With fall nearly over, building managers and cleaning professionals must start focusing on something many would prefer to postpone: Winter floor care.

Often cleaning professionals strip and refinish floors in the spring and summer months. That new, high-gloss shine on the floors is their pride and joy. But they know the biggest danger to those floors, if proper steps are not implemented, is cold, wet, windy, and icy winters along with an even bigger enemy — ice melt.iStock_000030943776_360x235  Kesu01/Essentials/iStock

However, there are steps cleaning pros can take to help minimize winter’s wrath. While it has been discussed before, it is so crucial that it must be mentioned once again: the importance of installing high performance matting systems at key building entries cannot be stressed enough.

Building and cleaning professionals should know that there are three types of matting systems, each playing its own role, especially when it comes to protecting winter floors. According to Adam Strizzi, vice president of marketing for Crown Mats and Matting, these three are:

  • The scrapper mat, placed directly outside the facility
  • The wiper/ scrapper, placed in the vestibule area of a building entrance or directly in the entrance area
  • The wiper mat, installed in the building to remove any remaining moisture and soils from shoe bottoms.

Opinions vary as to how long these mats should be. For instance, Strizzi says Crown Mats instructs its distributors to recommend five feet of each type of mat, 15 feet altogether. “This way the mats work like a system and can capture as much as 80 percent or more of the soil, ice melt (used during the winter months) and moisture from shoe bottoms.”

While 15 feet is generally accepted as the right amount of matting, the Carpet and Rug Institute suggests the installation of six to 15 feet is. This is enough for the first five to seven steps to land on the mats.

Other matting manufacturers recommend six to eight feet of matting and still others recommend 18 to 20 feet, enough for at least eight three-foot-long strides.

“I would suggest starting with 15 feet of matting as the winter months unfold,” says Strizzi. “While I would not recommend less matting, more can always be added, especially if the winter is as especially harsh as it was last year.”

Mopping, finishes and machines

Because winter floors may be subjected to a number of different adversities — moisture, ice and ice melt, as referenced earlier — the chemicals used to clean and maintain the floor are very important. For the most part, a neutral cleaner should be used to prevent salt build-up from the ice melt, prevent damage to the floor and also help maintain the floor’s shine.

When damp mopping, cleaning professionals should know that it is very important to change the mop head and the cleaning solution frequently to avoid re-depositing the soil back onto the floor. If possible, a floor cleaning system that does not require the use of mops or even the use of trolley buckets that release fresh cleaning solution directly to the floor, can help prevent this re-depositing of soil from ever occurring.

As to how frequently the floors should be mopped, “that depends entirely on foot traffic and winter conditions,” says Sean Martschinke, product manager for Tornado, which manufactures professional floor care equipment. “In a large office building or retail facility, the floors may need to be damp mopped every couple of hours to remove soil and moisture.”

Martschinke also suggests that before winter officially begins, a finished floor should be scrubbed with an automatic scrubber and then “a thin coat of finish should be added to the floor. The combination of the deep cleaning and the added coats will build up the floor’s defenses, so it can better handle whatever winter throws is way.”

As to the selection of an automatic scrubber, there are many manufacturers making very good machines. However, Martschinke does offer the following suggestions:

  • Size is very important. Evaluate all areas where the scrubber will be used and select a machine that is small enough to work in smaller areas and walkways but large enough so it will not add too much time to floor scrubbing tasks.
  • Related to this, when determining what sized machine to select, check not only the scrub head as to width but the squeegee, as well. The squeegee often is the widest point on the machine.
  • A battery powered machine is preferable. This offers considerably more flexibility and safety — no cords to trip over.
  • Cylindrical or rotary? Some scrubbers use cylindrical — counter rotating brushes — instead of rotary pads. The big benefit of a cylindrical machine is that the brushes can reach deeper into porous and grout areas to remove soils, according to Strizzi. “This is also one reason why they often use less water and chemical than a rotary machine.”
  • Sound level is also a consideration. Some machines are surprisingly quiet, under 70 decibels (the maximum dBA to qualify for IEQ credit), which helps meet LEED requirements and helps improve worker productivity.
  • A machine with a simple control panel interface and a low profile also helps improve worker productivity.

Finally, burnishing the floor more frequently will help protect the floor and maintain a high-gloss shine.

“Just make sure the floor is adequately cleaned before burnishing,” adds Martschinke. “If grit and soil get ground into the finish, it can mar the appearance of the floor and cause it to darken or turn yellow…exactly what we do not want to happen during the winter months.”


Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries.