Floor polishing - is the shine coming off?

27th of June 2016
Floor polishing - is the shine coming off?

Everyone used to want a shiny floor. But the growing availability of alternative floor coverings coupled with concerns about cost, maintenance, health and safety have turned many building managers away from that highly-polished look. So are shiny floors on the way out? Ann Laffeaty finds out.

There was a time when highly-polished floors could be found in practically every facility. Managers of prestigious offices wanted them because glossy floors reflected their glossy image. Schools and institutions wanted them because they were resilient and easy to clean. And healthcare authorities wanted them because shininess helped to create an impression of cleanliness in the eyes of patient and visitors.

But in recent years the matt look has become more popular and an increasing number of companies have been opting for floor coverings with a more natural appearance. But is this simply a trend or are there deeper reasons for the change in focus?

Providing a high shine on a floor can be both time-consuming and expensive according to Diversey Care’s global floorcare portfolio manager Michelle Boulanger. “Highly-polished floors can require complex and time-consuming maintenance plans from stripping and recoating to the crystallisation of stone surfaces,” she said. “Many customers requiring this aesthetic are looking for ways to cut costs and eliminate harmful chemicals from their maintenance plans.

“Customers who want shiny floors but who cannot achieve them due to budget, time and labour constraints are always looking for alternatives.”

The healthcare sector in particular is beginning to turn its back on high-gloss floors, says Boulanger. “The perception that shiny floors are slippery creates a challenge for patients, particularly the elderly,” she said. “Furthermore the maintenance requirements of a high-gloss floor can be disruptive to patients, staff and visitors due to the noise of the machinery and the fact that high-traffic areas need to be blocked off while the process is carried out.

“In the healthcare sector, too, substances such as hand sanitiser and disinfectants are in constant use and these may drip on to the floor and degrade its appearance.”

Demand for glossy floors remains strong in North America, says Boulanger – but even here cost can be an issue for customers. “As result there is a great deal of experimentation with alternative floor coverings, finishes and practices in a bid to find lower-cost alternatives while maintaining the gloss aesthetic,” she said.  “These include polished concrete and UV-cured coatings. However customers have found that the benefits of such finishes often come with unpredicted consequences that can actually increase the total cost of ownership of the floor.”

Poor appearance

For example, she says polished concrete surfaces create dust from foot traffic and provide little protection. “This makes them vulnerable to food stains and abrasion from foot traffic and embedded dirt,” she said. “The result is a poor appearance that will require costly and disruptive restoration - including orbital grinding – to put right. However since there is no protection in place, the same problem will recur and the overall costs will be greater than if a proper maintenance plan had been put into operation.”

As for UV cured coatings, these are costly to install since they require curing machines and chemicals along with labour from specialised technicians, says Boulanger. “Also the hard nature of these coatings does not allow them to be repaired or removed,” she said. “These floors look good for a while but when they start to wear they lose their appearance quickly. And if there is a mistake in the installation it can’t be easily rectified.”

Diversey Care offers various solutions to achieve gloss or matt finishes. These range from polishes to protect resilient surfaces and low chemical solutions to diamond pads and systems designed to protect stone substrates.

Demand falling

Kärcher’s key account manager for Germany Peter Almanstotter claims that demand for highly-polished floors in administrative buildings and institutions is falling off. “Many facilities managers in this sector decide to make savings by cutting out the additional operation of polishing at a time when public authorities are so cash-strapped,” he said.

“Instead they opt for normal maintenance cleaning, often with scrubber dryers in combination with soft brushes to achieve a degree of shine. But this does not produce the same result as polishing with an ultra high-speed machine.”

Kärcher offers such machines for high-gloss polishing. “We also have cleaning agents for de-coating and coating in our product portfolio,” he said. “It is possible to achieve a certain degree of shine with scrubber dryers featuring roller technology in combination with soft brushes or horsehair brushes.”

Nilfisk-Advance offers maintenance systems using pads, brushes and machinery to preserve or restore most high shine surfaces.  However group floorcare manager Anders Sandstrom says many of today’s hospitals, care homes and other public institutions have issues with shiny floors.

“A matt floor might be a better choice in these environments because a shiny floor could be perceived as being slippery,” he said. “Cost may also be a factor in some cases since a dull surface is easier to maintain.”

And Numatic – which offers a range of floor machines – says the education sector is also beginning to shun the shine. “This sector has seen a change in flooring to reflect its multi-use nature,” says Numatic’s floorcare channel manager Kevin Andrews. “As a result many new school complexes are using non-slip rubberised finishes and more carpeted areas than they might have done previously.”

Costly, high-maintenance, vulnerable to damage and with a slippery appearance – the future of glossy floors hardly looks bright. Or does it? In fact manufacturers have plenty of good things to say about polished floors as well. Nilfisk-Advance’s Anders Sandstrom describes them as an important “image enhancer”. “They provide visitors with an impression of cleanliness,” he said. “They also create more light through increased reflection and this in turn saves energy.”

He agrees with Boulanger that untreated concrete floors have a tendency to emit dust. “Polished floors on the other hand provide a dust-free and easy-to-clean surface while creating a good working environment for both people and machinery,” he said. “When you polish a floor you also prevent new dirt from sticking to it. And a shiny surface reduces the amount of friction created when cleaning with a mop.”

Shiny floors with either a natural or man-made stone finish remain popular in airport concourses, shopping centres and upmarket reception areas adds Numatic’s Kevin Andrews. And Diversey Care’s Michelle Boulanger agrees that the market remains buoyant in these sectors.

“Such facilities need to project a bright, clean and professional image that will enhance the customer experience,” she said. “Think of businesses where the brand is all about attention to detail and customer care.  A shiny floor will reflect the light and make the facility appear brighter.”

And even the healthcare sector is experiencing growth for some. “Highly-polished floors in a hospital make follow-up maintenance cleaning easier,” said Kärcher’s Peter Almanstotter. “The healthcare sector is doing well – but here the contractors are mainly polishing the floor to reduce the subsequent cleaning effort rather than for aesthetic reasons.”

Growth markets

He agrees with other manufacturers that retail outlets and department stores are another growth area. “US studies have shown more sales revenues are generated in shops and large department stores when they have highly-polished floors,” he said. “Customers feel more inclined to buy since they associate the clean, classy surroundings with quality.”

But will the gloss remain on the industry, or will there be an increasing trend towards lower-cost, easier to maintain, matt-look floors?

“We expect the need for highly polished floors to continue,” said Andrews. “However one must always study the situation and customer developments. For example there is a question over whether or not large department stores will remain in their present form or whether the trend towards individual specialist shops will evolve to replace the ‘department store experience’.

“The cost factor too, will always play a role. There are many influencing factors impacting on different sectors of the industry and these will ultimately influence cleaning requirements as well.”
Numatic’s Andrews believes there will always be a demand for high-gloss stone and ceramic floors to provide that ‘wow’ factor. “But of course they will still need maintaining with high-speed burnishing machines and scrubber dryers to provide a wet-look finish while keeping people safe from slips and trips,” he adds.

Diversey’s Boulanger agrees demand for highly-polished floors will remain. “The industry will continue to innovate to remove the barriers of cost, harmful chemicals and disruption and to deliver high quality results,” she said. “Solutions will encompass higher durability and faster turnaround while eliminating the use of harmful chemicals and improving the mechanical and machine solutions.”

And Nilfisk-Advance’s Sandstrom believes the demand for highly-polished floors will actually increase in future. “Lighting energy is a big part of the cost in larger facilities, and a shiny floor allows you to reduce the amount of energy required while still providing sufficient illumination,” he said.

“But at the same time we will see an increase in the use of floor materials that are easy to maintain – whether they have a dull surface or a high shine.”


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