Caring for School Gymnasium Floors During a Pandemic

Cleaning and disinfecting have been top of mind throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a new school year is underway, and students are returning to gymnasiums on campus for physical education classes, as well as indoor sports such as volleyball and basketball. This article will cover information that may be helpful if customers ask about cleaning or disinfecting sports floors.

First, consider the differences between cleaning and disinfecting. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that cleaning “removes dirt and organic matter from surfaces using soap or detergents” and disinfecting “kills viruses and bacteria on surfaces using chemicals.”

It’s worth noting that wood floors already are a healthy choice for indoor air quality and interior environments. There can be challenges with disinfecting sealed wood floors in a school gymnasium.

“To sanitize or disinfect a surface requires chemicals to be applied and then sit there for a specified time period before you remove them to be effective,” says Robert McNamara, director of marketing and sales for Basic Coatings in Bowling Green, Ohio. “Wood flooring doesn’t like water/chemicals sitting on it, as water and wood don’t mix.”

McNamara notes that using traditional cleaning methods on a wood sports floor can be done substantially faster than disinfecting.

“Let’s assume someone does a 3’ x 3’ area and applies a solution of water and disinfectant. They have to wait 30 seconds for the solution to truly disinfect, and then remove the product in a total of 60 seconds. That would allow them to do nine square feet per minute,” explains McNamara. “The average size basketball court is 7290.5 sf when you include run-offs and sidelines. So, it would take 13.5 hours to disinfect a gym floor.”

When used directly on a wood floor, products such as bleach, disinfectant aerosols, or other “sterilizing” cleaning products can break down existing finishes, resulting in premature wear. In addition, these products can discolor finishes and wood, can leave a haze on the floor’s surface, or may cause irreversible damage to any type of wood floor.

Action Floors, a maple hardwood flooring manufacturer in Mercer, Wisconsin, recommends cleaning and maintenance be done regularly to school gymnasium floors.

“Spot cleaning and disinfecting should be used when there is suspected contamination in a specific spot,” says RaeAnn Hrudkaj, customer service manager for Action Floors. She adds that after an area is disinfected, it would need to be recleaned to remove any residue.

“In addition to routine maintenance, cleaning can be done to the floor, but the proper tools should always be used and kept in good working condition,” says Hrudkaj. “Cleaning should always be done before any disinfecting is started. It is important to match the cleaning and disinfecting practices with the floor’s type and frequency of use. Repeated and frequent disinfecting of a hardwood sports floor will lead to dulling of the finishing and potentially affect the slip resistance.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend cleaning high-touch surfaces and objects within schools. When it comes to school gymnasiums, Action Floors suggests wiping down doorknobs, push bars, bleacher handrails and seats, wall pads, sports equipment, exercise floor mats, and climbing wall holds. They also suggest keeping HVAC systems running and working correctly.

Overall, always consult the flooring or finish manufacturer to determine how to care for the floor. It is important to use the appropriate cleaning products, as recommended by the floor and/or finish manufacturer, to avoid damaging the wood finishes and to ensure the longevity of the floors.

If a disinfectant product is needed for a section of a sealed wood floor, refer to the chemical manufacturer or the EPA’s List N, which includes products registered for use to kill COVID-19 when used according to directions.

SPORTS FLOOR MAINTENANCE

Sports floors usually take a beating with heavy daily use. Specific recommendations for sports floors are available from the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association (MFMA). General guidelines include the following:

  • DO dry mop the floor daily with a properly treated dust mop. Floors with especially heavy use should be swept up to three times a day.
  • DO use walk-off mats at all doorways.
  • DO wipe up spills or any other moisture on the floor immediately.
  • DO remove heel marks using a floor finish manufacturer’s approved wood floor cleaner applied with a soft cloth or a dust mop.
  • DO make sure the heating/ventilating/air conditioning system (HVAC) is working properly, with normal humidity levels. Indoor relative humidity should be between 35 and 50 percent year-round. In areas of consistently high or low outside humidity, a 15 percent fluctuation will not adversely affect the maple.
  • DO inspect the floor for abnormal tightening or shrinkage. In wet weather, carefully monitor doors and windows for water leakage.
  • DO remove debris from expansion voids.
  • DO NOT shut down the HVAC system for a prolonged time.
  • DO NOT use household cleaning products, which damage the floor finish and may leave the floor slippery or sticky.
  • DO NOT clean the floor with scrubbing machinery or power scrubbers.

Sources: NWFA Maintenance and Recoating of Hardwood Floors Technical Publication

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

EPA’s List N: epa.gov/coronavirus/about-list-n-disinfectants-coronavirus-covid-19-0
Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association: maplefloor.org

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