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Smart Swaps for Surfaces

Cleanability, comfort and ease of installation – choosing the right surfaces for care homes has never been more important. Joe Hurst, Altro’s Key Account Manager for Social Care, considers the pitfalls of some common materials and how simple, smart swaps can meet safety, aesthetic, cost and comfort criteria.


Do your current surfaces meet your hygiene requirements and give your staff, patients, residents and visitors the reassurance they need? We’re hearing more and more how the favoured flooring and walling materials of the past now present difficulties for our present and future as care homes adjust to life in a world dealing with Coronavirus. You may well currently have carpet or carpet tiles installed, paint on the walls and tiles both on your walls and floors – all of these are problematic in our ‘new normal’.

Carpet vs vinyl floors

Looking first at carpet – often the flooring of choice in care homes historically – the issues here centre around cleanability. Carpet tiles or carpets are designed to be vacuumed and not cleaned daily with the detergent required to clean viruses – you cannot vacuum up bacteria and viruses. Having vacuumed, you would need to wet clean the carpet or carpet tiles with detergent daily at 56ºC in order to kill any virus, but this is hotter than the maximum temperature advised by some carpet tile manufacturers.

This daily process is required because the virus remains active for 24 hours on this surface. Cleaning therefore becomes more costly in terms of time and money, while requiring a long time, possibly several hours, to dry; this means your surface can remain damp for hours each day after cleaning, providing the potential for yet more ideal conditions for the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses.

In a care home environment, you may have carpets and carpet tiles that feature impervious PVC-backing to offer protection against incontinence. While this backing can help protect the subfloor from becoming contaminated from any spillages, it has the negative effect of meaning that the carpet can retain dampness and take longer to dry. This increases the potential to harbour bacteria, and can lead to long term odours and possible staining issues. With such regular wet cleaning required at the moment, the issues are compounded, with further cleaning due before the carpet is totally dry, increasing risk of damage to the surface and sub floor.

Detergents can easily stain carpet, whilst over wetting carpet tiles can cause them to curl, be prone to fast re-soiling, the growth of mildew and the occurrence of odours.
Steam cleaning is another option, but carpet tiles can take 12 to 24 hours to dry fully when steam cleaned and shouldn’t be walked on during that time, which is highly impractical in most areas of a care home.

Modern vinyl floors offer an ideal alternative to carpet and carpet tiles. There are many options now available with similar sound reduction properties to carpet tiles – 17 to 18dB, so there’s no need to compromise on in-room sound and transmission of noise. There is also the option to use an impact sound reduction underlay.

Comfort underfoot is also a key performance benefit of many vinyl floors, especially those which also offer sound reduction properties, so a switch from carpet to vinyl need not lead to a compromise on comfort or acoustics, and still provides carers, staff and residents with a homely look too.

And the biggest benefit of vinyl over carpet is on cleanability. High quality vinyl floors can be cleaned at up to 60ºC; viruses are killed at 56ºC (US National Library of Medicine). No different detergent or process is needed when you already have the ability to spray, steam or power clean the flooring.

Dirt sits on the surface of vinyl flooring rather than penetrating the pile of carpet. So vinyl floors are cleaned faster, with products less likely to cause damage to the floor and also dry faster for a speedy return to service.

With budgets under scrutiny too, you need to have confidence that what you invest in will maintain its appearance and performance for years to come. Quality vinyl flooring is a proven, robust solution, not affected by indentation from wheelchair or beds, and with guarantees of up to 20 years.

Residents’ and staff’s wellbeing are crucial to a ‘happy home’, and refurbishment works can sometimes cause unnecessary anxieties and stress. There are now many adhesive-free flooring options, so you can choose the right flooring for rapid change with minimal disruption. For example, Altro adhesive-free flooring can save up to 50% installation time and 35% costs, with added benefits such as no adhesive-related odours to keep disruption and distress to a minimum and ensure that environments within a home can be operational that much quicker, limiting the need to move or disturb residents.

Paint and tiles vs wall cladding

The World Health Organisation has proved that the Covid 19 virus will live for 72 hours on hard surfaces such as walls, therefore necessitating regular detergent cleaning. However, only certain surfaces are suitable for cleaning in this way. PVC wall cladding can be cleaned with detergent, up to 60ºC. Many other surfaces are not robust enough to cope with such cleaning. For example, paint is only microns thick and is easily damaged. Plasterboard under paint tends to be weak and absorbent and easily dented or damaged, particularly below waist height where walls can be prone to knocks and scrapes. Damaged surfaces can harbour microorganisms more readily than undamaged, smooth surfaces.

Emulsion paint is not designed to be wet cleaned and can come away when cleaned with water – a process which is exacerbated when cleaned with the detergents required to keep the area hygienic. This results in patchiness, reducing the overall aesthetic appeal and requiring extra maintenance.

Tiles are another popular wall or floor finish, and although easier to clean than paint they too create hygiene headaches. Grout is often the weak spot for hygiene – it often becomes porous with age which means it will harbour microorganisms, providing breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. Grout is difficult to clean and can shrink and cause gaps between the tiles, again providing the perfect environment for microorganisms to multiply.

Cracked or shattered tiles also lead to ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, and as individual damaged tiles can be difficult to remove, the problem perpetuates.
Wall cladding systems remove many of these risks. Altro’s systems are 2.5mm thick, with colour throughout the thickness of the product. They are durable and robust, with life expectancy of up to 25 years and come in a wide range of colours and bespoke options.

Altro Whiterock hygienic wall cladding has a smooth, non-porous surface and comes in sheets to provide coverage from floor to ceiling with no grout required. It is easy to clean, with detergent, up to 60ºC. As a fully bonded and watertight system, there is nowhere for microorganisms or bacteria to hide.

For smaller areas such as washrooms, toilets and kitchens, Altro Whiterock Splashbacks are a hygienic alternative and available as kits to suit most sizes.

Altro Fortis wall protection protects the wall and substrate from bumps and scrapes, and is easy to wipe clean. For a total hygienic system, install vinyl flooring combined with wall cladding and doors.

Because it’s vital to clean floors, walls and doors effectively, we’ve produced a range of cleaning guides to help you get it right first time.

Key questions to ask - are your surfaces up to the task?

Are floors, walls and doors easy to clean?

Does dirt sit on the surface or penetrate into the pile of a carpet, the grout or cracks on tiles or the substrate on a damaged painted wall?

Are surfaces cleanable at more than 56ºC?

Do surfaces have a high chemical resistance to allow for regular disinfection?

Are surfaces impervious, hard and non-porous so microorganisms have no place to hide?

Contact Altro

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