How to Properly Care for Fragile Flooring Materials

By Lee Senter

It’s important that store owners and their sales associates understand the characteristics of flooring materials since some don’t fare well when traditional cleaners are used. Extra care must be taken with laminate, bamboo, cork and linoleum, as they’re also often moisture sensitive and prone to damage from aggressive agitation.

Here’s what to convey to consumers that are interested in one of these fragile flooring options so they can make an informed purchasing decision.

There are many grades of laminate flooring. The latest generation of laminates are made with a vinyl coating and easy to maintain. However, most laminates are constructed with a backing material, MDF or HDF (medium-density or high-density fibreboard) core, design layer (photographic image of wood, stone, brick or ceramic) and wear layer, which is a clear topcoat that protects the floor from stains and fading. The wear layer is durable but it often scratches easily. While many manufacturers define a scratch as a mark that has penetrated through the wear layer — an almost impossible feat — most end users view it as a straight line on the flooring surface caused by a dragged item. Either way, it is vital to keep gritty dry soils off this style of flooring to avoid abrasions to the surface.

Due to the ultra-thin wear layer of laminate, any amount of moisture beyond a light mist can easily penetrate the seams of the flooring and cause de-lamination and edges to curl. Most manufacturers suggest the flooring be cared for with a laminate or hardwood cleaning product. The typical methodology is to mist a maximum area of two metres wide by two metres long with the cleaning agent and then use a flat mop with microfibre cover to clean the floor. Tough oily, sticky or greasy spots can be removed by using a cotton or rayon pad dipped in acetone.

There are some specialty products made by niche manufacturers that enhance wear layers on laminates. These products can be especially effective for flooring that soils quickly from left behind cleaning residue as a result of poor cleaning solutions or applications.

While it might be tempting to use a steam cleaner on laminate because it’s exceptional at getting dirt and grime off this type of flooring, do not. The intense heat and moisture it uses to get the job done can wreak havoc on the adhesive used on the flooring product.

Most bamboo flooring today is constructed with a durable, diamond hard urethane or aluminum oxide urethane finish. It is more water-resistant and resilient than hardwood because bamboo is a type of grass. However, since it is a natural, organic material, too much moisture will cause bamboo to warp and expand, resulting in cracks in the finish. The flooring is then more highly prone to moisture infiltration and the finish will further flake and peel.

The rule of thumb for cleaning bamboo flooring is to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations implicitly. When in doubt, clean it as if it was hardwood flooring. For interim maintenance, use a flat mop with microfibre head and a hardwood cleaner or a mixture of one part vinegar to four parts water. Ensure not to over-wet the floor with the cleaner and, as with laminate, do not use a steam cleaner since it will cause damage.

The urethane finish on bamboo flooring will eventually show wear. To restore to its original state, consider using a Dirt Dragon. The machine utilizes minimum moisture to apply the cleaning solution to the floor surface and then brushes and extracts it up seconds later, leaving the floor dry.

Cork is a very popular commercial floor covering. It is usually well-coated with several applications of polyurethane finish or a wax specified for cork flooring. So, basically, the maintenance program revolves around cleaning the topcoat.

Maintaining cork is much the same as bamboo except care must be made to never allow moisture to penetrate the seams of the flooring. If it does, there is a good chance the cork will no longer properly adhere to the substrate.

Whenever deep cleaning is performed on cork, it is wise to apply an additional topcoat to the existing finish. This can be accomplished by chemical etch, light screening or adhesion products followed by a polyurethane finish or additional wax coat.

Linoleum is comprised of many natural ingredients such as linseed oil and wood flour, with each manufacturer having its own linoleum ‘recipe.’

When cleaning linoleum, the rule of thumb is to use a neutral pH product, preferably the one recommended by the flooring’s manufacturer. Simply mist the cleaner on the linoleum and scrub with a swing floor machine equipped with a red buffer pad. Afterward, rinse away any residue.

Many linoleum products come with a proprietary finish that is very durable. However, since this flooring material can last a long time, it is not uncommon to apply additional topcoats after the factory finish has worn away. When doing so, it is important not to clean, spot clean or use stripping chemicals with a pH of 10 or greater prior to recoating the floor. It is also recommended to use products suggested to restore linoleum to its original state because of its natural ingredients. Otherwise, the surface is bound to dry out, cracks will develop and the flooring will experience colour loss.

James (Lee) Senter is president of Fresh and Clean, which performs deep cleaning of floors in the Greater Toronto Area, and CEO of restoration company DryIt. He is also president of the Canadian Flooring, Cleaning and Restoration Association. Lee can be reached at [email protected].

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