First impressions count: Don't be floored

Ross Skadsberg
Ross Skadsberg

A clean floor is likely to go unnoticed. But when it's not clean, it reflects negatively on your overall reputation. We know from research with those involved in selecting among senior living options, for themselves or loved ones, that cleanliness is treated as a primary indicator of the overall quality of care — especially when they have a negative impression — and floors are one of the most visible examples. Floors can also pose health and safety issues when they're not properly maintained.

Floors should be sanitized

A simple act such as moving a box from the floor onto a kitchen counter can transfer pathogens onto surfaces used to prepare food. Viruses like influenza and norovirus, and other pathogens, can survive and spread on any hard surface, including floors. So it's important to sanitize floors, just like any other surface, throughout your facility and particularly in areas where meals are prepared or served.

Avoid slips, falls and reflections

Another important safety issue is the risk of slips and falls. In a long term care setting, it's important to have matte floor finishes rather than a bright shine. A shiny floor can tend to be more slippery which can lead to slips and falls. A floor's reflection can be disorienting to elderly residents, especially those with dementia.

Choose the right product

As the number of flooring options has increased, so has the complexity of caring for them. Using the wrong cleaning product for a particular flooring substrate may damage the floor in addition to not getting the floor appropriately clean. Commonly used floor materials like various types of vinyl need to be coated to protect the floor and provide the right finish. These coatings usually need to be stripped and reapplied from time to time, so it's important to use one that doesn't require a stripper so harsh that it damages the floor. Another important consideration is using sealing and cleaning products that emit low-to-zero volatile organic compounds, especially in a long term care setting where people live 'round the clock.

Concrete and terrazzo floors usually need to be sealed with a product specifically designed for that purpose, and then have a floor finish applied on top of the seal. Some suppliers now offer products that combine the sealing and finishing steps. Such floors can also be polished instead of sealed, but that can be a labor-intensive and rather messy process.

As facilities grow and remodel, the type of flooring may change. Cleaning and maintenance protocols need to take note of different floors types that may require different products and maintenance procedures.

Be careful with alcohol and acidic cleaners

Both coated and polished floors are susceptible to damage from alcohol-based cleaners like hand sanitizers, from acidic cleaners or from spills of an acidic beverages that aren't promptly cleaned up. This damage often shows up as a whitish or hazy spot. Some recently developed products are now alcohol resistant, so check with your supplier. Linoleum is particularly sensitive to pH. For that type of floor be sure to use cleaning products that the manufacturer labels as linoleum-safe.

All carpets are not alike

As with hard-surface floors, carpeting comes in many different types including common synthetics like acrylic, polyester, olefin and nylon, and natural material like wool. Make sure you're using an appropriate cleaner for each carpet type.

The carpet in a long term care facility acts like a large air filter, trapping all types of dirt, dust and pollen. Consistent routine vacuuming removes many of these particulates, preventing them from building up over time. The effectiveness of vacuuming will be improved with regular use of an encapsulation product. Such a product coats sticky particulates and greasy soils, making them easier to remove with normal vacuuming.

More intensive cleaning and spot removal is needed from time to time and different spotters work on different kinds of spots: an enzyme spotter for bio-based soils and odors; a solvent-based spotter for greases, oils and inks; a food and beverage spotter; and a general purpose spotter for unknown stains. Stain removal technique is also important. Use only enough product to remove the stain—more is not always better. Also, blot with a clean terry towel to draw out the stain instead of rubbing.

The key to a great first impression, and a favorable lasting impression, is to use the right products on the appropriate surfaces and tasks, to make sure your floors don't draw any unwanted attention.

Ross Skadsberg is the director of Long Term Care Marketing for Ecolab's Institutional business. He can be reached at ross.skadsberg@ecolab.com

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