A Field Day In The Field House

It's no wonder people do only the minimum to maintain field-house floors. After all, when there's grass to mow, leaves to blow away and weeds to keep in check, why go inside to tend a surface that is supposed to be resilient?

In a way, a sport-surface’s resiliency is its greatest weakness because it fools facility managers into thinking it doesn't need much care. Actually, the key to its continued strength and durability is maintenance. And while nobody likes to hear about cleaning or upkeep (how boring are those topics?), it's the best way to keep a field-house floor looking good.

Be Proactive

Start by doing what you can to keep dirt and debris off the floor.

"Mats at all entrances are extremely important for good floor appearance and durability," says Norris Legue of Synthetic Surfaces Inc. in Scotch Plains, N.J. "Mats that fill up quickly with dirt are preferred because that means the mat is removing the grit on shoe soles before it reaches the floor."

Just having mats is not enough, Legue adds. "Mats should be regularly cleaned because when they're full of dirt, they actually become counterproductive, and actually cause dirt to be tracked onto the floor."

In general, industrial mats are made of heavy rubber and cloth, and are too much for a regular laundry machine to handle. Many municipalities have contracts with services that regularly clean and replace mats. Foam or rubber-backed doormats should be kept off the playing surfaces because they can stain the floor; if used, they should be positioned just outside the room.

If you have a concession stand or snack machines, monitor what is sold. By not selling gum, and by posting signs asking users not to chew it in the facility, you're staying one step ahead.

Removing gum from the floor, bleachers or handrails is not rocket science, but it is time-consuming. Similarly, not selling in-the-shell nuts or sunflower seeds will keep even more debris off the floor.

A regular walk-through of the facility and a daily (or after every event) cleaning with a vacuum, a soft brush or dry cotton mop (not a mop or broom that has been treated with oil or any other chemical) will also help you stay on top of any developing problems. Spot-clean spills, and make sure puddles and other liquids are mopped up so as to avoid falls.

If a facility is used for multiple sports, the floor may feature a number of different markings in different colors. It is essential to keep the surface clean so that the marks are always clear and visible to athletes, no matter what game they're playing.

On The Surface

Once the sports surface has been cleaned of all loose or particulate material, do a walk-through for any developing problems. Look for stains, scuffs or dings in the surface and any other imperfections or flaws, both large and small. Don't ignore a small problem, either--unlike a divot on a natural field, it won't repair itself. It's up to you to put in the effort.

The playing surface of a field house may be either wood or synthetic. Wood floors are generally (although not always) made of maple, a low-splintering hardwood.

A synthetic surface may be any of the following:

• In situ systems (including poured-in-place and padded polyurethane systems)

• Pre-fabricated systems (including PVC, suspended polypropylene tile, rubber tile and rubber sheet flooring).

Because of the tremendous variety of surfaces, there is no one way to remove stains or foreign matter. There is, however, some basic equipment that every facility manager should have in their arsenal.

Note: The following information is intended to address synthetic surfaces; for information on wooden floors, contact the installer of the floor or the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association. All synthetic floors come with instructions from the manufacturer; before implementing any technique discussed below, make sure it is recommended for that particular surface and that it does not void the warranty. If in doubt, check with the manufacturer or the contractor who installed the surface.

Regular Maintenance

If recommended by the manufacturer, floor scrubbers can be very effective at keeping many surfaces in good condition. These are available with various scouring pads and brushes. Most manufacturers recommend a specific type of pad and/or attachment, as well as a certain type of cleaner. Avoid using anything that might damage the surface, including hard polyester or nylon pads, steel wool, wire brushes and abrasive cleaners.

With heavy use or in wet weather, a floor may get dirty more quickly; floor-care professionals recommend that wet-mopping the floor with clean water should be the first step. If dirt remains, try a mild, pH-neutral (7-9), solvent-free and phosphate-free detergent. Allow the detergent to stand on the surface to break the bond of the dirt then scrub the floor slowly with the vacuum on and the squeegee in the down position to remove the dirt and cleaner from the floor. Allow the floor to dry overnight before activity resumes.

Even a resilient surface is not immune to shoe marks, which are generally caused by street shoes and black-soled shoes. Athletes can be required to wear non-marking shoes, but spectators are a different matter. Many managers solve the problem by creating lanes outside the playing area, and putting down mats or other coverings to keep the floor safe while games are being played.

If black marks do appear on the surface, using mild detergent and a scrubber as listed above may eliminate shoe marks; if not, regular buffing should do the trick. As always, check with the surface manufacturer for suggestions. Stubborn marks and stains that resist all gentle efforts to clean them should be brought to the attention of the surface contractor before stronger cleaning agents or techniques are tried. Remember that some chemicals may strip or discolor the floor.

Most athletic surfaces should be scrubbed monthly. The surface contractor or manufacturer can provide guidance as to which cleaners or tools to use, and on any techniques that should be used as well. On an annual basis, have the installer or a manufacturer's rep inspect the surface to determine if any changes are needed in the maintenance schedule, and to identify any areas of concern.

If a facility includes a walking or jogging track around the perimeter of the athletic area, some additional maintenance jobs will be necessary.

Robert J. Cohen of Sports Surfaces Distributing Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M., says, "The owner can expect to wash the surface of the track with a pH-neutral cleanser on an annual basis. If the surface is smooth, this can be easily done with a mop or an auto-scrubber, a walk-behind machine that sprays cleanser, brushes it, and vacuums up the dirty water. If the surface is textured, use of a carpet-cleaning wand or an indoor-outdoor vac may be helpful to extract the dirty water from the textured surface."

As always, the track installer or surface manufacturer may have additional recommendations.


A floor won't look clean if the lights aren’t working properly. Lighting must be kept in good repair for it to be adequate for the athletes and spectators, and to create safe conditions. A well-lit facility also looks better maintained than one that has dark spots or dim bulbs; therefore, it is essential to immediately repair or replace any fixtures that are damaged or lamps that are burned out.

A variety of lamps, fixtures and mountings are available. Some light sources, such as high-intensity discharge (HID) and fluorescent lighting, require a warm-up period after being switched on, and before reaching maximum strength. Other types--such as incandescent lights--can be switched on and are immediately at full power. In many cases, changing lamps or repairing/replacing fixtures requires a contractor with special lifts or other equipment.

If the facility hosts sanctioned competitions, the level of light inside the facility takes on an added measure of importance because governing bodies for sports will set specific lighting levels for various types of activity (recreational and training, club competition, national and international competition, etc.). In this case, having acceptable lighting is more than just aesthetics; it is a requirement. The Illuminating Engineering Society of North American offers a comprehensive publication titled Sports and Recreation Area Lighting, which recommends various levels of lighting on a sport-by-sport basis.

A field house can be a point of pride for a recreational facility--or it can just be the place that keeps rainouts from being rainouts. The good news is that the choice is yours. And even better news is that you have all the tools you need to make the surface really shine.

Source: Information on floor care was compiled from Indoor Sports Surfaces: An Installation and Maintenance Manual, first edition, published by ASBA, 2009. To purchase, go to www.sportsbuilders.org.

Note: The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports-facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings, and publishes newsletters, books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the Association, as well as the ASBA’s Membership Directory. Info: 866-501-ASBA (2722) or www.sportsbuilders.org

Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports-facility design, construction and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.