FM Articles

Preventing the “Up-Down” Effect When Maintaining Floors


Flooring is without question one of the most expensive investments a building owner or manager will make. Typically, a considerable amount of time is taken to select a hard surface floor for a lobby or a large work area, for instance. Along with the look of the floor, among the items considered is the durability of the floor and the short and long-term maintenance needs of the floor.

Once a floor is selected, one of the issues the installer will need to evaluate is whether moisture from the subfloor might flow up and damage the new floor covering. This is called a “down-up” moisture issue, which can be easily addressed in most cases. Once that is done, and ensuring the right floor has been selected for the application, it is not uncommon for a hard surface floor to provide years of service.

But problems can occur when an “up-down” moisture problem occurs. This is when moisture flows from the top of the floor and seeps down through seams, grout, and junctures in the floor to the surface below. Many times this can be prevented if the floor is sealed correctly before a finish is applied. But this may end up just being a temporary fix.

Foot traffic, cleaning solutions, regular cleaning and maintenance, and normal wear and tear will begin to break down the finish and seal. Unless new applications of sealant or floor finish are applied, pores will open up, and moisture will start to seep below the floor surface.

When this happens, bacterial contamination can develop under the floor and mold and mildew may start to grow. Not only is this an unhealthy situation, but it can also cause the floor to start buckling. This can create what we call floor failure.

In some cases, just the problem area can be removed and a same or similar floor covering installed. However, if that is not possible or the problem is widespread, the entire floor may need to be replaced, which cannot only be very costly but also very disruptive in most facilities.

But there is something more we need to know about floor failures. Sometimes the very products we use to clean and maintain floors are the cause of these floor failures.

To help us better understand what is going on, we turn to Michael Wilson, vice president of marketing for AFFLINK, a leading sales and marketing organization for distributors in the professional cleaning industry.

Michael, how can floor cleaning products cause damage to hard surface floors?

Some floor cleaning solutions use very powerful ingredients and compounds to improve the effectiveness of the product. This is especially true of traditional (non-Green) floor cleaning solutions. If and when these compounds find ways to seep under the floor, they can damage the flooring adhesives. When this happens, buckling may occur, the floor may crack with foot traffic, or just loosen.

Are there specific types of floor care products that we should try to avoid using?

Citrus-based cleaners are fairly popular, and some contain d-Limonene. While this can be an excellent cleaner and is very effective at removing grease and oil from floors, this is a petroleum-related ingredient that over time may break up floor adhesives. It can even damage concrete. This ingredient has been associated with floor failures, and another problem with citrus-based cleaners in general is that they can leave a residue on the floor. This can cause rapid re-soiling, something we want to try and avoid.


Other than d-Limonene, are their other ingredients or types of floor cleaning solutions we should be concerned about?

We should be careful about using floor cleaners that are too acidic. Acidic cleaners can find their way through floor junctures and when re-wetted, for instance with mopping or auto scrubbing, can damage adhesives under the floor. In some cases, it can even cause the cement to begin to “lift” from the substrate floor.

Another concern is high pH (alkaline) floor strippers. These are potent cleaners designed to make it easier to remove sealants, finish, and soils from the floor. But once again, they can find their way under the floor, damaging adhesives, causing buckling, or loosening the floor.

Even cleaning floors with dirty water can result in floor failure. Once again, it can cause bacterial contamination, the growth of mold and mildew under the floor, which we know can lead to floor failure over time.

How can building owners and managers select products that will best protect their floors?

What is important is for building owners first to be aware of these problems and then select floor cleaning solutions that can efficiently clean without using harmful ingredients, cleaners that are too acidic, or that are too high in pH.*

Another thing building owners and managers can do, along with cleaning professionals, is turn to online “dashboards” which help them select all types of cleaning solutions based on specific needs. At least one of these is free. They can use these dashboards to find particular types of products to clean and maintain specific types of floors and compare them – as to costs, for instance – with similar products.

The next step is to work with an astute janitorial distributor. While these dashboards are very helpful, building owners and managers should view an experienced janitorial distributor as a walking cleaning encyclopedia. When it comes to addressing floor care issues and many other types of cleaning challenges, a distributor should be able to recommend cleaning solutions as well as cleaning procedures that can help solve a variety of cleaning problems as well as prevent floor failure.

According to Wilson, the goal of cleaning is to protect building assets and capital investments. “There are many causes of floor failure with poor installation typically at the top of the list. It should not be caused by cleaning. By selecting the right products and working with an experienced janitorial distributor, it won’t be.”

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.

*Cleaning solutions that have a very low pH can also prove damaging to floors in some situations. pH stands for “power of hydrogen.” The pH range is 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic, and a solution with a pH higher than 7 is alkaline.