To truly appreciate the amount of progress, we need to take a closer look at what the idea of cleaning and maintaining hard surface floors was in its infancy.
Initially, variety was limited; flooring choices for common areas were basically stone, wood or linoleum.
All were natural materials, and each had characteristics that could cause maintenance headaches.
If left unprotected from the scarring effects of foot traffic, the floors would show signs of premature wear and would often need replacement far sooner than anticipated.
Even with the advent of vinyl flooring options, the need for sacrificial protective coatings to delay or eliminate the damage from dirt, grit and other soils was apparent.
Early protective coatings consisted of natural waxes and polishes, which were difficult to maintain and proved problematic when a complete strip was necessary.
Some of these early products could actually penetrate the pores of the floors and needed to be manually sanded and scrapped off.
Can you imagine the time-consuming difficulty and the associated costs of such a labor-intensive process?
Almost all hard surface flooring — including ceramic tiles, terrazzo, quarry tile and, in some cases, natural stone — was treated just like vinyl composition tile (VCT) and finish was applied.
Back in the Stone Age — no pun intended — most hard floor care operations consisted of routine services like sweeping, mopping and buffing.
When those operations were no longer effective, the floor was stripped of its finish — what once was, and is still commonly, called wax — and recoated, which was considered a restorative process.
A majority of maintenance programs were basically cleaning processes designed to prolong the time between stripping and refinishing cycles.
There was some consideration as to the useful life of the flooring, but early maintenance programs were designed to control the costs of refinishing, which were quite expensive.
Sacrificing Appearance To Cut Costs
Further intensifying the maintenance headache, early floor finishes had to be matched to the type of equipment available to a contractor or in-house professional.
Low-speed finishes — which, by the nature of their formulation, were extremely durable and difficult to abrade — were just not as glossy as the high-speed, thermally-activated finishes that could be burnished to build or repair gloss.
With constraints such as floor machines operating at a mere 175 revolutions per minute (RPM), janitors, custodians, maintenance technicians and other cleaning personnel were not able to cross high-gloss finishes with low-speed equipment.
Smaller buildings and facilities with tight corridors or congested areas could not have floors with the “wet look” that gained popularity in the 1980s because the equipment needed to properly burnish the finish was simply too large to maneuver.
Also, smaller locations like branch offices or independent medical facilities would often fail to maintain their floors in a timely manner, stretching necessary servicing as far as possible to save money.
High-gloss, thermally-activated finishes were often more malleable than their low-speed counterparts, allowing them to be stimulated by the friction of a burnisher to soften the top layer, which helps repair minor blemishes and restores gloss.
I won’t even get started on ceramic tiles being coated with finishes: Complete removal was always difficult from the grout channel, if the contractor or in-house custodian could get the finish to bond to the ceramic in the first place.
It was much easier to maintain terrazzo but, due to inexperience, many terrazzo floors were “sealed” with a concrete sealer, creating a surface film that made it difficult for a finish to bond.
It was wholly misunderstood just how these pore-clogging sealers accomplished their protection, and many were washed off by using cleaning agents that were too strong for routine cleaning purposes, especially in foodservice areas.
Restaurant kitchen floors covered with quarry tile caused many levels of concern because of the inherent porosity of the tile coupled with a lighter color grout and the necessity of a non-slip surface.