Get A Grip On Rubber Flooring

Landfills full of used tires are becoming a thing of the past. Now, manufacturers and recyclers are finding a number of uses for discarded tires, such as horse stall and trailer mats, flooring in pet centers, backpacks, purses, wallets and much more. In fact, what is evolving as one of the most successful reuses of old tires is right under our feet. Rubber flooring, especially in heavy-use public facilities, such as those for park and recreation, is growing in momentum and popularity.

Although manufacturers are invariably changing how tires are made and what chemicals and ingredients are used, for the most part tires contain approximately 65 percent rubber, 10 percent fiber and 25 percent steel by weight. Once quite difficult to recycle, tires can now be reused for many purposes through a grinding, shredding, magnetic-separating, screening and sorting process.

Rubber--often referred to as protective flooring due to its considerable durability--was used for flooring long before the popularity of recycling tires took hold. However, it was rarely a manager’s first choice. Sure, it was durable and fairly easy to maintain. But because of its utilitarian look and a lack of design innovations and ingenuity, rubber flooring was often “back-of-the-house” flooring, used for back staircases, warehouses, docks and industrial areas.

Now, however, several traditional and relatively new flooring manufacturers are producing rubber flooring, using new textures, designs and colors. Instead of its being hidden away in the back areas of a facility, today many schools, office buildings, retailers, hospitals, park and recreation centers and others are installing rubber flooring, finding it attractive as well as environmentally responsible.

Benefits Of Rubber

Before delving into the benefits of rubber flooring, let's first address some cost issues. When compared to some other floor coverings, such as vinyl composite tile (VCT), one of the least expensive floors, rubber flooring is an expensive alternative. Other types of hard-surface floors as well as commercial-grade carpeting also may be less expensive.

However, when it comes to price, rubber flooring is viewed as a “value solution.” There are few floors that can last as long as rubber, or are as durable. Further, when compared to carpet, VCT and other hard-surface floors, maintenance requirements of rubber flooring are minimal. Rarely will rubber flooring appear soiled like carpet; and although a finish can be applied to rubber floors, most are left in their “natural” state. Often, only vacuuming and damp mopping with a neutral cleaner are required to keep them clean.

Some of the other key benefits include:

· Safety--Rubber has a natural slip resistance, and many rubber floors are designed with “studs,” or risers, that help minimize the possibity of slips or falls, even when wet.

· Flexible design--Once available only in black, one manufacturer now produces rubber flooring in 30 colors, and colors can be “transitioned,” fading from one color to another, to add unique interest and design flexibility.

· Reduced life-cycle costs--Several studies indicate rubber is one of the most cost-efficient flooring selections.

· LEED certification--Using recycled, post-consumer materials, such as vehicle tires in construction or retrofits, can help facilities earn points toward LEED certification.

Maintenance Issues

Although rubber flooring tends to be relatively easy to maintain, facility managers need to be aware of certain issues and concerns to ensure the long-term satisfaction and appearance of their rubber floors. First and foremost, follow the manufacturer’s instructions as to proper care and maintenance.

As with other types of floor coverings, most manufacturers include a warranty or guarantee with the rubber floors. However, problems can develop when managers and cleaning professionals do not follow maintenance instructions. “Many people have their own ideas on how maintenance [of rubber floors] should be followed,” says Carmen Pastore with Johnsonite, a manufacturer of different floor-covering materials. “And others are reluctant, for one reason or another, to follow a [manufacturer's] recommended procedures.”

What are some of those recommendations? Below are steps and suggestions for cleaning and maintaining most types of rubber floors, from the majority of manufacturers as well as cleaning experts:

· Vacuum--Although rubber floors can be swept and mopped like other hard-surface floors, vacuuming with a backpack vacuum cleaner is often a more thorough and environmentally preferable procedure. Sweeping any type of hard-surface flooring has a tendency to stir dust and contaminants that can become airborne. This can mar indoor air quality (IAQ) and negatively impact the health of the cleaning professional. Sweeping is also time-consuming, which can be costly.

Vacuuming, on the other hand, is faster, a more effective process, and more protective of health and the indoor environment, according to William R. Griffin, president of Seattle-based Cleaning Consultant Services Inc. And this is best accomplished through use of a backpack vacuum cleaner. Building managers and service providers should look for backpacks with 10-quart capacity for larger facilities, 120-cubic-feet-per-minute vacuum motors, quiet operation and ergonomic design and a multistage air filtration system to help protect IAQ.

· Mop selection--Although flat mops have become more popular in the professional cleaning industry and tend to use less water and chemicals than string mops, for a rubber floor a string mop may be preferable. This is because many rubber floors have a textured, studded finish that can be difficult to clean using a flat-mop system.

· Chemical selection--In most cases, a neutral cleaner is all that is necessary for rubber floors, and several available ones are “green” certified. However, if the floor is installed in a locker room, healthcare center or an area where there are increased concerns about germs and bacteria, a sanitizer or disinfectant can often be used. Be sure to read label instructions as to dilution and dwell time, and check that the chemical is safe for rubber floors. An astute distributor should be able to provide valuable information on chemical selection as well.

Rubber floors can also be machine-buffed to add luster. However, some problems can develop, especially if the rubber flooring is studded, as described earlier, or heavily textured. Rubber floors tend to trap dirt and soils around the studs and, if textured, below the surface of the floor. A conventional rotary machine with a pad will usually be able to penetrate the floor and remove this grit. But it may only clean the top surface of the floor.

Should this happen, some facility managers and cleaning professionals have turned to “multiwash” machines that can clean a variety of hard-surface floors, including tile, stone and rubber, as well as carpets. The benefit of these machines with rubber flooring is they use cylindrical brushes instead of rotary floor-brushes or pads. The machine washes, scrubs, mops, and dries the floor, all in one step. This improves worker productivity, which helps lower cleaning costs and, important in a busy park and recreation facility, ensures that floors are dry and safe to use quickly.

Times, Tastes And Technology Have Changed

For those who still remember the 1970s, one of the big environmental concerns at that time was what to do with the millions of tires filling up landfills around the world. Fortunately, time, tastes and technology have developed new ways to recycle old tires and find new uses for them as rubber floors and other products.

With new colors, innovative designs and improved ways to maintain these extremely durable floors with backpack vacuums and multiwashing machines, we can expect the interest in rubber flooring to continue, especially in park and recreation-type facilities. And viewing rubber floors as a value solution can make them a true cost savings as well.

Rob Godlewski has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from California State University-Fullerton. He has been involved with Sales, Marketing, Product Development and Business Development with leading jansan manufacturers such as Clarke Industries and Alto U.S. He is currently Powr-Flite as Vice President of Marketing. He may be reached via e-mail at