Stripping & Finishing Hard Floors

Winter challenges that can wallop floors

Guess what? It’s supposed to rain in California this year. If this prediction is true, it may likely be the big climate-related “happening” of 2016. But many other parts of the country will look forward to winter as usual: cold, snowy, icy, windy, and stormy.

Whether facilities are dealing with rain or the typical winter that much of the Midwest and Northeast experiences on an annual basis, both types of weather can really play havoc on floors. However, the best way to combat this challenge is to prepare months before winter begins.

Stripping and Refinishing Floors

Having the floor finished and ready for winter is crucial. Remember, the key reason for applying a finish to a floor is not the shine, but the protection. View the floor finish as a plate of glass over the floor, adding a shine along with a shield.

The problem with stripping and refinishing floors during the winter months is that the weather is cold and often very dry. Some chemicals may not work effectively, and some floor finishes may not adhere properly when applied to a cold floor in a very dry environment. If floors need to be stripped, sealed, and refinished, this work should be performed in the spring, summer, or fall.

Three to four thin coats of finish will typically suffice in moderate traffic areas of a facility, but in lobbies and key walkways, some contractors have found applying as many five to eight coats makes it easier to keep clean and produce a shine.

Applying this many coats of finish to floors does have its drawbacks, however, most of which apply to time and labor. Applying five to eight coats of finish takes time—which means money in the cleaning business—and can make stripping the floor more time consuming, as well. Because of this, apply several coats of floor finish only to the most high-traffic floor areas.

Preparing for the Second Round

If preparing the floor with adequate coats of finish serves as round No. 1 in our winter floor care challenge, round No. 2 involves preventing moisture, debris, ice melt, grit, and soil from entering the facility. This all starts before anyone even walks into a building.

The past two winters in Chicago have been exceptionally bad with lots of snow, cold weather, and ice. A large residential building in the city with underground parking experienced excessive damage to building floors and carpet during these two winters. While they had taken precautions inside the facility, they overlooked a key problem area that can welcome winter soiling: the underground parking area.

As ice, snow, ice melt, and other contaminants melted from cars, they landed on tar surfaces. The ice melt specifically damaged the tar, softening it so that it adhered and collected on shoe bottoms along with the other soils. Building visitors then marched the tar and soil into the building’s lobby, walkways, and onto the carpet. The problem was rectified by periodic pressure washing of the floor areas throughout the winter months.

However, this example demonstrates how cleaning contractors must not overlook the exterior of the building, including parking lots, walkways, sidewalks, and the like. Keeping them clean is essential to winning the battle when it comes to winter floor challenges.

Going for the Knockout

An effective matting program also services as a main line of defense when it comes to keeping indoor floors clean, safe, and healthy. The goal of an effective matting program is actually threefold:

  • Scraping soil, grit, and moisture from shoe bottoms
  • Absorbing moisture from shoe bottoms
  • Trapping and collecting soil, grit, and moisture so building occupants do not carry them into the facility

This is accomplished in two distinct ways: installing mats of adequate length and installing three different types of mats.

Length: An adult will likely have a three-foot stride when walking. This typically means that 15 to 25 feet of matting will be needed to adequately collect the soil and moisture transported on the bottom of someone’s shoes.

Studies by the American Institute of Architects found that five feet of matting at building entries will capture approximately 33 percent of moisture and soil; 10 feet will capture 52 percent; 20 feet of matting brings this up to 86 percent; and 25 feet will capture just about all soil and moisture on shoe bottoms, protecting the floor from damage.

Types of matting: The degree of soil capture depends on the types of mats a facility installs. In order to ensure a successful matting program, cleaning contractors should advise clients to select three different types of matting, starting with high-performance matting.

Next, make sure to place a scraper mat outside the facility. If the building has a dual entrance, install a scraper/wiper mat between the two sets of doors, or if that is not an option, install it directly inside the main entryway of the building. Finally, install a wiper mat inside the building.

The total length of the three mats should be at least 15 feet. Some green cleaning advocates recommend 20 feet, mainly because this helps reduce soil loads so significantly it can reduce cleaning needs, which in turn helps reduce cleaning’s impact on the environment.

We should note that wiper mats can also go in key walkways within the facility. These mats help to prevent soil in one area of a facility from transferring into another area.

Ongoing Maintenance

Remember that protecting floors during the winter months is an ongoing challenge, not a one-time event. Cleaning contractors must keep up their defenses throughout the cold season.

To remain effective, mats need to be cleaned regularly. Vacuuming, of course, is necessary on a daily basis, but in the winter months they should be extracted, as well. After carpet extraction, lay the mats out individually on a flat surface, such as in a large storage area. To adequately dry, the mats will likely need 24 hours. Make sure the backing is also dry before installing the mat.

While these steps will help protect floors during the winter months, cleaning contractors are not free to ignore them. Having an ongoing floor maintenance program of cleaning and scrubbing is essential to keeping floors clean and healthy during the winter months and year round.

Posted On December 2, 2015

Adam Strizzi

Marketing Manager for Crown Matting Technologies

Adam Strizzi is marketing manager for Crown Matting Technologies, which has been making commercial and industrial mats for more than 70 years. He can be reached through his company website at

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