The maintenance of stone flooring in the U.S. today is a million dollar annual business and continues to grow. Much of this increased growth results from the desire to maintain a highly polished mirror finish. As of this date, there are basically two methods to keep stone in this condition over the long term. One method is to place some type of a coating on the surface of the stone. These coatings can be natural or synthetic waxes, acrylics, urethanes and epoxies. The majority used today on marble are composed of acrylics. The second method used to maintain stone is to polish the stone with the use of abrasive diamonds and polishing powders. This method uses no coatings. It simply smoothes the stone to produce a high shine. The purpose of this study is to compare the advantages and disadvantages of these two methods as well as their labor and material requirements. (A third method is the use of flurosilicate compounds applied to the stone. This method is commonly called recrystallazation or vitrification and is applied as a final finish in place of powder polishing or it is applied on top of the polished finish for added shine. This study will not address this process.)

The maintenance procedures outlined in Figure 1 are typical. Frequencies will vary depending on traffic, type of stone and desired finish. Both procedures assume that the floor is in maintainable condition at the start of the maintenance program.

Method of study

In order to evaluate both methods, three commercial lobby floors were studied. In each case, the property began with a topical coating and shifted to a long-term maintenance procedure of polishing. All three cases have used both methods for a period of one year or more. Maintenance personnel and executive housekeepers were interviewed to obtain costs, advantages and disadvantages of both methods. Since hourly labor rates vary from state to state, this study will provide labor hours only.

Case Study #1

Property: Busy hotel lobby located near a major theme park.

Floor Description: 12,000 square feet of Rosa Perlino marble in a Palandiana terrazzo pattern.

Usage: Very busy lobby. Traffic areas include large reception check in and four elevator banks. Floor is adjacent to a swimming pool area.

The floor has a topical coating. When the floor was completed, several coats of a carnauba-based sealer were applied. Maintenance is as follows:

1. Floor was dust mopped daily in the evenings during third shift.

2. Floor was wet mopped daily using a commercial, neutral floor cleaner.

3. Floor was spray buffed every night to remove scuffing, black heel marks and wear.

4. Floor was recoated daily in heavy-traffic areas with a light coat of the carnauba-based sealer.

A total of 16 daily man-hours are required with this system. Comments on the maintenance program of coating from the staff and executive housekeeper were as follows:

  • “The floors are very difficult to maintain. It appears to mar and scuff very easily.”

  • “Once floor is spray buffed, it looks great. But once traffic starts, the finish rapidly deteriorates.”

  • “The finish on the floor is turning yellow and becoming very dark and dirty looking.”

  • “The wax is accumulating in holes in the marble and turning black.”

    A shift was made to a polishing maintenance program. The entire floor was stripped; the holes were filled and then honed and polished using standard marble polishing powders. Maintenance is as follows:

    1. Floor is dust mopped every evening.

    2. Floor is damp mopped three times per week using a stone soap.

    3. High-traffic areas are re-polished once every two weeks using standard marble polishing powders.

    4. As of this date no re-honing has been performed. Inspection of the floor and wearability indicates that honing of traffic areas will need to be about once per year.

    A total of 16 daily man-hours are required with this system. Comments from the staff and executive housekeeper on the polished program were as follows:

  • “Our labor costs have been cut dramatically and the floor looks and stays clean longer.”

  • “Dirt doesn't seem to stick to the floor like it did before.”

    Case Study #2

    Property: Busy hotel lobby, located next to major interstate exchange.

    Floor Description: 3,500 square feet of Rojo Alicante marble, 12- x 12-inch tiles.

    Usage: Busy hotel lobby floor. Constant traffic due to adjacent meeting rooms.

    This floor was initially stripped, and several coats of an acrylic floor finish were applied. Subsequently, maintenance procedures were as follows:

    1. Floor was dust mopped daily.

    2. Floor was wet mopped daily with a neutral cleaner.

    3. Once per month, the entire floor was re-coated with an floor finish. No spray buffing was performed between re-coatings.

    4. Once every three months, the entire floor was stripped and re-coated.

    In total, 4 hours of daily maintenance was required. Comments on the coating system from the staff and executive housekeeper were as follows:

  • “The floor looks great for one day a month, immediately after it is re-waxed. During the remaining time, it looks just terrible.”

  • “The floor has a real plastic look; it doesn't even look like marble anymore.”

  • “The bellman carts are leaving marks on the floor all over, and the area in front of the reception desk is very dull.”

    In order to change this hotel's floor to a polishing procedure, the entire floor was stripped to remove all the old wax. It was re-honed and then powder-polished using standard marble polishing powders. The maintenance procedure was adjusted as follows:

    1. Floor is dust mopped daily.

    2. Floor is wet mopped daily.

    3. Traffic areas are re-polished once per week using polishing powder.

    4. As of this date, re-honing is required about once per year of approximately 800 square feet.

    Total daily man-hours required are

    1 3⁄4 hours.

    Comments on maintenance program after polishing from the staff and executive housekeeper were as follows:

  • “Our floor looks like marble again, and the carts are no longer marking the floor.”

  • “Dust mopping and wet mopping are now a snap. The mop seems to glide very easily over the floor, and we are not picking up as much dirt as before.”

    Case Study #3

    Property: High-rise residential complex lobby, located in Canada

    Floor Description: 1,000 square feet of a Nero Marquina and White Carrara in a checkerboard pattern.

    Usage: Very busy residential condominium with approximately 80 units.

    This floor had a topical coating of wax for the past several years, with the following maintenance program:

    1. Floor was dust mopped several times per week.

    2. Floor was damp mopped several times per week; daily during the winter months.

    3. Floor was spray buffed once per week.

    4. Floor was stripped and re-coated with an acrylic floor finish once every three months.

    Under this program, total daily man-hours were 1 hour.

    Comments on coating maintenance program from the staff and property manager were as follows:

  • “Floor always looks dull and scratched.”

  • “I can never seem to keep up with the floor; it is always scuffing.”

    To shift to a polishing maintenance procedure, the floor was stripped, ground flat, re-honed and polished using standard marble polishing powders. After that procedure, routine maintenance was as follows:

    1. Floor is dust mopped daily every morning.

    2. Floor is damp mopped once per week; daily in winter.

    3. Traffic areas are re-polished once per month.

    Total daily man-hours were reduced to 25 minutes.

    Comments on the polishing maintenance program from the staff and property manager were as follows:

  • “Our floor is shiny again; it looks great.”

  • “I can't believe how easy the floor is to maintain; no more stripping and waxing.”

    Figure 2 on page 97 illustrates the man-hours saved in each of three case studies that shifted from topical coatings to polishing. Based on this information, it is apparent that the honing and polishing method is more economical than the use of coatings on stone flooring. Labor costs are reduced by one-half or more.

    Material costs

    Cost for materials and consumption was difficult to obtain from the housekeeping staff. Based on estimates, material costs were insignificant compared to labor costs. The costs of polishing powders and diamond abrasive were slightly lower than the use of strippers and coatings.

    Conclusions and discussion

    Although costs are a major consideration when comparing the above two maintenance programs, it is also apparent that there are distinct practical advantages to the honing and polishing program as well as some disadvantages to the coating program. Coatings will mar, scuff and wear very easily. It is a well-known fact that there are no coatings currently available for stone that are harder than the stone itself. For this reason, coatings will scuff and mar much more than the actual stone. It is often argued that these coatings place a sacrificial layer on the stone protecting it from dirt and staining. Although this would make sense, in fact, the opposite is true. These coatings are soft and will attract dirt faster than a natural polish. This is easy to prove if one takes a section of stone floor and applies a coating, while on another section, performs a hone and polish. After one or two days, it will be discovered that more dust and debris is attracted to the coated surface than the honed and polished surface. It will also be discovered that removing the dust and debris from the coated surface is much more difficult. Coatings also will build on the surface, producing a plastic like appearance. Some coatings will also turn dark and yellow rapidly. This is especially true if the stone is exposed to ultraviolet light. The removal of coatings by the use of harsh strippers can also damage the stone. Many strippers contain sodium hydroxide, which can form what is known as an alkaline salt. These salts can penetrate into the stone and cause premature spalling. Some coatings may also block the breathing of the stone causing it to suffocate and rot.

    How does one protect the stone from staining if coatings are not used? Stone can be protected with products known as penetrating sealers or impregnators. These materials are designed to penetrate below the surface of the stone and keep water and debris on the surface. Since they are not coatings, they will not require repair. They do not, however, add gloss to the stone surface.

    Figure 3 outlines the advantages and disadvantages of the two maintenance programs studied. Although only three case studies were used, many con-tractors and maintenance companies were interviewed to obtain these conclusions. Those who use the hone and polishing programs said they are very pleased and will not return to the old strip-and-coat method. Those companies interviewed who use the strip-and-coat method were not aware that another program existed.

    Although this study shows that the polishing method is more economical, caution is advised. Each case must be studied carefully. Labor skill, budget requirements and existing condition of the stone must be evaluated before choosing the proper maintenance system. Those using marble polishing powders and diamond abrasives must be trained in their proper application. There are many quality coatings available that may be a good alternative to the above system, if these special skills are not available. It is advisable to contact a reputable stone maintenance professional for advice.