You can extend the diamond polish on concrete by implementing an effective maintenance program.
You can extend the diamond polish on concrete by implementing an effective maintenance program.

The polished concrete market has come a long way since the mid to late 1990s when the process was beginning to be developed and marketed. In the early years of this emerging process, most of those who were marketing diamond-polished concrete billed it as a “no-maintenance” floor.

Unfortunately, many are still marketing polished concrete as a no-maintenance floor, claiming that all you need is a neutral cleaner to clean the floor, and that's about it.

But the reality is that there is no such thing as a finished floor that requires no maintenance. Polished concrete is no different.

In fact, there is a very effective maintenance program that was established for polished concrete many years ago. As this surface has grown in popularity, so has this maintenance program. However, before delving into it, you need to understand why you need a maintenance program to begin with.

A polished concrete floor is very similar to a polished marble floor. Both surfaces have been ground, honed, and polished by a series of abrasive grits, or diamond-abrasive grits. Actually, most of the polished concrete industry evolved from the methodology required for restoring natural stone such as marble.

Over time, as foot traffic, carts, and forklifts come into contact with these polished floors, microscratches are ground into the surfaces causing light to deflect. This causes the floor to begin losing its high degree of reflectivity. The microscratches also act as minute peaks and valleys, which entrap dirt and other fine particulates.

Losing their luster

As time goes by, without the proper maintenance program, the daily traffic will cause these polished surfaces to eventually lose their reflection while becoming more and more difficult to clean. You no longer have a polished concrete floor. Rather, you have a dirty-looking concrete floor with very little reflection, if any. Depending on the level of traffic, a newly diamond-polished concrete floor can begin to lose its reflection anywhere from a matter of weeks to a year.

However, you can dramatically extend the diamond polish on concrete by implementing an effective maintenance program. For example, in a high-traffic big box store, when concrete is diamond-polished under these conditions without the right maintenance program, you will probably begin to see wear patterns. This is where the polished surface is beginning to lose its shine in as little as 30 to 45 days from when the floor was polished.

Conversely, if the right maintenance program was implemented in this same high-traffic environment, these wear patterns may not become noticeable for one to two years.

Owners of facilities with polished marble floors know that there are fairly standard maintenance programs which extend the life of the polished surface.
Owners of facilities with polished marble floors know that there are fairly standard maintenance programs which extend the life of the polished surface.

The natural stone industry went through this same learning curve decades ago. Today, most owners of facilities with polished marble floors know that there are fairly standard maintenance programs which extend the life of the polished surface. If they wish to keep their marble polished, the cost of a maintenance program is far less expensive than no maintenance program.

Consider a polished marble floor in a busy hotel lobby. If the owner wants to keep a high degree of reflectivity on the marble without a maintenance program, the marble must be restored (reground with diamond abrasives and chemically polished) about every 30 to 45 days in high-traffic areas.

But with proper maintenance, this same floor will not need to be restored for one to two years. Owners of facilities with polished marble know that the cost of the proper maintenance program over a one- to two-year period is far less expensive than having someone restore their marble every month.

The same holds true with polished concrete floors. Contrary to what you may have heard, a densified, polished concrete floor is not scratchproof, which is just one reason why you need the right maintenance program.

This is extremely important to understand for many reasons. First and foremost, if you sell a polished concrete floor, you have obviously done a good job of pointing out the benefits. However, one of the benefits is not no-maintenance. If you sell it as no-maintenance, it may come back to bite you, as I have seen happen many times.

Get with the program

You need a reliable written specification for maintenance procedures. You can obtain this by researching the market.

Next, you have to know who is going to implement this program. Will it be the contractor who polished the concrete? Many times in big box stores, janitorial services clean the floors nightly. These companies may actually be the ones maintaining the floor.

In some case, the contractor who diamond-polished the floor and the janitorial contractor may share the maintenance procedures. This should be done for a price, of course.

Once you have the proper written specification and it has been determined who will actually do the work, it is time to follow the specification. A quality polished concrete maintenance specification will include:

  • A routine schedule of dust mopping and sweeping the floor.
  • A routine schedule of vacuuming and cleaning the floor mats, which should be at every one of the entrances of the facility.
  • A daily schedule of cleaning the floor with a quality concrete cleaner/conditioner using the proper machinery in large areas and a mop in small areas. Such a product will not leave a hazy residue on the surface like an inexpensive neutral cleaner will. Contact a manufacturer for the recommended use.
  • Polish the surface periodically with a quality liquid concrete polish using the right machinery and pads. By using the correct product, you will be able to remove the microscratches in the floor caused by foot traffic, which create a dull and dirty appearance. This will leave the floor with a high degree of reflectivity, just as the day it was diamond-polished. The floor also will be easy to clean again. Contact the manufacturer for the recommended use of this type of product.

It's important to note that the liquid concrete polish you use does not contain floor finish (wax or acrylic). This will apply a coating on top of the diamond-polished surface and will not allow the floor to breathe.

Choosing the right polish

The entire maintenance program is important, but using the right liquid concrete polish is the most vital portion of the specification. It can actually make the reflection last four to five times longer.

The traffic will determine the frequency of this step. High traffic may require quarterly polishing; medium traffic may require bi-annual polishing; and low traffic may require polishing once every one to two years. When using a product like this, you can expect production rates of about 20,000 square feet per eight hours with one operator. A manufacturer of a liquid concrete polish should provide adequate training for proper application.

Polished concrete is a wonderful flooring alternative with many great benefits. But if the customer chooses this and he gets the impression that his choice is a no-maintenance floor, problems will a rise sooner rather than later.

But if you present the customer the option of polished concrete, and explain the proper maintenance specification at the onset, the customer will be properly educated on what to expect. He will not be disappointed when the polish begins to dull because he will know there is a solution. Presenting polished concrete in this manner will avoid many of the problems that concrete polishers and their customers are facing today.

Paul Lundberg is the director of sales and operations at Dallas-based VMC Technical Assistance Corp., or telephone 214-381-8456.