FM Articles

Flooring: When Clean Is Not Enough


Healthcare facilities and school buildings challenge maintenance staffs with large expanses of flooring that require careful maintenance to promote a healthy envi­ronment for patients, students, visitors and staff. The extend­ed hours of operation many of these facilities observe further complicate the cleaning process, as do the variety of functions the facilities are home to, limited budgets and an increased in­terest in sustainable, green environments. As facility managers seek ways to meet these challenges, many are turning to rubber flooring, which offers a simple cleaning regimen and a variety of performance benefits that help them achieve efficiency, pro­ductivity, safety and sustainability goals.

Simple Yet Effective
Rubber flooring is a sustainable material made from renew­able natural rubber that is extracted from the sap of tropical rubber plants and in­dustrial rubber. The floor’s dense, non­porous surface helps repel dirt and bacteria while resisting stains. This same natural den­sity allows the floor to stand up to water, chemical and other liquid spills without absorbing them. As a result, spills can be cleaned up quickly and effectively, leaving no residual staining and easing the cleaning process.

This is especially im­portant in healthcare settings, where disin­fectant, betadine and blood spills are not uncommon. Schools, too, experience their fair share of spills, especially in cafeterias, art rooms and lab spaces. As the University of Colorado se­lected materials for its renovated Ekeley Sciences Building, the floor’s ability to resist stains was a primary concern, prompting the chemistry department to conduct its own stain testing on several different flooring samples.

“That was the ultimate test – what stained the most or the least from commonly used lab chemicals,” said Larry Hill, project manager at the university. “Based on that, we chose rubber.”

The dense surface of rubber flooring means the floor tends to stay cleaner longer, and can be maintained with regular dust mopping. When a deeper cleaning is required, a mop and tap water will often suffice. But perhaps the best news for facility managers is the fact that rubber flooring never requires waxing, stripping or the application of sealants. This means significant time savings when it comes to maintaining the floors. Staff can clean larger areas in less time, which often means fewer people to complete a cleaning task.

Fewer Chemicals, Less time, Reduced costs
Fewer cleaning supplies to purchase, less time and a smaller workforce translate to reduced costs associated with cleaning, a benefit not lost on the University of Colorado. “We have very limited funding on this campus for maintenance and custodial services,” said Hill. “So, we try to stretch our dollars by using products that are easy to maintain and require fewer chemi­cals.”

The absence of wax and other chemicals used to maintain floor coverings also eliminates problems associated with these substances finding their way into a building’s sewer system. According to David Cantrell, director of engineering/facilities at the recently expanded Children’s Hospital of Alabama, “Our existing facility had a lot of wax by-product that would end up in our sewer drains, which causes buildups and backups within the facility. With no-wax floors, we don’t have the manpower costs associated with maintaining those lines any longer.”

In addition, hospitals and schools that install rubber floor­ing no longer need to close portions of a building for extended periods of time while wax is stripped, re-applied and allowed to dry. Nowhere is this more important than in hospitals that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rubber flooring’s simple cleaning regi­men makes scheduling maintenance easy and far less disruptive, as administrators at Chil­dren’s Hospital of Ala­bama are learning.

Said Kermilia Moor­er-Whitehead, RN, di­rector of 10 Harbert, “The environmental services people are able to quickly come in and clean the floor at any time, day or night. It doesn’t mat­ter, because the pro­cess is simple.

Improved Indoor Air Quality 
According to Moorer-Whitehead, the absence of chemicals also contributes to improved indoor air quality (IAQ). “You don’t hear people commenting that we can’t walk down the hallway because the fumes from cleaning the floors are over­whelming the staff and patients,” she said.

Nor do the floors themselves emit any substances in toxic concentrations. Many rubber floor coverings do not contain any polyvinyl chloride (PVC), plasticizers (phthalate) or halo­gens (e.g., chlorine) and some are GREENGUARD Gold Cer­tified for low VOC emissions. This high-level certification offers stringent criteria to meet the strict emissions levels as presented by the UL Environment, which focuses on healthy indoor environments. This can be reassuring for housekeeping staff who work on and with the floors daily.Flooring

Resiliency Promises Comfort, Quiet
Those who spend long hours on the floor will also appreciate the resiliency of rubber flooring. This benefit reaches beyond the housekeeping staff to include teachers and medical profes­sionals, who spend the majority of the day on their feet. Hard, unforgiving flooring surfaces can cause fatigue and negatively impact performance, while softer, more resilient rubber flooring absorbs the pressure of footsteps dif­ferently. In doing so, it helps prevent foot and leg fatigue and enables work­ers to focus on the work in front of them rather than their discomfort.

At the University of Colorado, those working in the renovated Ekeley Sci­ences Building recognize the comfort rubber offers. “The new flooring seems a lot more forgiving on the knees,” said Jacqueline Richardson, Ph.D., director of the organic chemistry teaching labs. Hill agreed, adding, “I think it’s much more comfortable, especially for users when they have long periods of lab use.”

The resiliency of rubber flooring also makes it easier for maintenance staff to move equipment across the floor without leaving scuffmarks or indentations on the floor covering. Rubber flooring’s low resistance to wheeled equipment also reduces the possibility of over-exertion on the part of maintenance workers and members of the housekeeping staff, as well as medical professionals and teach­ers who regularly move hospital beds, food carts, wheelchairs, equipment, book carts, chairs, supply carts and audio vi­sual equipment—anything on wheels that needs to be moved for treatment or instruction purposes.

Resilient rubber floor coverings also provide the extra traction needed to help prevent hazardous slips and trips for staff as well as vulnerable patient populations and young children. Said Cantrell, “The rubber floor does offer better traction when it is wet compared to some of the other surfaces we have, like VCT, where it’s been waxed and gets slippery when you walk on it. With our staff having to walk a lot more in this larger facility, we don’t have that slip hazard.”

Cleaning crews can also work more quietly, thanks to the noise abatement properties of rubber flooring. Rubber floor coverings have been shown to at­tenuate 70 percent of unwanted noise and absorb as much as 17 decibels of sound. This means that sounds associ­ated with the cleaning process, as well as footsteps, conversations, technology, doors closing, etc., are far less distract­ing to patients and students and the staff responsible for their care.

Hard-Working & Sustainable
While rubber is working hard to make the life of facility managers, maintenance crews and building occupants cleaner, safer, more comfortable and quieter, it also offers an extended life cycle – as long as 30 years, which reduces the need for frequent removal and disposal. When combined with lower maintenance costs, this extended life cycle makes this floor covering an attractive, less expen­sive choice over time than other options available to healthcare and education fa­cilities.

It is also important to note that not all the performance benefits that rubber flooring offers come at the expense of good design. Rubber floor coverings are available in a variety of colors, textures and patterns, making it easy to support a building design and incorporate colorful accents and inlays that can provide im­portant wayfinding or serve as teaching tools. In addition, the floor’s versatil­ity in performance and design promotes transition from one area of a facility to another and supports a comprehensive and coordinated design.

The case for rubber flooring is a strong one from the perspective of facility man­agers, particularly where maintenance is concerned. The floor covering offers a simple cleaning regimen that is also en­vironmentally friendly and contributes to improved IAQ, while the composition of the floor ensures a hygienic environment that fosters quiet, comfortable and safe working conditions. It is a floor cover­ing that benefits everyone in the building where it appears. It is a versatile product that goes beyond clean to consistently meet the unique challenges of healthcare and education facilities.

Tasha Hughes is a Marketing Special­ist, PR, at nora systems, Inc. Visit to to learn more.