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Ceramic tile and grout cleaning is a rapidly expanding market. The investment to add this service is not out of reach for most contractors.
Proper training will prevent headaches down the road and increase the opportunity profit and trouble free cleaning and restoration.
In most cases, cleaning problems with ceramic/clay tile floors relate to the grout lines between the tiles, which are normally rough, porous and below the level of the tile floor itself.
These built-in traps cause soil to accumulate and darken the grout line. Add heavy and difficult to remove soil, dirty equipment and solution, irregular service frequencies and several coats of topical sealer and/or finish, and you have a floor that not only looks bad, but is difficult, time consuming and expensive to clean, maintain or restore.
Occasionally, it is necessary to restore the floor, which could include stripping floor finish and/or sealer from the surface of the tile and grout. The process is similar to performing a stripping operation on vinyl composition tile (VCT); the differences may be the use of specialty chemicals, hotter water, additional dwell time and repeating the process several times.
The right selection of equipment to match the job will make the work much easier. For restoration or deep cleaning of tile and grout, equipment selection may include:
- Standard rotary floor machine (175 rpm) with nylon grit brush
- Cylindrical brush machine
- Dry vapor steam machine
- Portable or truckmounted carpet extractor
- Rotary spray extraction wand (spinner) adapted to hot water extractor
- Wet pick-up vacuum with squeegee wand.
Let''s take a look at the step-by-step procedure for cleaning ceramic tile in most residential locations. The process for commercial locations is similar and may include the removal and/or application of a topical floor sealer or finish.
Obviously, every job is different and the steps outlined here may be used in their entirety, or you can use those dictated by circumstances.
After discussing customer expectations and inspecting the area to be serviced, it''s time to inspect and begin phase one of your cleaning protocol.
You should determine the condition of the flooring and identify pre-existing damage and note needed repairs. Test for hollow spots that would prevent using heavy equipment, which you can do by tapping with a scraper handle.
Be sure to identify hazards, risks or exceptions, issues, concerns and potential problems.
Measure square footage to be cleaned, and determine the level of service needed (clean, repair, restore, seal, etc).
Before cleaning, always pretest your products and ensure compatibility. You should determine any difficult cleaning challenges and anticipated results.
Identify the best soil removal process and required dilution ratio of cleaning product, and perform a "test." Show the cleaned result to the customer to obtain approval, if the customer is available to inspect.
You have now demonstrated what can be done and are in a better position to discuss options and set expectations with the customer.
Prepare your work order and discuss additional services you may provide. Ask if they would like a quote on any additional services or upgrades.
Calculate and enter pricing along with written procedural tasks, and discuss realistic job expectations with the customer. Document everything agreed upon, especially concerns, limitations and potential problems. Take photographs as needed.
Be sure to inquire if the customer has any questions. Determine the payment method.
Obtain the customer''s signature on the work order and have the customer initial any noted exceptions or limitations.
Discuss safety issues, such as the importance of children or pets remaining outside of the work area. Inform the customer as to how long the job will take, drying times and special needs to complete the job, such as water, power, disposal of spent solution, etc.
Hopefully, your customer has moved furnishings and other items from the work area, but if not, this needs to be done. Coordinate proper relocation with the customer.
Set up a safety perimeter (wet signs, caution tape, barricades) and position walk-off matting, a staging area tarp and apply protective plastic, paper and tape, as needed, to protect adjoining surfaces from exposure to cleaning solutions.
Organize and bring the necessary equipment and chemicals to the work area. A five-gallon plastic pail is handy to transport miscellaneous tools, products and small items.
The real work begins
Begin the cleaning process by mixing and applying the appropriate cleaning solution, following label and safety instructions, to difficult-to-reach areas such as edges, corners, behind and around fixtures.
Agitate difficult stains and then reapply more cleaning solution, if necessary. Allow recommended dwell time. Reapply solution as needed to keep surfaces wet.
Thoroughly agitate or scrub these difficult areas and determine if soil removal is complete. Consider a second application and clean again, if required.
Remove soiled slurry from those difficult-to-reach areas before the slurry dries. To do this, use a squeegee system or vacuum tool with a wet vacuum unit, and then rinse and vacuum dry.
Next, apply your cleaning solution to remaining floor surfaces, using similar steps as outlined previously.
If the baseboards are to be cleaned, they can be vacuumed and damp wiped prior to — or along with — the rinsing of the floor. Avoid getting solution or brush on painted surfaces as these areas are easily damaged.
Thoroughly rinse the floor a second time and inspect the entire floor surface again. Repeat the cleaning process as needed.
Now… the grout
The routine floor cleaning previously described does clean the grout, but most jobs aren''t always that simple.
You may need to restore the grout with an acid cleaner. This brightens the grout and prepares it for recoloring. (See "Grout colorant" sidebar).
Follow product directions carefully, as acid cleaners can damage metal and glass surfaces. Rinse well and neutralize, and position fans for drying.
Clean your equipment and return it to the work vehicle. Double-check the work area and around your work vehicle. During this time, the floor is drying and you can prepare for the grout sealing process.
Now it is time to apply grout sealer, if necessary. Allow it to dry to approximately 80 percent, and then remove the excess with a squeegee, flat mop, chamois or toweling. Position fans for drying. (See "Penetrating sealers and topical coatings" sidebar).
Return all items removed for cleaning to the proper location or advise consumer as to when items can be returned to the floor surface and when the floor will be ready for use.
Discuss cleaning results with customer and collect payment. At this time, you can discuss ongoing maintenance requirements and services and answer questions they may have.
Record job time and any appropriate bookkeeping or production notations. List any supplies that have been depleted, and make notes of any equipment that may need repairs.
Bill Griffin is an industry consultant and trainer, and the owner of Cleaning Consultant Services Inc. He is also president of ICAN, a non-profit association comprised of industry professionals providing free consultation services through Cleaning Management Institute (CMI). Comments and questions about bidding and estimating are encouraged: (206) 849-0179; WGriffin@CleaningConsultants.com.