When it comes to flooring, choosing between good looks and safety can be a fine balance, literally, says Mark Atkins.
WHEN it comes to flooring, choosing between good looks and safety can be a fine balance, literally. According to hse.gov.uk: ‘Slips and trips are the most common cause of injury at work. On average, they cause 40% of all reported major injuries and can also lead to other types of serious accidents, for example, falls from height. Slips and trips are also the most reported injury to members of the public.’
A slippery floor is often the culprit. And, of course, this statistic doesn’t consider accidents at home. But how can you ensure a safe application without compromising too much on looks?
Natural-effect matt porcelain tiles have helped the specifier a lot, in terms of offering good looks and good grip. Their textured surfaces provide good grip, as well as performance benefits – so much so that they’re now one of the most popular choices for hard landscaping.
The problem is all of their benefits can be undone by a poor maintenance regime. If dirt and residue isn’t removed from between the high-low surfaces, it can quickly build up. Add detergent residue to the mix and a surface will become slippery and more difficult to maintain.
There are several steps you can take to safeguard a floor’s slip resistance and they start before the tiles are fixed. Surprisingly, it’s not just about what you remove. Protective finishes and sealants also play a big part.
How protective barriers help
The importance of a thorough initial clean is well documented, especially for natural stone installation prior to the application of a sealer. However, because matt porcelain doesn’t need to be sealed, early maintenance and protection isn’t generally considered.
While natural effect matt porcelain tiles offer multiple benefits, not least good grip, they do present challenges to the flooring contractor. In particular, they can easily become stained by grout and fixing residues. This is particularly common outdoors, where brush-in jointing compounds are often used. To avoid this issue, a good quality porcelain protector should be applied before grouting. It will help protect the tiles from staining and make the removal of residues easier.
A ‘pre-and-post grout’ protector will also promote an easier installation – as it will improve/increase grouting working times – and will make ongoing maintenance easier, when applying a final coat after fixing. Look out for a quality, water-based porcelain tile protector like our own, to ensure a safe and sustainable treatment.
Keeping surfaces clean
Porcelain tiles are easy to maintain, provided that the correct products and methods are used. Good maintenance will, in turn, help retain a floor’s slip resistance by removing dirt and residue. To keep surfaces clean and safe:
- Always dilute cleaning solutions according to instructions. If a no-rinse cleaner is used at a lower dilution than recommended, it will leave a residue on the surface of the floor. This will then attract dirt and make the surface more difficult to maintain
- Allow sufficient contact time on the floor surface if the detergent requires this
- Use clean mops and buckets. We recommend a two-bucket system, so that the mop can be rinsed in clean water. If a floor cleaning machine is used, always use the correct pads
- Use a recommended stain remover to treat stubborn marks, where necessary. For example, rust, cement, epoxy residue, algae, or blackspot. Avoid harsh, caustic cleaners which could damage the tile, grout joint and any protective treatment that’s been applied
- Cleaning solutions which contain ‘maintainers’ should be avoided. The waxy sheen left will attract dirt and make ongoing maintenance more difficult
- Periodic deep cleans should also be carried out, to promote ongoing easy maintenance.
How to maintain that ‘just mopped’ look
Matt porcelain tiles tend to create a flat aesthetic and many people are keen to maintain a just mopped look. As a result, some floor cleaning contractors opt to use detergents that contain ‘maintainers’ for this very reason. There is, however, a way to create a sheen on indoor tiles, without creating a maintenance issue – and a slip hazard further down the line.
A good quality glaze protector can be used to enhance appearance without compromising anti-slip rating, as long as it’s correctly maintained.
Our own protector which is used in tandem with a specific floor-shine cleaner, has been around for nearly 20 years. Historically, it was used as a self-shine sealing coating on surfaces that have no absorbency. Glaze protectors are generally film-forming so they wear.
If a floor isn’t correctly maintained, dull tramlines will appear in the most trafficked areas over time. However, use the correct cleaner and it will lift the dirt from the surface and repair the damaged polymers in the glaze, relinking them and maintaining the floor’s finish and sheen. In this instance, we recommend a top-up coat of glaze is applied every four years.
Total refurbishment isn’t generally needed until around 16 years, when the porcelain tiles should be stripped back and the protector reapplied. Sometimes, floors in lower traffic areas will keep looking good – and performing well – for much longer.
To find out more about floor cleaning, sealing and maintenance – and to request complementary product samples.
Mark Atkins is technical director, LTP