Cleaners 101 – Techniques for Cleaning Concrete

Ride-on auto-scrubbers are a staple in the maintenance department as they wet clean and then vacuum up the residue. The key is to use a product that’s formulated specifically for the type of concrete surface you have. Photo courtesy of Prosoco

The old adage about using the right tool for a job is just as true when it comes to concrete cleaning products. With all the options on the market, manufacturers warn that not all are appropriate for every surface and finish. In fact, many can cause damage.

“It’s important to use a product from a manufacturer that’s formulated specifically for the type of concrete surface you have,” says Kevin Sigourney, product manager for Prosoco Consolideck, headquartered in Lawrence, Kansas.

“Using the wrong cleaner for a job can literally attack and dull the desired appearance of a polished and densified concrete floor,” says Peter Wagner, director of supporting product development for Curecrete Distribution based in Springville, Utah.

Manufacturers agree that finding a cleaner that works well can cut surface preparation and maintenance time in half. But with all the technical chemistry terminology, numbers and percentages used in manufacturing, how can you determine which product is right for you?

Just ask! Today’s chemical cleaner manufacturers are focused on making effective products that are safe and easy to use. To reach those goals, many companies are honing the art of customer interaction and availability. For example, Curecrete mans a 24-hour technical help phone line and email for concrete cleaning problems, questions and advice. “A lot of maintenance is done at night or during nontraditional working hours,” Wagner says.

It’s important to clean the floor between grinding stages. Photo courtesy of Curecrete Distribution
Cleaners 101

There are four general types of cleaners on the market today:

  • pH neutral cleaners, which are primarily used for cleaning interior sealed concrete surfaces without embedded dirt. They can be used on exterior or interior unsealed concrete that requires a mild cleaning.
  • Acidic cleaners, which are effective for removing efflorescence, insoluble metallic salt that appears as white powder or crystalline residue that doesn’t wash away with water.
  • Alkaline cleaners, which eliminate oil, grease and other hydrocarbon-based stains in concrete. They are also used to neutralize concrete surfaces after acid staining or acid cleaning.
  • Enzymatic/bacterial cleaners, which break down specific soils, such as starch-, hydrocarbon- and protein-based stains.
Safe and effective

An off-shoot of acidic cleaners are Synpro Products’ recently patented SynPro synthetic acid products, which dissolve more calcium carbonate and efflorescence than most other masonry cleaners.

“While others are trying to develop products that have low pH value needed for cleaning concrete effectively and safely in response to the need for less harsh, acid-based products, our Synpro line’s active ingredient has a pH level of zero,” says Anthony Jones, vice president of business development for Synpro Products and Riviera Brush Co, headquartered in Richmond, California.

The Synpro line has more than 24 approvals and certifications from the FDA and EPA.

The line is designed to be used on decorative concrete, masonry and ready-mix segments of the construction industry. The products come with a triple-zero Hazardous Materials Identification System score and more than 24 approvals and certifications from the Federal Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.

“What makes our cleaners unique is their nonmineral acid base and ability to outperform the harshest acidic and caustic solutions, while remaining noncorrosive, nonirritating to skin and nonregulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation,” Jones says. “Plus, they’re color-safe on even the lightest colors.”

For grinding procedures, Synpro reps recommend the company’s Pre-Grind to reduce initial surface tension, which allows users to make a first cut at a higher grit. While it doesn’t replace grinding, the product helps reduce grinding time with no fume or clean-up concerns. It can be used indoors and outdoors.

“Effective and safe products will be tomorrow’s reality,” says Synpro’s president and partner Michael Goyne. “We’re at the finishing line waiting for the others to catch up.”

Just right

Finding a balance between acidic and alkalinity in a chemical cleaner is vital for Curecrete products. Wagner says products in his industry have changed throughout the years to now being neither too acidic nor too alkaline based on the pH of concrete, which ranges from 9.5 to 11.5 when fully cured. The challenge is to ensure the pH is neutral to the concrete.

According to Wagner, his company’s CreteClean Plus with Scar Guard removes even the finest of soils from concrete surfaces by releasing them from the floor, and then holding them in suspension and taking them “out with the bath water.”

The product is a water-based detergent that contains no volatile organic compounds. It’s specifically designed to clean densified and densified-polished concrete, but can also be used to clean nondensified surfaces.

CreteClean is a water-based detergent that contains no volatile organic compounds. Photo courtesy of Curecrete Distribution

“Your concrete surface continues to be protected at the same time it’s being cleaned,” Wagner says. “Unique, proprietary ingredients, combined with cutting-edge Scar Guard technology, not only helps protect and renew your surface, it also attaches to raw, exposed concrete that has been scratched or chipped, minimizing the appearance of the blemishes.”

According to company literature, CreteClean Plus with Scar Guard is formulated for automatic scrubbing machines, with mop and buckets, and as a poultice to clean tough oil stains. It doesn’t require rinsing, which saves both time and wear on cleaning equipment.

The product is highly concentrated and typically requires 75 percent less product to do the job than most of its counterparts. This means less shipping costs and less bulk in storage.

“Maintenance is important for aesthetics but, more critically, for performance,” Wagner says. “A properly maintained floor will never halt or disrupt business productivity.”

Not one for all

Prosoco/Consolideck takes the approach that one cleaner doesn’t fit all situations. “We manufacture cleaners for specific substrates to clean specific types of staining,” Sigourney says. “Since there are different types and textures in the concrete surface industry, we have products for nearly every type of concrete from steel troweled to high polished to decorative.”

Prosoco/Consolideck’s goal is to make sure substrates are never damaged. Company reps offer product test samples to ensure customers get the desired results.

A top seller for Prosoco/Consolideck is Sure Klean Heavy Duty Concrete Cleaner, which removes concrete splashes, heavy efflorescence, embedded stains, rust and surface soiling from textured concrete surfaces. This concentrated acidic cleaner improves the color and uniformity of most standard concrete, colored concrete, precast panel and concrete block surfaces.

The cleaner/degreaser scours widespread oil and grease film, adhesive tape residues, and rubber tire marks and scuffs from concrete surfaces. It contains biodegradable ingredients that are low hazard, low toxicity, nonflammable and water soluble.

Surface cleaners come in a variety of formulas targeting such things as graffiti removal.

Another top seller is SafEtch, a safe alternative to traditional acidic compounds for cleaning and preparing horizontal or vertical concrete before applying a coating. It removes embedded oil, grease, excess mortar, efflorescence and dirt while also dissolving a small amount of surface cement, mildly etching the surface to allow better penetration for protective treatments. Company literature states this product is water-rinsable and ideal for projects where traditional acidic cleaners aren’t allowed.

“We have a technical bulletin that explains how to properly dispose of our cleaners,” Sigourney says. “But because each city or municipality has different rules, we always recommend customers call their local officials to find out their rules for disposal.”

Customer Service 501

Helping customers solve their problems efficiently is sometimes an overlooked aspect of customer service in manufacturing. That’s not the case at Curecrete. To address its customers’ inventory and storage issues, the company now offers its Crete Clean Plus with Scar Guard in single-dose packaging, Wagner says.

The 12-ounce recyclable bottle works in an auto-scrubber that has a solution tank capacity of 20-30 gallons, and there is also a 1.2 ounce packet available. Soon to hit the market is a 6-ounce stand-up pouch with a capped spout for 15-25 gallon solution tanks. The pouch is safer and easier to hold, close and carry, and reduces the chance of spills or splatters.

“Our packaging gives our customers the right solution in a more cost-effective and safe manner,” says Wagner.

Wagner says all Curecrete product labels include QR codes that link users directly to that product’s information sheet online. Sheets are available in both English and Spanish. The company also produces an online show called “RetroPlate” that demonstrates how its cleaners work as part of the company’s whole system of products.

A properly maintained floor will never halt or disrupt business productivity. Photo courtesy of Curecete Distribution

And remember that 24-hour help line customers can call? It’s manned by a chemical specialist who has been in the industry for many years. The specialist is also available to work with a customer to create standard operating procedures for specific needs and jobs.

In addition to distributing product test samples, Prosoco offers phone and field support and a “Concrete Maintenance” online how-to video. The company also produces guides that outline step-by-step procedures and recommendations for maintaining concrete. Plus, reps will go on location to teach contractors how to use its products and the company holds training and troubleshooting seminars at its Kansas campus.

At Synpro, product labels are kept concise and easy to understand, and product training is conducted by distributors, schooled directly by company reps. “Our focus is to create that win-win environment where our distributors understand the needs of their customers and apply their knowledge to recommend the right products,” Jones says.

“To us, people are as important as our products,” adds Goyne. “Whether they’re the buyer, user or seller of our products, they are valuable resources.”

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