With more than 50 years’ experience in the local and international flooring industry, Denver Coleman, Chairman of Polyflor SA, answers questions posed by installers, architects and readers. In this issue, he discusses the purpose of a sealer on a vinyl floor.

“What is the purpose of a sealer on a vinyl floor? Some installation guides say you should seal and some don’t. It’s very confusing.” – Michael Combrink, Free State

Sealers or polishes as they are also called, serve to protect the surface of your floor covering, make maintenance easier and in some cases, add a high gloss finish. Traditionally it was recommended that all vinyl floor coverings were sealed as this added a layer of protection to the surface. Depending on the level of traffic that the floor was subjected to, the sealer would wear off over time. Part of the routine maintenance schedule was to strip off that sealer, give the floor a good clean and then apply a new coat/s of sealer periodically. The sealer’s function was to protect the floor surface from scratching and scuffing as well as staining from dirt and chemicals. This made maintenance easier as the dirt was easy to remove and any stubborn marks would be removed when stripping the floor, resulting in a floor that looks almost brand new.

Why hospitals used high gloss sealers
Many hospital applications used a high gloss sealer with the rather old fashioned motivation of “shiny = hygienic and clean”. In actual fact, research has shown that shiny floors are more stressful for both patients and staff as, apart from the glare, the brain registers a shiny surface as slippery and actually puts the body into a stressed state to avoid slipping. Shiny floors also show all imperfections in the subfloor preparation and can sometimes result in an installation looking unsightly. There has definitely been a move towards matt finish sealers to counter these issues.

Sealers have been very successful in protecting floors and continue to do so. The frequency of stripping and sealing is directly related to the amount of traffic on the floor and the quality of the sealer used. This process may be conducted quarterly, twice annually, annually or as required. There are also risks associated with sealing floors. If they are not properly cleaned, dirt becomes trapped under the sealer, leaving you with a permanently dirty looking floor that only re-stripping and cleaning can rectify.

There are certain types of vinyl flooring that should never be sealed, namely ESD and Safety flooring products. Sealing these floors renders their functionality null and void.

Factory coatings are replacing sealers
Over the years, technology has allowed flooring manufacturers to introduce factory coatings that replace sealers, as floors with these coatings need never be sealed. Polyurethane and other coatings are applied to products during manufacture to ensure the surface has lifelong protection and optimal appearance. This is where some of the confusion comes in because different manufacturers call their coatings by different names and this can be a bit misleading.

There are two types of coatings. One is a sacrificial layer and will protect the product during the installation phase. This coat does wear off and the standard strip and seal maintenance regime applies for the lifetime of that floor. In many cases, the installation phase does expose the product to potential damage, especially in a new build while all trades are still working on site.

The second type of coating is a permanent coating. This has been reinforced and is usually a UV crosslinked Polyurethane type of coating. With a permanent coating, you never have to apply a sealer to the floor and your maintenance regime will consist of a simple daily mop (dry or wet system) and a weekly spray buff. The buffing results in a good (matt)/satin sheen. This floor is extremely durable. The long-term maintenance cost saving is estimated at about 48% over a 20-year lifespan of a floor covering when compared to a non-coated floor.

One may opt to seal a “sealer-free” floor after the initial installation as an extra precaution should the site still be very dirty and dusty, or when the risk of damage by other trades still prevalent. Once this sealer has worn off, the normal maintenance procedure will apply and resealing will not be required.

For more information, contact Polyflor SA on +27 (11) 609 3500 or via www.polyflor.co.za.