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Hard floors - having it all28th of October 2011
Is it possible to come up with a slip-resistant hard floor system that produces a high shine, is cheap to maintain and is also hard to damage? Ann Laffeaty asks manufacturers what products they offer that come close to having it all.
A hard floor in an office, airport, hospital or department store can have any number of benefits. For example its bright shine will enhance the image of the facility while creating an impression of cleanliness. A well-maintained floor will also be tough and durable, even in high footfall areas. And cleaning a hard floor surface is often easier than cleaning a carpet where staining can be an issue.
If you combine all these qualities with slip-resistance and ease of maintenance you will potentially have the perfect hard floor system. But are there any products or systems available that combine all these benefits? And if not, which of these qualities are the highest priorities for the customer?
Chemical manufacturers claim that customers’ requirements are becoming increasingly varied but that products do exist that fulfil most – if not all – their floor care requirements. According to Premiere Products’ export division director Mark Hughes a high shine is still a priority in certain market segments such as in hotel foyers, large banks and offices. “However, in other sectors and in the domestic market an increasing number of customers prefer an eggshell or satin finish these days,” he said. “This is down to fashion: if you look at most laminate floorings today they have more of a matt finish than a high gloss surface.”
Slip-resistance is always a key requirement in a floor care system, according to Hughes. “However, there is no polish that is completely slip-resistant when walked upon by someone wearing stilettos, or by a person coming in from outdoors on a wet day,” he adds.
Hughes claims that most customers want their floors to be as scratch-resistant as possible. “Ease of maintenance is very important, especially in schools and in industry,” he said. “These sectors don’t want to have to buy back-up machines for buffing and polishing their floors - they simply want a surface that can easily be flat-mopped.
“We are also seeing a growing number of people seeking one-product solutions for polishing and sealing and where no floor maintenance is required apart from standard vacuuming and sweeping.”
According to Hughes an increasing number of customers are moving away from systems that require floor seals and polishes to be regularly reapplied and are opting instead for high solids metallised emulsion products. “These are a much lower maintenance solution,” he said. Premiere’s Uno system has a solids content of 34 per cent and can be used either as a one-coat polish or as part of a multi-coat high gloss polish system.
Bio-Productions managing director Mike James is ambivalent about one-product floor care solutions. “Floor care needs to be carried out properly in order to be effective: you need to clean and maintain a floor and protect it against footfall,” he said. “For example, if you don’t protect a laminate floor it will quickly wear through.”
He says all elements of a floor care programme need to be compatible with one another in order to be effective. “If you try to mix and match various products containing different polymers, resins and solvents you could actually undo all the protection you have tried to carry out,” he said.
“A floor care product should be easy to use and do the job it says on the tin. But price is also important – particularly to the distributor - and slip resistance is relatively important but not a key issue other than in highly specific areas such as airports and hotels.”
He said a high gloss finish is no longer desired by all customers, either. “A high shine may make a floor look clean, but it will also enhance any blemishes and imperfections,” he said. “Some people still like a shiny floor while others now prefer a satin finish.”
Although one-product solutions for protecting and maintaining hard floors do exist, these are not always ideal in James’ view. “If you have one product that does everything it is not going to be as robust as a complete floor care programme and you will require more labour servicing it,” he said.
“Many such products also contain solvents which are unpleasant to work with, and you need to have a surface that is not compromised in order to apply a one-product solution. So a single product programme is possible – but it is also vulnerable.”
Bio-Productions offers a Hyflex floor care product that is said to last for a year without needing further treatment. “After that it might need attention depending on the footfall it receives,” said James.
3M offers an all-in-one floor care solution that is said to provide a high shine and slip-resistance while also reducing maintenance. Scotch Guard Stone Floor Protector was launched in the US about a year ago and hit the European market this spring.
“Once the product has been applied, the floor surface only needs to be burnished once a month instead of every day and can be kept clean simply by dusting or flat-mopping it,” says market manager for 3M floor and surface care western Europe Richard Jones.
“The cost of the product may seem initially high but over a period of time the savings to be made on chemicals, time and labour are really quite significant.”
He says the product also provides resistance to black marks. “These come off the soles of rubber shoes and can be a real problem in high traffic areas,” he said.
According to Jones many customers still require a high shine on their hard floors. “They think that if a floor is shiny, it is also clean and this gives a good image to visitors. But it does depend on the country: in southern Europe for instance a shine is more important than it is, say, in Nordic countries where more natural wood flooring tends to be used.”
While chemical manufacturers have been working towards offering one-product solutions, machine manufacturers have also been coming up with flexible equipment designed to provide all-in-one hard floor care solutions. Tennant’s marketing communications manager Agnes Knapen claims that Tennant’s ec-H20 system supplies the customers with all their floor care needs while also being environmentally-friendly.
“More and more customers are becoming aware of the environmental impact of cleaning and want to use more sustainable solutions,” she said. “Our ec-H20 technology reduces the need for most floor cleaning chemicals by electrically converting water into an effective cleaning solution.
“Scrubber dryers equipped with ec-H2O technology are able to scrub three times longer with a single tank – while using 70 per cent less water than conventional scrubbing methods,” she said.
“Real world testing by customers and third parties has shown it to remove bacteria but leave no chemical residue which means floors retain a polished look while reducing burnishing and strip/recoat cycles. Meanwhile, NFSI certifies that our ec-H2O system improves floor traction significantly which can reduce slip-and-fall incidents.”
However, she says customers’ requirements depend on their strategies, cleaning facilities and environment. “For instance in a high-end shopping mall, image and high shine will be essential,” she said. “But in today’s climate, low maintenance and low cost of operation are a current theme across our customer mix.”
Kärcher’s environmental matters public relations officer Annette Ostertag agrees that customer requirements vary greatly today. “A hotel foyer, for example, may have a stone floor that will be required to be polished to a high gloss whereas in kitchens and sanitary areas it is essential to ensure excellent hygiene and slip-resistance,” she said. “This is why it is important for cleaning machines to be flexible so that they can be adjusted to requirements simply by changing the brushes or varying the contact pressure or brush speed setting.”
She says customers also want their hard floor system to be user-friendly. “Machines’ controls should be clearly arranged and their function must be apparent at a glance in order to rule out operating errors as far as possible,” she said. “Last but not least, the machines should be robust and durable and require minimal maintenance.”
She claims the company’s new B 40 C-W walk-behind scrubber dryer can provide everything the customer wants for their hard floors since it uses a Kärcher Intelligent Key operating system to set up individual profiles for every user.
“Different authorisations are allotted by means of colour-coded keys: for example yellow for operators, grey for the facility manager, and red for the service technician,” she said. “The facility manager sets parameters such as speed of travel, brush speed, motor output or detergent dose in advance to suit the application. The key is then used to relay the settings to the machine.
“All the operator needs to do is to use a rotary switch to select the desired cleaning programme. This ensures that only the energy and detergent actually required are used.”
So while low maintenance and resistance to damage are qualities that are both valued highly in any floor care system, it appears that not all customers today require a high gloss finish or slip resistance. But whatever their floor care needs, chemical and machine manufacturers are confident that they can fulfil them – either via a single product or machine or by employing a dedicated floor care system.