By James Flieler

Terrazzo has been used as a flooring material for three centuries, so floor care technicians are bound to encounter terrazzo floors in need of cleaning or restoration.

Terrazzo is made of marble chips (about 70 percent), as well as glass and other aggregates embedded into tinted cement. One type of terrazzo flooring we see today dates back to the 1700s when it was first found in Italian homes, offices, schools, and stores. It has even been used for sidewalks, including the well-known Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Terrazzo made its entry into North American residential and commercial buildings in the late 1880s.  An early problem with terrazzo was that it would often crack shortly after installation, so some developers lost interest in terrazzo and it went out of style.  By the 1920s, new installation techniques were developed to minimize cracking, and as a result, terrazzo became a very popular floor from the 1930s to the 1970s.

In the 1970s, terrazzo fell out of fashion as the “poor man’s marble floor,” as marble, granite, and stone floors became more popular and less expensive.  But since the 1990s, terrazzo has regained its popularity and certainly is no longer considered the “poor man’s marble floor.”

In fact, today terrazzo can be very costly to install. It must be mixed and poured over a specially prepared surface, then leveled and polished. While the process may have been inexpensive a century ago, that has changed largely due to high labor costs.

This means that if a facility now has a terrazzo floor, especially a very old floor that covers a large area and is in good condition, it is treated as a building gem. This is where terrazzo floor care knowledge becomes important for floor care technicians.

Terrazzo deterioration

While terrazzo has gone in and out of style, no one can deny that it is durable. Some ancient palacios and palazzos in Italy still have their original terrazzo floors hundreds of years later.  However, without proper care, terrazzo can succumb to deterioration.

Moisture, soil, and foot traffic all take a toll on terrazzo, so the first goal of a floor care technician is to reduce this corrosion. As with other hard surface floors, this is best accomplished with the use of floor mats.

When it comes to matting, urge your clients to do the following:

  • Install “high-performance” matting systems designed to trap soils, especially moisture, at all building entries near the terrazzo.
  • Mats should be as much as 15 feet long.
  • Install mats in transition areas (areas where terrazzo meets another flooring type).

Terrazzo floor care 

While the cleaning and care of terrazzo may be similar to other types of hard surface floors, it is not exactly the same.  Understanding these differences is crucial to ensure proper terrazzo floor care.

Even with effective matting in place, moisture and soils will find their way onto the terrazzo.  Because of this, terrazzo should be swept or vacuumed daily. Excess moisture can deteriorate terrazzo, especially older terrazzo, so damp mop the floor as needed using as dry a mop as possible.

It is advised to regularly clean terrazzo floors using a neutral pH cleaner diluted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Always use fresh or freshly cleaned floor mops, as soiled mops may spread soils over the floor.  It is also a good idea to rinse the floor with a fresh mop after mopping.  This final step helps remove any remaining soils or chemical residue from the floor.

Newer techniques

A new technique for terrazzo floor care involves a one-time protective process that improves durability, thereby reducing the amount of ongoing maintenance needed for terrazzo floors. It involves the following steps:

Strip

If a finish or sealant has been applied to the floor, it must be stripped or scrubbed off.  “Scrub-free” strippers are available that should eliminate the need for a machine scrubber. Properly mix the stripper and follow dwell time instructions per the manufacturer. Apply to the terrazzo using a flat mop and a bucket filled with the solution.

Clean

After stripping the sealant, deep clean the floor using an automatic scrubber with a 200-grit pad and a “restoration” cleaner.  If performed correctly, these steps should only need to be completed once for the life of the floor.

Quick tip:  When using the scrubber, move forward over the floor and then turn around, overlapping about half of the floor area just scrubbed. This ensures that all floor areas are scrubbed clean.

Apply densifier

Once the floor is dry, apply a substrate “densifier.” This is a water-based formulation that penetrates the pores in the terrazzo to increase its density and hardness, which provides additional protection for the floor. Using an automatic scrubber with a 400-grit, 800-grit, or even a 1500-grit pad enhances the shine.  Again, this step only needs to be performed once in the life of the floor.

Ongoing maintenance

Once the foundation has been created, the floor should only need to be cleaned and machine polished/burnished on a regular basis using a terrazzo cleaning solution.

While the process may sound a bit involved, it is a worthwhile investment in the life of a terrazzo floor. This one-time protective process makes ongoing maintenance quicker and easier, saving floor care technicians time in the long run while preserving the beauty and durability of terrazzo floors.


James Flieler is the Vice President of Training at Charlotte Products Limited, a manufacturer of innovative, environmentally responsible cleaning solutions. Other members of the professional floor care division also contributed to this article. For questions on this article, contact experts@charlotteproducts.com.