Keeping pace with luxury vinyl flooring

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For decades, cleaning technicians used the same practices to clean and maintain floors since there had been no drastic changes in flooring types. Although there were occasional updates to flooring materials, such as new carpet fibers, for the most part the processes used in the floor care industry readily accommodated any slight flooring update, up to the introduction of luxury vinyl tiles (LVT).

LVT has gone through several changes since its introduction in the 1970s to become what we know today. It has proven to be a popular flooring choice in commercial settings due to its noise dampening properties and low maintenance costs. According to the 2019 sales year statistics published in Floor Covering Weekly, the amount of LVT flooring sold has almost quadrupled in the past six years. If you haven’t seen this type of flooring in your establishment, chances are you will see it soon.

What makes LVT different?

LVT flooring has a vinyl base layer overlaid with a photograph of what the manufacturer wants the floor to look like, which is usually a wood grain pattern. The photograph is coated with a protective layer of plastic, which is then coated with a layer of urethane with additives to give the coating its durability and act as a wear layer

The thickness of the protective urethane layer, a factor in the life of the product once it is on the floor, is referred to in “mils”. Mil ratings vary depending on the flooring application, with 12 mils or less found in residential products and 20 mils or more in commercial products. Once these layers are combined, the flooring is stamped with a texture, enhancing the appearance of the wood grain pattern or other pattern used.


Improper maintenance leads to biofilm buildup on embossed LVT flooring. Image courtesy of Jim Toth Jr.


Commercial installations choose LVT because it has a low impact on the environment as well as reduced maintenance costs when the manufacturer’s standards of care are followed. Ultraviolet (UV) coating design eliminates the need for locally applied protective coatings such as flooring.

Regular removal and reapplication of floor finishing processes is a familiar routine for floor technicians who are trained to maintain a high level of appearance on finished vinyl composition tile (VCT) floors. It is a laborious and arduous process of burnishing, top scrubbing, chemical removal and reapplying the coating to the floor. But what if the floor does not require this type of maintenance?

With the benefits of a new type of flooring come challenges in how to clean it, especially for technicians who have not received training or guidance on the specific characteristics of LVT.

Unlike VCT, the texture of LVT creates a low point where detergent, dirt and water collect. The high points of this texture act like a squeegee, removing cleaning solution and dirt from mops and scrubbers, leaving small amounts of detergent, soil and water in low spots.

As a result, LVT floors can darken and look dull from the residue left behind – a frustrating scenario for facilities that have invested in flooring that they believe will save money and look good for years.


Luxury Vinyl Flooring

Combined with the mechanical action of an orbital cleaning machine, a microfiber pad has the ability to penetrate deep into texture and trap and hold dirt for removal. This photo shows the results of the first clean (bottom), second clean (middle), and third clean (top). This was a corrective cleanup to return the LVT floor to its original state. Image courtesy of Jim Toth Jr.


New floor, new direction

The texture of LVT floors is often so fine that pads and brushes, essential for cleaning technicians, cannot penetrate the relief pattern to remove residue.

So how do we evolve our cleaning processes to keep pace with LVT flooring?

One solution is to switch from rotary cleaning machines to orbital equipment with a dense polypropylene pad that thoroughly cleans the embossed surface. Orbital equipment provides more cleaning action than rotary equipment, and the unit’s small, tight orbit allows it to deep clean embossing from many angles. Polypropylene fibers are non-abrasive and will not harm the protective coating.

The next question is: how can equipment and processes evolve to to keep looking great on the LVT so daily and routine cleaning processes eliminate the need for restorative cleaning?

An effective solution is to combine single-use microfiber pads and orbital machines. Microfiber’s ability to penetrate deep into texture and trap and hold dirt for removal, combined with the mechanical action of an orbital cleaning machine, creates a process that helps maintain the original shine of LVT floors. This process uses only water, no detergent, as the residue left over from previous cleanings contains detergents which are reactivated upon cleaning. However, depending on the type of facility, e.g. hospitals, healthcare facilities, you may still need to add detergent or disinfectant to the process.

Use of this cleaning process is growing in the healthcare industry, especially after months of high patient loads that prevented Environmental Services (EVS) personnel from deep cleaning floors. Healthcare facilities have found that this system reduces cross-contamination, eliminates the need to transport and wash microfiber mop heads, and does not require taking patient rooms out of service for deep cleaning.

Unlike automatic washers, orbital machines have no exhaust, which makes their use an ideal final step in cleaning patient rooms.

LVT floors represent a new challenge for cleaning technicians. We cannot expect to meet these new challenges with the same old processes. As flooring evolves, our processes and equipment must evolve with it.

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