The increasing use of wood flooring in residential and commercial applications presents a growing and profitable market for carpet cleaners who educate themselves regarding the cleaning, maintenance and refinishing these surfaces.
Although the work can be highly profitable, it is not without risk. Special training is required to avoid rework, claims and damage to wood, bamboo and similar moisture sensitive materials.
As with other types of cleaning, pre-inspection and education of the customer on the realities of what you can and can’t do (before the work begins) is critical to avoiding misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations.
The surfaces, products and processes used to clean, maintain and refinish wood and wood like surfaces are continuing to evolve.
New dustless equipment, enhanced abrasives and sustainable water-based finishes are opening up a service category to companies that were in the past excluded due to the high cost of equipment and a lack of access to information and training that would allow them to do the work effectively and profitably.
In the past, most wood flooring was installed using staples or nails and then sanded, stained and finished on site. Today, a growing percentage of wood flooring is installed with adhesives and comes prefinished with mineral enhanced finish that is applied at the factory during the manufacturing process.
On one hand, this is good as it allows wood flooring to be used in basements and other areas where higher moisture levels in the past would have prohibited their use.
A growing variety of wood species and grasses being used as flooring has increased the chances of failure due to moisture, wear, color change and customer expectations.
An evolution of time
During the past 20 years, consumers have developed high expectations for the appearance and performance of onsite finished wood floors. The newer factory finished floors and products being imported from other countries often come with different capabilities, production and quality control standards.
A wide selection of wood species and finish choices has created its own set of challenges. Some exotic woods contain high levels of oil and the ever-changing technology of new finish formulations can make it difficult to get consistent results when installing, staining and refinishing these products.
Even though challenges exist, they are no different for the professional wood craftsman than they are for a carpet cleaner, janitorial service or in-house custodian. The information, materials and training are available to help anyone who wants to learn how to property clean, maintain and refinish wood floors.
A simple Google search for “Wood Floor Care Training” will present multiple resources.
Most wood floor equipment and finish manufacturers, as well as many specialty distributors, offer seminars and products for wood floors.
The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC.org) and the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA.org) have classes and certifications related to the inspection, maintenance and refinishing of wood flooring.
Wood floorcare basics
Adequate (10-15 feet) of entry matting and protection of the surface material from moisture and abrasive soil is the foundation of all floor programs. If you keep the dirt and moisture out of building and off the floor, finishes will last longer and the frequency of more expensive and time consuming processes can be extended.
Daily or routine procedures are needed, such as dust and light or spot damp mopping (with a neutral detergent) to remove abrasive soils and adhered materials that can dull the finish and cause permanent stains that make floors look bad.
Dust mopping high traffic areas and vacuuming entry matting (first 20 feet) multiple times per day is one of the most effective cleaning processes available, but is often overlooked or not done often enough.
Heavy duty cleaning with an auto scrubber or floor machine using a cylindrical brush is most effective and should be done when floors fail to respond to routine damp mopping.
Several companies have developed equipment made specifically for deep cleaning of wood flooring and finishes. It should be noted that wet cleaning of wood floors should be limited and care must be taken to not allow over wetting or moisture penetration between boards or into the surface of the flooring during the cleaning process as this could result in damage such as swelling and cupping.
When surface wear or loss of gloss becomes visible or unacceptable, surface preparation and reapplication of one or more coats of finish maybe needed to restore the floor to the desired appearance.
Heavy cleaning (scrub and coat) or abrasion of the surface with a screen mesh disk or maroon colored pad is often a prerequisite to refinishing (prep and refinish/coat).
When the floor becomes heavily worn or scratches have penetrated through the finish into the wood, or there is cupping or gaps between the boards, complete restoration (sanding, staining and refinishing) is needed. This is best left to a wood floor professional that has the required training, skill and equipment needed to do the job properly.
Prices vary depending on area, competition, products and process used, market served, size of the job and other factors. He is some rough, commonly quoted rates:
- Cleaning: .30-.50 cents per square foot.
- Deep cleaning: .50-.75 cents per square foot.
- Clean, prep and coat/refinish (2 coats): $1.50-$2.50 per square foot.
Everyone I’ve spoken to that does this type of work told me that scrubbing and recoating of wood floor is a highly profitable service, when it goes as planned.
However, there is a high customer acceptance failure rate. Some say as high as 50 percent of their jobs are a problem. I believe that, to a large degree, much of the failure rate relates to the contractors failure to adequately inspect the floor, test for finish compatibility and realistically set customer expectations prior to beginning the job.
The market for wood floorcare is growing and is one that should not be overlooked as a profit and marketing opportunity.
However, adequate training and practice is required before you sell the service to your customers.
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.