5 Tips for Cleaning and Maintaining Your Flooring Tools

Protect the integrity of your work by regularly maintaining your flooring tools.

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Flooring Is a Dirty Job

Flooring tools demand precision but take a lot of abuse. Abrasive surfaces, adhesive build-up and hardening residue all present flooring installers with concerns to monitor throughout the work day. The role of tool cleaning and maintenance in flooring installation surpasses mere lip service, directly affecting quality and lifespan of the floor you're installing. We asked veteran installer and trainer Tony Buckhardt of Carpet Cushions & Supplies in Fort Wayne, Ind., to share some tips for managing the maintenance and cleaning of tools during flooring installation.

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Mind Your Notches

Flooring adhesive of any type is carefully tested by companies to measure performance. Variation in thickness of a fraction of an inch can determine whether the floor lasts a lifetime or begins pulling up after a few years. Build-up on a trowel changes the depth of the notches, which thins the adhesive layer on the subfloor. The smaller the notch, the more vigilant an installer must be.

Prevent temporarily shrinking notches with frequent cleanings. For mortar and thinset, Buckhardt suggests a simple dip into a water bucket. Adhesive can be a bit more tricky, requiring a solvent such as mineral spirits to remove.

A quick trick to cut down on clean-time: Coat the underside of a trowel with duct tape, leaving the notches clear and cleaning them off as you work. Allow any adhesive clinging to the duct tape to dry overnight. The next morning, peel away the tape for a clean surface.

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Replace Regularly

Concrete and other abrasive subfloors wear down trowels, causing notches to permanently lose depth and eventually fail to meet tolerances. Buckhardt recommends replacing notched trowels diligently; ideally after applying about 1,000 square feet of flooring.

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Remember Your Buckets

It may seem like a lot of effort to clean out mixing buckets before starting each new batch of material. But Buckhardt says what remains in the bucket will dry and absorb heat, which shortens the useful working time of the next batch of material. Get in the habit of rinsing the bucket immediately after mixing to avoid this pitfall.

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Avoid Mixing Mayhem

Mortar mixers spend the day churning powder into mud, and in between batches, the material can harden and clump. While this likely won't affect the performance of the mixer, Buckhardt says that the hardened bits tend to break from the blades during mixing, which can lead to unevenness in the flooring or clogged trowel notches, which affect flooring product adhesion.

The key is to be proactive. Keep a bucket of clean water near your mixing station, and run your mixer in it directly after each batch, to clear the blades. Then let the blades stand in the water while you use up the fresh batch of material.

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Slurry Disposal

Keeping all of these tools clean results in a bucket of sludgewater at the end of each day. This accumulated rinse slurry must be disposed of, and nowadays you can't dump indiscriminately. Buckhardt often lets material settle in the rinse bucket, then pours off the cleaner water and dumps the rest in a dumpster. If a job site lacks dumpster access, he recommends a product called XL North Clean-Up, which causes waste slurry to gel, so it can be easily thrown in the trash. Clean tools, clean job site, clean environment.

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Keep It Working

Proactively maintaining your flooring installation tools throughout the day helps you work efficiently and prevents costly surface failures. Put a clear system in place to make it easy for installers, while keeping them focused on laying flooring rather than addressing problems.

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About the Expert:

Tony Buckhardt is branch manager at the Fort Wayne, Ind., location of Carpet Cushions & Supplies. He began working in the flooring industry as a 16-year-old in his uncle's supply store. After working as a full-time installer, he joined his father's supply store in 1993 and transitioned to Carpet Cushions & Supplies through an acquisition. He is a past president of the International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI), a CFI Master-II Installer and a CFI trainer for carpet, laminate, wood, ceramic and resilient floorings. He also serves on the board of the World Floor Covering Association.

About the Author:

Craig Gustafson is a writer and editor based on the East Side of St. Paul, Minn. He spent several formative years working on a construction crew and enjoys home-improvement projects of many types. He has written extensively about food, health and wellness, outdoors and the arts. His family has recently purchased a small property in Northern Wisconsin with a shell standing on it, which they look forward to finishing themselves.

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