Floor polishing - why keep the shine?

27th of April 2012
Floor polishing - why keep the shine?
Floor polishing - why keep the shine?

Traditionally floor polish manufacturers developed solutions that gave a corporate floor the brightest, shiniest finish – a floor with a mirror-like look. Thinking has now changed and suppliers must ask: does the customer really want shiny floors? Writing exclusively for ECJ, Matt Baines of Premiere Products explores how trends in floor polishing are developing and how manufacturers are adapting their solutions.

As a business with close to 90 years experience in the manufacture of products for the cleaning industry, floor polishes have always been very close to Premiere Products' heart. We must, however, accept the current decline in popularity of the polished floor but would argue and hope to explain here, that there is greater complexity to the whys and wherefores behind this current trend than a simple matter of aesthetics alone.

Through detailed analysis we know that sales of floor polish have shown a shallow but undeniable decline in recent years. What’s interesting though is that analysis also reveals sales of lower gloss, satin finish products remain relatively low compared to their high gloss counterparts. Illustratively our satin product only accounts for approximately one per cent of our total floor polish sales year on year with the other 99 per cent made up of high gloss finish products.

We can surmise therefore that those of our customers who continue to apply floor polish are, by a landslide majority, in favour of high gloss finishes over lower gloss alternatives. This being the case perhaps the question is not a matter of whether low gloss is preferred in favour of the high gloss or 'wet look' finish but rather is there any merit in applying a floor polish at all? “To polish or not to polish” if you will!

What then are the factors that may lead to a cleaning service provider choosing not to apply a floor polish and are there any potential pitfalls in making this decision?

This question we feel is best answered by a simple list of pros and cons:

Why do cleaning service providers choose not to polish?

•There is a widely held misconception regarding floor treatments that glossy/shiny floors are slippery and therefore a health & safety risk. However this is quite simply not true. Please see our point below relating to the slip resistant merits of modern polishes.

Mirror-like glossiness

•Whilst those of us of a certain age will remember the hospital corridor floors of our youth as being mirror-like in their glossiness, there is a valid concern today in the healthcare environment, people who are partially sighted may struggle to differentiate between the point at which a highly glossy floor stops and the walls, doors, etc begin. This is due to the refraction and reflection of light which can then lead to disorientation.

•It is more than fair to say that any floor polish, but particularly a high gloss finish product, can actually make floors that have been badly prepared for application, incorrectly treated or continuously neglected, look worse than if they were not treated at all.

•Floors that are protected by the application of a floor polish undoubtedly require a considerably higher maintenance input than a floor that is left untreated. To a cleaning service provider this means more labour and therefore more cost.

Why should cleaning service providers choose to apply polish?

•Under 'normal' conditions any floor polish (even one that is highly glossy in finish) should provide excellent levels of slip resistance to a floor. Whilst this is undeniably true it’s interesting (if not a little confusing) to note that a European Norm to independently confirm the slip resistant qualities of a given floor polish does not currently exist.

There is a standard in place for the slip resistance of floor lacquers/varnishes but not floor polishes. As a result we at Premiere utilise an American method of slip resistance testing, referred to as the James Static Friction Test, and have a threshold written into our ISO 9001 quality control policy that all batches of manufactured floor polish must meet before they are bottled and released for sale.

•Many flooring manufacturers market their own private label floor polishes. Based on this simple fact it is surely inconceivable to imagine that the application of a floor polish to the right type of modern commercial floor covering is in any way, a bad thing.

No protective polish

•In the rush for proven productivity, and thus a reduced cost to show to their clients, a considerable majority of cleaning service providers (be that in-house suppliers, contract cleaners or FM companies) take up the option of not applying a protective polish to the floors on any given contract. The rationale here is that to do so would then necessitate the relatively labour heavy (and therefore costly) maintenance techniques of regular spray buffing and periodic spray cleaning with single disk rotary machines.  The preferred route therefore tends to be that of leaving floors unprotected and simply cleaning regularly with scrubber dryers.

Whilst this may appear to be a more affordable option in the short term, it is our belief that there are a considerable number of occasions when the end result is actually more that of long term false economy than a reduction in lifecycle cost.

There is no doubt the life span of a standard commercial vinyl or linoleum floor can often be prematurely called to a close as a result of harsh cleaning techniques chosen on the basis that they deliver high levels of output/efficiency.

Scrubber dryer suppliers should work with their clients to ensure that there is a balanced harmony between the cleaning recommendations made for a specific floor type by its manufacturer and the proposed machine, cleaning accessories and chemical (including possible application of floor polishes) to be used on said floor. This should in turn deliver a good quality of clean in an acceptable time frame at no detriment to the floor. Where floors are not protected and are frequently cleaned in an abrasive manner they are likely to become increasingly porous over time and therefore incrementally more difficult to maintain and unattractive aesthetically.

The following analogy, I feel, neatly sums up the role of a floor polish in protecting floors as well as enhancing their appearance.

In the local family run mini-market close to my house there is a dull pink stain evident on the commercial grade vinyl tiled floor in the aisle where wine is displayed for sale. This is obviously due to the fact that someone has accidentally dropped a bottle of red wine (always tannin-rich and quite highly acidic) onto the floor, with the resulting spillage having time to dwell before being cleared away. The inherent acidity of the wine damages the natural surface of the floor allowing the tannin to then leach in, causing discolouration. Believe us when we say that it could require an exhaustive amount of 'elbow grease' to successfully remove the resulting stain.

Despite the fact that a floor polish would most likely be similarly stained under the same conditions, it could also be easily removed and replaced whilst the body of the floor, thanks to its sacrificial polish coating, would remain in perfect condition beneath.

Based on the protective benefits of the right form of treatment, building owners/managers (particularly in healthcare and education environments, etc) should surely be prepared to accurately weigh and measure the lifecycle cleaning and maintenance costs of an existing floor versus the purchase and installation of new one. Particularly when this requirement could, in our experience, be as frequent an occurrence as once in every five to 10 years.

We cannot escape the fact that the technology used in the design and manufacture of floor coverings has evolved significantly since the 'boom' floor polish period of previous decades. Floors with PU coatings and fully integrated PUR protection, available most commonly in vinyl, are now the frequent floor type of choice when commercial buildings are being newly built (especially where PFI initiatives are concerned).

The basic definitions here are as follows:

PU: A surface layer polyurethane wear coat, applied to the floor during manufacture, which supplements the requirement for protective floor dressing during the initial period of the floor’s life. However it will eventually (within two to five years) wear away and require replacing with a polish.

PUR: A fully integrated polyurethane based protection, guaranteed by most manufacturers to last for the floor’s lifetime.

Less labour intensive

Essentially PU or PUR means that the floor is protected from heavy traffic and frequent cleaning but will respond to other maintenance techniques in the same way as a floor polish – ie, if a gloss finish is preferred then regular rotary burnishing with a floor maintenance chemical will quickly develop this from the coating. If not, then simple cleaning alone by mop or scrubber dryer suffices.

The major benefits of purchasing and installing a floor with this level of protection are that it is guaranteed to remain in good condition for a prescribed period of time without the labour intensive stripping and reapplication works that are required with a floor polish based system of treatment and maintenance.


We should be prepared to welcome changes in technology that bring innovation whilst also recognising more traditional techniques that aid the protection and preservation of floor surfaces and therefore prolong their life expectancy.  This would inevitably see fewer floors becoming damaged and therefore replaced prematurely. Not only would this deliver considerable savings in building maintenance costs but would also be notably sounder from an environmental aspect.

Concerns over productivity can be alleviated to a certain extent by the correct use of high solids content/single coat floor polishes and rinse free strippers that remove elements of labour from the floor care process.

We are also more than prepared to accept that, at present, there seems to be a trend in favour of low gloss floors but would prefer to see cleaning service providers using satin finish floor polishes in order to protect their client’s floors with something substantial as opposed to leaving them naked to the ravages of foot traffic and aggressive cleaning methods.



Related Articles

Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited