productivity and performance.
Floor Care Direction and Technology
As is usually the case, necessity is the mother of invention. As improving IAQ, controlling water consumption, protecting human health, and the environment become growing issues in Canada and throughout North America, the professional cleaning industry will step in to do its part in meeting the challenge. Since their introduction, passive vacuum systems on burnishers have improved considerably and are now an ideal way to minimize cleaning‟s negative impact on IAQ and the environment.
Cylindrical floor machines, as discussed earlier, use significantly less water and chemical than traditional floor machines and are easier to use. And just recently, healthier, Green certified floor care product have been introduced that are compatible to conventional floor care products but without the potentially harmful ingredients and by- products. Together, these innovations appear to be the direction that floor care technology is heading—helping protect the health of floor
care workers, building occupants, visitors, and the environment—
while remaining cost neutral or reducing floor care costs for facility managers.
Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor who now does communication work for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.