Clean sweep: Hard surface cleaning

Home Columns Clean sweep: Hard surface cleaning

by Patricia Harman

Hard surface flooring is a popular selection for many homeowners but keeping those floors like new requires a little extra care, so here is a primer on a number of floor care options. For carpet cleaners, hard surface cleaning can be an excellent add-on service if technicians have the proper training and know which pitfalls to avoid.

Problem areas

Before any polishing, cleaning or sealing effort, it is critical to do a pre-inspection to identify any problem areas, pre-existing damage, loose grout, gouges or other issues. Power washing can loosen grout and loose particles can scratch a finish.

Diamond polishing can be used to restore a surface to its previous glory. It is extremely effective and the most aggressive means of polishing, but it also requires the most training.

Efflorescence is a collection of minerals on tile that occurs when moisture rises to the surface and evaporates, leaving the minerals behind. It can usually be removed with a rough pad or brush. Acid may also be used (e.g., phosphoric, muriatic) but proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for the technician.

Rust is iron mixed with stone and can often be found in granite. It can be removed with acid, but PPE must be used. Some cleaning solutions that effectively remove iron from carpeting will also work on stone.

Stamped concrete floors are created by using a colored concrete and stamping a design into the floor. To remove oil stains from a concrete floor, combine diatomaceous earth and mineral spirits into a poultice and leave them on the surface for 24 to 48 hours. The poultice will help “pull” the oil out of the floor.

Hot water combined with an alkaline cleaner can actually damage a natural stone floor. Because hot water accelerates the chemical activity of a cleaning agent, it should be pre-tested in a small, unobtrusive corner of the floor. However, the smartest option is to focus more on the chemistry and cleaning process rather than the effectiveness of hot water to clean a surface.

With more and more homeowners choosing to include hard surface flooring as part of their design solution, it is important for carpet and rug professionals to be knowledgeable about the effective cleaning and restoration methods available.


Impregnator sealers should penetrate the grout or stone to which they are applied. Topical sealers can also be used but tend to show wear over time since they remain on top of a surface. Sealers may also be used in a shower area to reduce mold growth, but longevity is limited to six months or less depending on the frequency of use. Good ventilation will help dry the tile more quickly and reduce the incidence of mold. A biocide caulk may also be used to retard mold growth. Water-based sealers can go on a wet, freshly cleaned floor and tend to even out as they dry rather than show an uneven finish.

Color sealers can often be used to match a grout or floor color. They are helpful in hiding dirt that may be embedded and difficult to remove, and work best when two coats are applied.

Polymers can also be used to seal floors and the larger the molecules, the more durable the finish.

Sealer haze can be identified by the film which appears when a floor is scraped in some way. Avoid this by not over-applying. If it is an issue, the easiest way to remove is to re-emulsify and wipe it.

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