Slip-sliding away - floor polishing

6th of June 2019
Slip-sliding away - floor polishing
Slip-sliding away - floor polishing

There was a time when high-gloss floors were all the rage in hospitals, schools, offices and in many other public facilities worldwide. But is the market for a high shine gradually slip-sliding away, asks Ann Laffeaty?

It used to be the mark of a smart, upmarket facility. Being able to see one’s face in the highly polished floor of an office or hotel reception area would never fail to impress the guest or visitor.

And when attending a hospital, gym or school around 20 or 30 years ago, it was more or less expected that every hard internal floor of the facility would have a bright, shiny surface. In fact the higher the shine, the better our impression would be of the establishment in question.

Companies and institutions would go down the “shiny” route for various reasons. Managers of smart offices, restaurants and hotels would opt for a high shine as an appropriate reflection of the company’s own glossy image.

Schools and institutions tended to like the practical advantages of shiny surfaces which were deemed to be resilient and easy to clean. And healthcare authorities opted for hard, glossy floors because a high shine would create an impression of cleanliness and hygiene – something patients and visitors would find reassuring.

But in recent years the shine has started to come off the polished floor market for a number of reasons. An increased focus on health and safety plus an enhanced fear of litigation have led to a certain amount of reluctance to install floors that could potentially be a slip hazard.

There has also been a trend towards more natural-looking products which has tipped the balance in favour of matt-look floors. And with ever-tightening budgets, customers have become increasingly concerned about the perceived high cost and labour involved in maintaining a high shine. So what is the future of the traditional shiny floor?

“From our experience, ultra-shiny floors remain very popular,” said Truvox UK sales manager Simon Constantine. “This is because companies continue to want to present a high-end image of quality to their customers.

No slip hazard

“Shiny floors have an attractive appearance and it is a misconception that they are a slip hazard. In fact there have been many advances in flooring options that reduce the risk of slipping and falling.”

High-shine floors are particularly popular in retail and hospitality environments where the main priority is to attract customers, according to Constantine. “They are in demand in these types of venues because they have an attractive, pristine finish that presents the customer with a high-end image of the organisation,” he said. “Facilities such as hospitals and schools on the other hand tend to focus on the hygiene and safety aspects of flooring rather than its appearance.”

However he says shiny floors have the drawback of being harder to maintain, especially in high traffic areas. “Shiny floors also show up any marks,” he adds. Constantine claims that the company’s Orbis UHS Cordless Burnisher rotary polisher – which provides up to two hours burnishing on a single charge – is capable of quickly producing a high-sheen finish over a large area.

IPC’s communications manager Gabriella Bianco agrees with Constantine that shiny floors are still very much appreciated by both customers and end users. “They tend to be installed in shopping centres, gyms, hotels, airports and public institutions because the perception of cleanliness is a must in these types of environments,” she said.

“And it is important for cleaning operators to focus not only on how facilities will be cleaned but also on how they can enhance the users’ perception of a well-cared-for environment.”

Like Constantine she feels that a high shine is less important in applications such as schools and hospitals. “Here the attention will be more focused on the hygiene of the environment in question which means the chief priority will be the ability to thoroughly clean and sanitise the floor surface.”

With regard to trips and falls, she says these can be averted with the introduction of abrasive strips or synthetic decking designed to reduce the risks.

She concedes shiny floors have their drawbacks, however. “Any scratches on the floor or marks made from rubber shoes, heels, wheelchairs or prams will be more in evidence on shiny floors,” she
said. “Meanwhile, there has been a recent trend towards more natural-looking floors because today’s ever-increasing concern for the environment has impacted on the choice of floor coverings – even in the home.

“Laminate, vinyl and tile products are beginning to feature more prominently in today’s flooring solutions as natural-looking surfaces become more popular than traditional wood. And people are increasingly choosing flooring products such as bamboo and cork, or floors made from recycled products or reclaimed materials.”

Machine fundamental

She says the role of the machine is fundamental in achieving a high shine on a hard floor. “Not all machines are suitable for this task: you need to have the right brush and, in some cases, the correct detergent to attain the right results,” she said.

“There isn’t a magic formula for providing a long-lasting shine - this will only happen with the aid of an ongoing maintenance programme and with the use of an appropriate machine.”

IPC’s CT 51 and CT 71 scrubber dryers are equipped with interchangeable brush heads that operate at 600 rpm and can be used with microfibre or diamonds pad. “The diamond pad is particularly suitable for polishing marble floors and ceramic tiles,” said Bianco.

The high maintenance costs associated with shiny floors are among the key reasons for their decline in popularity, says Kärcher’s product manager Cassio Murillo.

“Floors with a glossy finish are easier to clean than matt ones because they are so much smoother,” he said. “On the other hand, a high-gloss look requires a more stringent maintenance programme because otherwise the surface will wear out fast. And factors such as abrasion and UV light will give them a dull, dingy or yellowing look while a high-gloss finish will also show up scratches, damage, dust and dirt more easily than other finishes.”

Health and safety considerations have also helped to bring about a decline in the market, he said. “The slick, smooth surfaces of high-gloss floors become highly slippery when wet, increasing the risk of slips and falls,” he said.

However he agrees with other manufacturers that today’s non-slip floors can be very effective. “These promote safety by eliminating that super-slick surface,” said Murillo. “Gritty or textured surfaces can also mitigate this risk and reduce the possibility of falls, while no-skid waxes and surfaces coated with grit create non-slip surfaces in otherwise slippery areas.”

Associated with cleanliness

Environments such as hospitals and shopping centres still tend to prioritise shiny floors, he says. “High-gloss floors are associated with cleanliness and in the case of hospitals, they offer higher levels of hygiene because the super-smooth surface provides nowhere for bacteria and germs to hide and grow,” he said.

“This helps to keep patients safe while providing a healthier environment for visitors and staff.”
And shiny floors are still very much in evidence in shopping centres as well, he says. “Here the visually appealing shiny floor provides an inviting environment which helps to attract more customers.”

A key advantage of a high shine is the fact that it brightens up a facility, according to Murillo. “The glossier the finish, the more reflection from lighting you’ll get,” he said. “And a highly reflective surface will require less illumination to produce a decent amount of light. This means that in some situations you can reduce your power usage because of the reflectivity.”

However he says matt floors offer the advantage of hiding minor scratches and dents while also masking the build-up from footprints and dust. “Matt floors don’t show the dirt as easily and they highlight the natural colour and texture of the floor,” he says. “And these benefits make matt surfaces more popular in facilities that receive a high level of foot traffic each day.”

A high quality, long-lasting shine may be achieved through a combination of the right floor maintenance machines, the appropriate accessories and the right chemicals, says Murillo. ”These will increase the efficiency of the operation while also reducing time and effort.”

Kärcher’s BDP 50/2000 Rs Bp Pack is a stand-on polisher said to combine the benefits of walk-behind and ride-on polishing machines. The company also offers a range of crystallising agents for use on marble and terrazzo floors that are said to produce a high-gloss finish and an increased resistance to wear.

Always popular

So, what is the future of shiny floors? They will continue to remain popular because of the favourable impression they create, says Murillo. “They make an instant statement that ‘we care’ and are more inviting and visually appealing than other types of floor surfaces,” he said. “And because they are shiny, many people associate them with cleanliness.”

IPC’s Gabriella Bianco concurs. “A shiny floor definitely helps to improve the public’s perception of a facility,” she says. “A shine creates an impression of cleanliness and tidiness plus something bright, fresh and new. And customers are quick to notice details and will thank you whenever they see evidence of care being taken in their surrounding environment.”


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