From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, June/July 2013

Dry Floor Products Won’t Slip Up

by Alex Josowitz

Dry Floor Products Won't Slip Up

Historically dry floor treatment products are powdered or granular formulations that can be applied to a dry or wet floor to prevent slipping, provide cleaning and deodorizing activity, or in some cases, sanitize floors once activated. There are a variety of dry floor treatment chemistries on the market, with different characteristics and approvals for use.

Types of Dry Floor Products

Dry floor products can generally be segmented into the following three categories: anti-slip, cleaning/deodorizing, and sanitizing. Anti-slip and cleaning and deodorizing formulations are limited by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to making performance and marketing claims that include cleaning, removing stains, and deodorizing. Marketing these products for uses other than these is in violation of federal law. A new class of sanitizing products has recently been introduced by several manufacturers that are registered with the EPA. These products have been shown to be effective antimicrobial control agents and therefore are allowed to legally make sanitizing claims.

Anti-Slip Powders. Anti-slip powders are used to absorb moisture and break down oils, fats, and grease to increase traction. Most anti-slip floor powders contain sodium bicarbonate as a primary ingredient, and are relatively inexpensive. Dry products to aid traction are normally free flowing powders or formulated into small granules to avoid a slipping hazard. The key components of an effective anti-slip powder are: degreasing performance, moisture absorbance, and long lasting, slow-dissolving granules.

Floor Cleaners/Deodorizers. The majority of dry floor treatments can be classified as cleaners/deodorizers. A number of chemistries are currently available for cleaning and deodorizing, including quaternary ammonium-based products (with or without urea), sodium percarbonate-based products, surfactant blends, and acids. It is important to note, however, that these products can only be used to clean and to deodorize, and do not have approval as sanitizers without an EPA registration for floor sanitization. Many dry floor cleaners are also formulated with sodium bicarbonate to aid in traction as well.

Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) are a class of cationic surfactants that are often used in deodorizers, sanitizers, or anti-static products. In dry form, QACs are frequently blended with urea and provide cleaning and deodorizing activity once the powder or granule comes into contact with moisture. The advantage of QAC-based dry floor treatments includes a longer residual deodorizing activity once activated by moisture as compared to other formulations. However, QACs are rapidly consumed in the presence of organic soils and under hard water conditions. Urea containing formulations are used for cost reasons but can have negative effects on wastewater. When activated by moisture, urea produces ammonia which can result in high ammonia levels in plant wastewater if usage levels are not monitored.

Sodium percarbonate-based cleaners release sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide once activated by moisture, producing an alkaline hydrogen peroxide solution. Used as an oxidizing agent to clean and whiten/bleach floors, dry sodium percarbonate-based floor cleaners are more compatible with wastewater than urea/QAC blends because they ultimately break down into sodium carbonate, water, and oxygen. However, sodium percarbonate based formulations do not have a cleaning and deodorizing residual profile comparable to dry QAC based compounds.

Floor Sanitizing. It has been widely documented that the most prevalent location for positive Listeria monocytogenes findings in USDA inspected meat plants are “floors” and “floor drains.” In 2004, the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted an audit of 31 USDA inspected RTE meat plants and found 27.8 percent of the floors and drains they tested were positive for Listeria (32 positives/115 samples). Similar studies have been conducted in non RTE environments, and include other organisms such as Salmonella spp. and E. coli spp.

While the use of cleaners and sanitizers during sanitation are designed to mitigate the risk of these pathogens, floors and drains are notoriously difficult to clean and are easily re-contaminated during production. Used correctly, dry floor sanitizers can be a valuable tool in eliminating pathogens on floors, in drains, and in entryways by providing a continuous residual sanitizer in cracks, crevices, and other difficult to clean areas of the floor.

In order to use a dry floor treatment as a floor sanitizer in a USDA or FDA inspected plant, the product must be registered with the EPA with specific claims as a “floor sanitizer.” Under the FIFRA, a product must be registered with the EPA if it is intended for “preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.” Further clarifying, any agent used to “disinfect, sanitize, reduce, or mitigate growth or development of microbiological organisms” on hard surfaces is considered a pesticide and must be registered with the EPA.

To date, only two products have submitted the required efficacy data to kill organisms on floors and received EPA approval as floor sanitizers: a powder-based upon a proprietary PerQuat formulation (Sterilex Corp., Hunt Valley, Md.) and a blended QAC-based bead (Ecolab Inc., St. Paul, Minn.).

QAC based floor sanitizers differ from available dry QAC floor cleaners in that QAC sanitizer manufacturers have submitted the required efficacy data to the EPA to demonstrate at least a 3 log reduction to kill food pathogens such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli on floors. QAC based floor sanitizers have broad spectrum activity on clean floors but are less effective in areas of high organic load such as when mixed with dairy residues or if biofilms are present on a surface.

Another product approved by the EPA as a floor sanitizer is a proprietary dry formulation based upon PerQuat technology. PerQuat based products have been marketed for several years in liquid form as hard surface disinfectants and biofilm removal agents, and that same technology is now offered in a dry form for floor sanitization. This dry product contains both percarbonates as well as QAC components to provide broad spectrum sanitizing activity in the presence of organic soils as well as residual activity. This product has EPA approval to kill organisms such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E. Coli.

If your HACCP plan includes the use of a dry floor sanitizer to prevent pathogens from surviving on the floor, one of these two products must be used in order to be in compliance. If you intend to use your existing dry floor product to kill microorganisms, make sure to ask the manufacturer for a copy of the EPA registered label with use directions for “floor sanitization.” Floor sanitizers should always be applied as per the use instructions on the product label.

Product Attributes

Dry floor treatments are available in a number of forms. Most dry products are either sold as beads, large granules, or as free flowing powders. Beads and large granules are generally less dusty than free flowing powders but can make the floor slippery. Free flowing powders, on the other hand, are commonly designed to crush when walked on or when a forklift drives over the treated area, and should aid with traction. In addition, unlike larger beads, smaller granules and free flowing powders are more likely to fit into small cracks in concrete floors, treating difficult to reach areas.

A number of dry floor products are marketed as “time release.” Dry floor products are typically reapplied once most of the applied powder has been activated by moisture and/or are no longer on a surface. Time between re-application varies depending upon the amount of water on the floor, the amount of moisture in the air, the size of the dry product’s bead or granule, and the microbial/soil load on the floor. In general, the larger the bead, the longer it will take for the bead to dissolve in moisture.

Some dry products are available with a dye to help differentiate the cleaner/sanitizer from edible ingredients. If choosing a dry product with a color, it may be best to trial the product in a small inconspicuous area to ensure that the dye in the product does not stain the floor surface.


Unlike liquid cleaners and sanitizers which are typically applied as a spray, foam, or soak during set sanitation shifts, dry floor treatments often remain in place during production, providing residual activity between sanitation shifts. Therefore, the use of dry floor treatments offers particular benefit for plants with extended production runs or very dry environments where wet cleaning is seldom performed, if at all.

All dry floor products currently require moisture to be activated. As moisture generated from production, on the bottom of boots or forklifts, or from the general environment comes into contact with a dry floor compound, the chemicals are released. Without moisture, dry products have the potential to clean or sanitize, but water is always needed in order to solubilize the active agents. However, the moisture needed to activate a dry product does not always have to be manually added. In some cases, environmental moisture may be sufficient to activate the floor product.

Dry cleaners and sanitizers are most active in areas that will be coming into contact with water during the day. Floors near and around drains, trench drains, and difficult to reach areas under processing equipment are ideal areas for application of dry floor treatments. In addition, many processors are now incorporating dry floor sanitizers in footbaths and floor mats at the entrance to processing areas. As personnel walk through the activated dry products, the bottoms of boots are sanitized, preventing cross contamination.

It is common practice to “broadcast” dry floor treatments onto a floor using either large scoops or fertilizer spreaders. While these methods may be efficient in spreading large quantities of dry compounds in a short period of time, it is highly recommended to apply a dry product as per the label instructions (for EPA registered floor sanitizers, it is required that label dosage directions be followed). Simply broadcasting large quantities of a floor cleaner or sanitizer can result in unnecessarily wasted product.

When applying any dry product, proper PPE should be worn by anyone applying the product. By their nature, dry products will release some dust when applied. At a minimum, dust masks, gloves, and eye protection (goggles/face shields) are recommended when applying dry products to a floor and application should be done in a well-ventilated environment. In addition, dust can be minimized by avoiding shaking the drum of dry chemical which can cause granules to break up into smaller, dustier particles. If possible, applying the product to a damp floor can also help to diminish dust particles and activate the product.

It is also important to be aware of your dry product’s compatibility with floor materials such as concrete (treated and untreated) as well as terrazzo tiles. Treated as well as untreated concrete floors are generally compatible with most QAC-based and percarbonate-based dry floor products; however, individual products should be tested in a small area prior to general use to verify compatibility.

Choosing a Floor Treatment

The first factor in choosing a dry floor treatment to use in your facility is determining required product performance attributes; what do you expect the product to accomplish? If you wish to use the dry treatment to sanitize floors and prevent organisms from cross contaminating, you are limited to a dry product which is EPA registered to sanitize floors, of which there are two currently available on the market.

However, if your goal is to clean and deodorize, your options are less limited. Your choice of an ideal active agent depends upon the organic load you expect to be on the floors, the residual cleaning, and deodorizing activity provided by your floor treatment, as well as your wastewater sensitivity to QACs or high levels of ammonia.

Another factor to consider is the size of granule. Larger granules are generally less dusty than powders and may last a longer period of time in dry form before needing to re-apply. However, they can also make a floor slippery.

When comparing the cost of dry floor treatments, price per pound is usually not the best method to estimate the total cost of a dry program. Instead, look at each product’s label for dosage recommendations and instead compare price per square foot. For example, if a floor sanitizer costs $3.00/lb. and has label instructions to apply 4 oz./100 SF, the total cost of this program is $0.75/SF. However, a floor sanitizer sold at $1.50/lb. but labeled to apply at 4 oz./10 SF, would cost $3.75/SF to apply.

Finally, it is important to set clear metrics for success when trialing a new dry floor treatment. If trialing a floor sanitizer, having baseline microbiological data on floors and drains for pre- and post-treatment comparison is valuable. When comparing floor deodorizers, choose two similar areas of the plant and document odors and cleanliness over the course of a two-week period. Note how many re-applications were needed over those two weeks, any changes to the floor’s appearance, slipperiness, and if any wastewater effects were seen.

In summary, dry floor products are a valuable tool as part of a comprehensive plant sanitation program. The ability to apply a product that is slowly activated by moisture over time offers a clear value to plants with extended runs, infrequent or nonexistent wet cleaning shifts, and in areas that are difficult to clean and prone to contamination during production including high traffic areas. However, it is crucial that attention be paid to label claims, efficacy parameters, and regulatory approvals of the products under consideration.

Josowitz is the director of business development for Sterilex Corp., a provider of proprietary sanitation solutions to the food industry. He can be reached at 800-511-1639 ext. 103 or by email at


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