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Care for flexible floor coverings

Care for flexible floor coverings

Flexible floor coverings include, for example, PVC and linoleum. The PVC (polyvinyl-chloride), floor coverings synthetic, flexible

material, are extremely hardwearing and water, alkali- and acid-resistant. Linoleum, however, is a natural product made from raw materials like linseed oil and cork with jute backing. It is only alkali-resistant to a limited degree.

At first sight, it is impossible to recognise any difference between the two types of flooring on the basis of colour and structure. So as to avoid damage to a floor by highly alkaline cleaning agents prior to deep cleaning, it is advisable to carry out a “paper clip test”. This involves using a lighter to heat the tip of an unbent metal (copper) paper clip for about five seconds. Select an inconspicuous place in the floor to be tested, press the heated tip firmly against the floor for about three seconds, then pull the paper clip slowly out of the floor.

If the floor covering is made of PVC you will see a small hole reaching almost through to the backing. Around the edge of the hole is a very hard rim of molten plastic that is easily felt by running your fingers over it. As you pull the metal tip out of the flooring, a thin thread develops. With a linoleum floor, the same testing procedure will produce signs of charring around the hole and the puncture point will remain flat.

Deep cleaning

One of the two methods of deep cleaning and/or de-coating involves using a slow-running single-disc machine. This rotates at 150rpm, applying a high torque to the surface to be cleaned. The machine is equipped with a detergent tank, an extra weight and a pad carrier with a green pad (Picture 1).

Firstly, any loose dirt is removed with a broom or vacuum cleaner. Then the de-coating agent is applied to the floor in strips. In the case of linoleum floors, its pH value must not exceed nine. It is then left approximately 10 minutes to take effect, during which time the floor is scrubbed several times in well overlapping circles to ensure even removal of the coating. Depending on the thickness of coating, the de-coating agent is applied in a 10% to 25% solution. When applying the detergent and scrubbing, it is important to ensure that it does not dry on the floor, otherwise the process of removing the coating residues will come to a halt. It is advisable to work on one section at a time, applying additional cleaning solution as and when required. A hand pad is used on corners and edges that the machine does not reach. Once the coating residues have been fully dislodged, the next step is to vacuum up the dirty solution using a powerful, large wet and dry vacuum.

The alternative method is to use a compact scrubber-drier fitted with green roller pads. These machines are economical for areas of as little as 20 to 30sqm or more. Here, too, the first stage is to remove the coating material section by section in straight, slightly overlapping strips (Picture 2). With this method, the mechanical action is more powerful, so the de-coating agent requires less time to take effect. While the detergent is taking effect, the scrubber-drier is passed several times in a criss-cross motion across the surface to which it has been applied. The combination of strong, even contact pressure across the entire working width, a high speed of rotation and very good floor contact produces an excellent de-coating result. If need be, apply more cleaning solution to prevent drying.

Once the coating has been completely dislodged, the next step is to vacuum up the dirty solution strip by strip, using the same machine. The floor covering is then neutralised. The usual way of doing this is by wet wiping with clean water and then vacuuming with a wet and dry vacuum. However, it is quicker to run the roller floor scrubber over the surface again applying clean water and using the one-step method. This additional mechanical treatment using roller technology is the best way of removing any remaining detergent residues. It also creates very good bonding conditions for the new coating.

Next, leave the floor to dry thoroughly. Being a natural product, linoleum should be left for several hours, or even all night, to dry. Adequate ventilation is important.


The coating agent must be selected to suit the flooring. For PVC floorings, products cross-linked by metal ions are recommended, because they are very hardwearing and give a high-gloss finish. For linoleum, it is advisable to use a wax-based agent that reacts flexibly to wear along with the material without cracking. Coating agents must be shaken well before use then applied in “puddles” to the cleaned and dried floor. The next step is to spread the coating agent carefully and evenly across the floor, using a lambskin wiper (Picture 3).

Depending on the substrate and degree of wear and tear, it is advisable to repeat the coating operation two or three times. It should also be noted that older floor coverings absorb much of the first application. The first coating can be walked on carefully after approximately one hour, after which the second can be applied. However, it takes around 12 hours for the surface to harden off sufficiently for normal duty.

Another important tip is that if you use wax-based coating and your aim is to achieve as shiny a finish as possible, additional polishing will give a better shine. However, you should wait at least four weeks before doing so, as otherwise there is a risk of removing the coating.

Maintenance cleaning

Depending on the area to be cleaned, there are two alternative methods of maintenance cleaning – manual and mechanical.

For manual cleaning, you need a mop, bucket and a wiping care product in a one to three per cent solution, depending on the degree of soiling.

For mechanical maintenance cleaning which enables you to cover much larger areas, you need a scrubber-drier that operates on the one-step principle. Applying the wiping agent in a one to three per cent solution and brushing & vacuuming the same operation leave the floor ready to walk on again immediately.

Freshening / polishing up

Minor scratches or heel marks can be removed easily with the help of a spray cleaner. The cleaning agent is sprayed mainly on to the scratches or marks which are then polished using a high-speed machine, an automatic polisher or a roller floor scrubber with white, soft brushes or yellow roller pads.

Due to the materials used in their manufacture, PVC and linoleum have different cleaning and care requirements. Slow-running single-disc machines or floor scrubbers with roller pads are suited for this work.

De-coating using compact floor scrubbers that are little bigger than single-disc machines are economical for areas of around 20 to 30sqm or more. Scrubber-driers can be used both for de-coating and subsequent neutralisation and for maintenance cleaning.

Gerd Heidrich,
Kärcher, Primary publication
in “rationell reinigen” magazine / German
and Niels W. Buhrke, Freelance Journalist

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