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Solving Tile and Grout Problems in Healthcare Facilities
May 20, 2013
Healthcare facility areas constructed with tile and grout flooring, such as public restrooms, patient baths, surgical and lab areas, and food service areas, have always been a maintenance nightmare for environmental services directors and custodial managers.  The maintenance staff is seldom able to keep tile and grout surfaces clean and sanitary (although not entirely their fault) and this can result in serious image problems for hospitals and clinics. 

The problem that faces a hospital maintenance staff is that tile and grout flooring (and walls) are, by nature, porous materials. After its initial installation, it immediately begins absorbing dirty mop water, urine and a host of other contaminants, including, but not limited to, mold and mildew fungi, bacteria and viruses. Because of this, tile and grout surfaces develop a dingy appearance and foul odors. The idea that tile and grout does not require any maintenance beyond the occasional sweeping and mopping only furthers this problem. Healthcare facilities have employed effective maintenance processes for other types of flooring found within them for years, but there was no long term system for keeping tile and grout surfaces sanitary and pristine until fairly recently. 

Although some have sealed tile and grout surfaces right after installation, this only offers a degree of short term protection. One problem is that few tile and grout surfaces are sealed properly when they are installed. Another problem is that sealers wear out and break down over time, leaving a surface that is only partially sealed and begins to appear splotchy as the unsealed areas absorb contaminants. Sealing, therefore, has long term limitations, as a hospital maintenance staff seldom monitors the condition of the sealer and re-seals the surface before contamination sets in. 

Thankfully, a long term maintenance system for tile and grout surfaces has evolved over recent years. This system is known as restorative bonding and has been in place in many healthcare facilities for several years now. Restorative bonding technology returns even the worst looking tile and grout (sealed or unsealed) to a “like new” appearance and keeps it that way indefinitely. The system consists of chemically extracting contaminants from the tile and grout joints, etching the grout (which produces a micro-anchoring mechanism), permanently bonding a non-porous grout replacement material to the existing grout and shielding the entire surface with a micro-thin, but extremely durable, polymer coating. This coating makes the daily cleaning of both tile and grout much easier. 

This system is extremely effective for two reasons. First, the grout replacement material produces a bright, “like new” appearance, and second, because the restored grout is now non-porous. It can no longer absorb dirty mop water, urine and other contaminants, and, therefore, keeps the surface odor free. Because the grout replacement material is not cementitious like grout and is polymer-based, it is stronger and much more durable. It is also permanent and will outlast the original grout. Additionally, the tile shield does not crack or peel like a floor finish would and is resistant to standing water, urine, acid bowl cleaner, bleach, high pH cleaners and disinfectants. It also improves the slip coefficient, contributing to a safer surface. 

Another property of restorative bonding that should be of great interest to healthcare environmental service directors is a new surface integrity that will prevent the internal breeding of microorganisms in the tile and grout pores. In laboratory testing, samples of un-bonded tile and grout and bonded tile and grout samples were inoculated with mold fungi. Mold was cultured on both surfaces and then scrubbed off with a neutral cleaner.  Both samples were then coated with a 2% glucose solution. The mold quickly returned on the un-bonded samples, but zero mold growth was observed on the bonded samples.  While microorganisms can grow on any surface, they cannot become embedded in a “bonded” tile and grout surface. If the porosity of tile and grout is not permanently eliminated, microorganisms can continue to exist in the floor substrata. 

Perhaps the greatest value of restorative bonding is that a healthcare facility essentially gets a “like new” floor that is easily maintainable, sanitary and saves them the cost, turmoil, and construction headaches of replacing tile. Many architects are now specifying restorative bonding instead of tear outs and tile replacement in healthcare renovation projects and remodels. This concept of making improvements while reducing cost and construction is called “value engineering” and has become widely accepted in today’s tough economy.

 

Article written by: SaniGLAZE International

   
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