Floor pads - continual development

17th of May 2013
Floor pads - continual development
Floor pads - continual development

Floor pads have come a long way since they were first developed in the 1950s. Richard Jones, market manager for floor & surface care for 3M – the company said to have invented the floor pad - talks about the evolution of the product and considers the impact that the continued development of the floor pad has had on the market today.

When the first floor pads were developed by 3M in the 1950s they actually evolved as a by-product of other inventions. But the real story of the floor pad actually began long before that.

It was in 1938 when Al Boese, an employee at 3M’s tape lab, was told by his boss that the company was seeking an inexpensive, non-corrosive, non-woven backing solution for its electrical tape product. However, the only non-corrosive backing that anyone knew of at that time was a synthetic acetate cloth that had not been covered by a 3M patent.

So Boese spent many months studying fibres and conducting various experiments aimed at binding them together without weaving them. Eventually he hit on the solution of applying heat and pressure to the fibres.

The product that Boese developed in 1950 on the back of this discovery was not, in fact, an improved backing for electrical tape but a strong decorative ribbon with a surface sheen. This was an immediate hit when it was first introduced and meant 3M had not only created a new product - but also a new market for gift-wrapping materials to go with it.

In 1958 3M went on to combine an evolved version of this non-woven material with its own abrasives, which were distributed uniformly throughout the pad to produce Scotch-Brite scrubbing and polishing pads. And the rest, as they say, is history.

This ‘accidental’ development of the floor pad is typical of 3M’s strategy to explore new technologies and come up with innovative products as a result. The company has a policy of allowing its employees to experiment and develop new products they were not necessarily looking for. Another example of this is Tambocor, a major heart anti-arrhythmic drug introduced in 1982 purely because the company began exploring new applications for its proprietary fluorochemical technology.

Of course, floor cleaning machines did exist before the 1950s but these tended to be fitted with pads made from steel wool. This was not an ideal material to use since steel wool is both aggressive and prone to rust while offering limited durability. 3M discovered that by combining a durable, non-woven material in various formats with a range of different abrasives, an entire line of floor pads could be created for various cleaning and polishing machines that could be used on many different types of floors.

Three parts to a floor pad

There are three main elements to a floor pad: the non-woven fibres; the abrasive surface, and the adhesive that binds the two together. The fibres are key to determining the application of the pad and various materials are used in their construction. These include polyester, nylon and polyamide as well as several types of natural fibres. The size and length of the fibres within the non-woven material and the diameter of the pad itself also help to adapt the pad for use in different applications.

Abrasives - the scouring particles – were originally only available in powder form. These are carefully selected for their size, shape and hardness and can be made of a huge variety of substances including corundum, silicium carbide and talc. The abrasive surface is made up of these particles of varying sizes that are mixed together and glued into the resin.

The adhesive, or resin, links the fibres together and strengthens the entire structure. A good resin will adhere strongly to the fibres and offer a high level of water resistance. It will also provide a coating to protect the fibres from chemical cleaning agents since harsh chemicals may stiffen the fibres and reduce the life of the pad. Another key function of the resin is to adhere the abrasives
to the fibres.

In the early days, 3M’s first range of non-woven abrasive floor pads consisted of three products: a tan-coloured pad for polishing, a green pad for scrubbing and a black pad for stripping. These colours have now become the industry standard but over the years 3M and other floor pad companies have developed an increasingly sophisticated range of pads to cope with a wide variety of floor surfaces and various different applications.

To provide some idea of the differences between floor pads, a product designed for polishing would be made up of thin fibres since this would maximise the number of points of contact it would have to the floor surface. This, in turn, helps to improve the polishing effect. A black floor pad for stripping applications, on the other hand, would comprise coarse fibres that would also need to be strong enough to withstand the tough, abrasive action required when stripping down floors.

Floors would need to be stripped, for example, if sealants or contaminants had to be removed from the floor surface before cleaning or polishing could take place. The ideal black pad would have an aggressive action and an open construction in order to prevent any clogging.

Original elements remain

Despite the many developments and new products in the floor pad market, some of the original elements remain and black is still synonymous with stripping. 3M’s own black pad uses a blend of synthetic fibres laid out in an open textured non-woven construction. This helps to increase friction on the floor while providing the ability to remove black marks and stains.

The green pad for scrubbing consists mainly of nylon fibres in an open-textured construction bonded with a synthetic adhesive. The pad can be used with standard-speed rotary floor machines or automatic scrubber dryers and can be employed for the daily wet scrubbing of non-protected hard floors. The green pad is also used to prepare hard floors for recoating with floor finish and for stripping soft floors such as linoleum or soft vinyl.

Tan floor pads are still used for polishing, and our tan pads use a blend of natural and synthetic fibres to remove scuffs and marks while also providing a good gloss finish.

However, polishing today has become a much more complex business and instead of simply offering one pad, manufacturers now offer a whole array of floor pad options depending on the type of floor in question and the level of gloss required. For example, we at 3M have a pink floor pad that removes scuffs and marks from harder finishes in high traffic areas plus a blue pad for the frequent burnishing of dull floors and purple and sienna pads for polishing floor surfaces such as marble, concrete and terrazzo.

Choosing the right floor pad

The advent of floor pads that work without the use of chemicals has possibly been the major recent breakthrough in the floor pad market. Such pads enable stone, tile, marble and terrazzo floors to be maintained and polished without the use of floor finishes and strippers. Eliminating the use of chemicals provides huge benefits since it not only improves the sustainability of the cleaning system, it also increases staff safety and removes the chemical cost element from
the equation.

However, customers must be careful to ensure that they choose the right floor pad for the floor in question. Sometimes the reasons for this is obvious since an aggressive black pad for stripping would potentially scratch a delicate floor surface beyond repair, while a floor pad for polishing would have little effect on a badly damaged floor from which sealants and black marks would need to be removed. But in some cases – for example, when it comes to the differences between polishing pads – the variations between each are more subtle. Here an expert in floorcare would be able to advise the customer on which pad to use where for optimum results and cost-effectiveness.

It is true to say that at first glance many customers might be confused at the fact that floor pads literally come in a complete spectrum of options. But the tradition of colour-coding floor pads in industry means that cleaning and maintenance operatives quickly become accustomed to which colour to use where, even when the language barrier may be an issue. Many manufacturers offer an illustrated guide to their products and include information on which types of floor each pad
should be used plus the speeds at which the relevant machine should be set and the type of floor finish that can be expected afterwards.

Floor pads are evolving all the time. In the 1980s, for example, 3M Philippines designed a Scotch-Brite cleaning pad in the shape of a foot after discovering that Filipinos tended to polish floors with their feet. New products are also constantly being introduced such as our 3M Scotch-Brite Surface Prep Pads that can be used with either water or neutral detergent,
and the 3M Melamine Floor Pad made from high-strength melamine foam for cleaning shopping centres and other large open spaces.

As new types of flooring continues to be developed and as new trends in floor finishes evolve, the floor pad market will continue to grow and innovate at a similar rate. And we at 3M intend to continue as we started and remain at the forefront of that innovation.



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