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The Floor for Kings, Queens, and Inmates
By Debby Davis
Published: 11/18/2013

Terrazzo floor I bet there are a few things you did not know about terrazzo floors. For instance, did you know they date back to the 1500s?

Did you know they were once referred to as the flooring “meant for kings and queens” and that George Washington specifically asked that terrazzo floors be installed in some rooms in his Mount Vernon home?

Further, you might not know that as late at 1960 in the U.S., terrazzo flooring was typically more expensive and even considered more of a status symbol to have in a home or commercial facility than natural marble or stone floors.

And possibly you believe that terrazzo floors are essentially impenetrable. However, while terrazzo floors are extremely durable—certainly more so than many other hard-surface floors—they can be damaged, especially if they are not cared for properly.

What They Are

Terrazzo floors are made from a combination of crushed marble and granite chips mixed with cement or a resinous binder and poured into the facility. Once dry, it is honed and polished using diamond abrasives. After it is installed, terrazzo can be cleaned and maintained as most other floor surfaces by sweeping or dry mopping, damp mopping, finishing, and buffing or burnishing.

As a matter of fact, it is frequently a good idea to put a finish (wax) on terrazzo floors. Terrazzo is often installed in heavily trafficked areas such as airports and correctional facilities, and all of that foot traffic can eventually do damage. While a finish gives a floor a shine, its principal task is to help protect the floor.

The big enemies of terrazzo are spills such as soda, fruit juice, and coffee, which can penetrate the terrazzo, especially if it has not been sealed or finished, and leave a permanent stain.

Another enemy is dust—or more specifically grit. With excessive foot traffic, grit is actually pounded into the floor and can leave tiny potholes or scratches. Once this happens, cleaning and applying a sealant or finish can minimize the impact and improve the appearance of the floor, but often the cuts and scratches become permanent and remain noticeable.

Basic Care

We have already mentioned that terrazzo floors, like other floors, should be swept as well as dry and damp mopped. They should also be finished using three to five coats of a high-quality, slip-resistant floor finish.*

If spills such as those mentioned earlier occur, they should be cleaned up as quickly as possible. In addition to staining the floor, liquids on terrazzo make the floor exceptionally slippery.

As to cleaning frequencies, in a high-traffic area such as a correctional facility where terrazzo is installed, maintenance will be required at least daily, possibly more often.

A neutral cleaner should be used when mopping, and the mopping solution should be changed frequently—as soon as it begins to darken. Using a soiled solution on the floor can actually start spreading contaminants, defeating the purpose of the entire cleaning process. Further, what is referred to as “hazing” or “streaking” (white streaks) may occur, especially if the floor has been highly polished. Should this occur, the floor should be damp mopped one or more times using fresh water and new mop heads to remove the haze and the streaks.

Using an Automatic Scrubber

While the previously mentioned procedures will work well with a smaller floor, with a larger terrazzo floor, they may be simply too time consuming and disruptive to the facility. In this case, administrators are encouraged to use automatic scrubbers.

An automatic scrubber performs these tasks—vacuuming, cleaning, scrubbing, and drying the floor—all in one pass. A battery-powered scrubber is best so that there are no concerns about tripping over the cord and there is no stopping and starting to plug and unplug the cord. Some battery-powered scrubbers can operate as long as six hours before needing a recharge, making a cord-based machine virtually unnecessary.

Facility administrators should select an appropriately sized machine. Depending on the size of the floor, the machine should have a 20-inch to a 32-inch cleaning path. Too small and it can take too long to clean the floor. Too large, and it may not be able to clean in tight areas. A machine with a cleaning path of 28 inches should be able to clean 27,000 to as much as 44,000 square feet in an hour. This is a lot of square footage and should address the needs of most correctional locations.

The Shine

A finish both protects a floor and gives it a shine, and administrators have the choice of two different types of finishes: those made for low-speed buffers and those made for high-speed burnishers. The two are not compatible, so when selecting a finish, administrators must make sure it will work with their machine.

Both types of finishes and machines will give the floor a quality shine. However, a burnisher will give the floor a higher-gloss shine, often referred to as a “wet look.” If this is the type of look desired, then a burnisher and the appropriate finish should be selected.

A well-maintained terrazzo floor can last literally for decades—even centuries. Some of the terrazzo floors installed in Washington’s Mount Vernon home as well as in the centuries-old palaces of kings and queens are still in good shape today. While we cannot guarantee terrazzo floors will last centuries in your correctional facility, if properly cleaned, maintained, and cared for, there really is no reason why they should not.

Debby Davis is the product manager for Powr-Flite, a leading manufacturer of floor care equipment. Davis has extensive experience in the professional cleaning industry, especially in the area of floor care. She may be reached thru her company Web site.

*The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) has more information on slip resistant floor finishes as well as products that have been certified, meeting their standards and criteria for a slip resistant finish.


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