Tackling Sticky Tile

June 13, 2002
What to do when vinyl composition tile starts popping off the floor

When vinyl composition tile pops off the floor, it not only mars the look of a facility but can become a slip/fall hazard as well. In fact, the problem crops up often enough that, in my role as a troubleshooter with Johnson Wax Professional, I am called to facilities across the country to help them solve the problem.

What makes this issue such a sticky subject is that there are several issues regarding tile adhesion failure to the concrete surface to which the tile is installed. Some of the most common reasons for tile adhesion failure include:

  • Adhesive used is not the one recommended by the tile manufacturer.
  • Improper trowel or cheater trowels being used in spreading adhesive. A contractor should at this point use a new trowel. Usually, a contractor will use a file to sharpen it again. If this filing takes place, then the space between the notches becomes larger, allowing more adhesive to be applied than what is recommended. This also shortens the distance between the beads of adhesive. The ability of the adhesive to dry properly can be compromised.
  • Solvent residues. Another variable for the adhesion failure of tile adhesives would be involving solvent residue left on the concrete when the adhesive is applied. Concrete is very porous. When solvent is used, there is a good possibility that it is absorbed into the concrete and, if it is not thoroughly rinsed, the solvent will wick back up through the concrete and attack the tile adhesive. The tile may not “pop” right off the floor, but the integrity of the adhesive has been affected and the adhesive will never properly cure.
  • Alkaline salts. Another variable exists when alkaline salts, which are in the ground and even sometimes found in the concrete, come to the surface. They expand and slowly destroy the adhesive.
  • Vapor emissions. Moisture is always present in concrete. If there is too much moisture passing through the concrete (as a vapor), tile failure could result. Before tile is installed, a moisture test is required to determine if the tile and adhesive are going to be compatible with the concrete. The most common test is an Anhydrous Calcium Chloride test. After this test is run, the result will reflect the amount of moisture in pounds that is emitted from a 1,000-square-foot area of concrete over a 24-hour period.

Certainly, there are other variables that exist and each failure would have to be examined thoroughly on an individual basis to determine the cause of the failure.

Chris Warner is a senior technical consultant at Sturtevant, WI-based Johnson Wax Professional.

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