A polished concrete floor is the most affordable flooring option when considering true life-cycle costs. No wax or coatings is needed to make this floor shine. It boasts an annual savings of as much as $1/square foot in maintenance costs over other floor finishes and coverings. However, this cost savings depends on making sure you’ve educated customers on implementing a thorough maintenance program.

Your customer’s maintenance program bears the brunt of continuously projecting the polished concrete floor in a good light. Even with basic cleaning, the shine can dull in high-traffic areas. Before the floor is even poured, ask your customer or architect:

  • How is the space being used? The heavier the floor traffic, the more frequently cleaning will be required. Plus, a warehouse or industrial space requires a different maintenance program and frequency than a manufacturing operation, just as retail stores require different approaches depending on the retail sector. So ask—is it an office, a home, a restaurant, or a manufacturing plant?
  • What level of shine am I looking to achieve? The greater the refinement and reflectivity desired, the greater the need for preventive maintenance.
  • What is the exterior environment? Not only theirs, but their neighbor’s too. (See sidebar below.)

The answers to those questions will help you advise your customer on a cleaning and maintenance schedule that, depending on floor use and traffic, includes daily dust mopping and daily or weekly wet mopping/auto scrubbing. Your customer will also need to schedule periodic burnishing as well as guard reapplication, if one was used.

What you should tell customers

Don’t allow normal foot traffic to create a dull traffic lane. In polishing concrete, we often talk about refinement and grit levels. One way in which we all replicate the polishing process on a daily basis is simply by walking. In a normal situation in the interior of a building, where dry particulate is not a concern, the average footstep is equivalent to a 400-grit finish. We normally equate this grit level to a matte-level finish. Now think about hard quartz sands. It’s not hard to visualize that these sands replicate the abrasives that are in our lower-grit diamonds—grits we equate with stock removal in the grinding process.

Protective mats can help prevent damage from foot traffic or the kind of foot shuffle that occurs in front of or behind service counters.

Install a walk-off system at external doors. All external dry particulate that finds itself inside a building will act like sanding grit, and will dull the floor. The best preventive maintenance solution is to integrate walk-off systems at all entrances leading from outside or even from manufacturing or warehousing departments. A properly maintained walk-off system that flows 12 to 15 feet into a facility will eliminate 85% to 90% of potentially damaging dry particulate, along with solubilized oils and contaminants found in tracked-in water.

However, walk-off mat systems are not once-and-done solutions. They must be vacuumed and interchanged on a normal schedule; for just like a kitchen sink, they can only hold so much before they overflow. This overflow can carry the damaging particulate 12 to 15 feet further into the facility.

Use the proper cleaning products when wet mopping or auto scrubbing. A properly formulated cleaner for polished concrete is not pH neutral, but is closer to the pH of the polished concrete. For normal ASTM C150 Type II portland cement concrete, polished or not, the initial pH is around 12.5. After a 28-day cure, it is in the 11.5 to 11.8 range, so it is still a very alkaline product.

As time passes, the concrete at the surface interacts with carbon dioxide and may drop down closer to 10.4-10.6. This is an important distinction, because an effective cleaner needs to be alkaline. In addition to having an effective yet safe alkaline level, the specialty polished concrete cleaner must have agents capable of not only releasing soils from the surface, but also trapping soils and particulates into the solution to ensure that they “go out with the bath water.”

A proper cleaner continues to nourish and strengthen your floor. The final step in a good maintenance program is to re-introduce the densifying agent as a component of your cleaner. This allows you to continually interact with and strengthen the new calcium hydroxide that is created within the slab in the presence of moisture — and the new calcium hydroxide created at the surface when moisture was introduced during the cleaning. Depending on the end use of the floor, you may recommend an additional protective guard product to minimize potential staining or etching from spills.

Peter Wagner is supporting product specialist for the CreteClean, CreteFill, and RetroPlate Dye Systems for CureCrete Distribution of Springville, Utah. He has 30 years of commercial flooring maintenance experience and will present a seminar on maintaining polished concrete at the International Concrete Polishing & Staining Conference in conjunction with World of Concrete in February. Contact him at peter.wagner@curecrete.com.