Toughest of hard floors for polishing

15th of May 2013
Toughest of hard floors for polishing

Which are the most difficult types of floor surfaces to polish and maintain? And what other factors such as age and floor condition have an effect on the final result? Ann Laffeaty finds out.

Today’s hard floors come in all shapes, sizes, grades and materials. Alongside traditional floors made from marble, wood, tiles and linoleum there are now various composite materials to complicate the floor polishing task.

These include terrazzo which can be composed of chips of marble, quartz, granite or glass, and wood laminates which comprise MDF or a similar material overlaid with a thin veneer or photographic layer of wood.

Manufacturers of chemicals and maintenance machines need to offer polishing products to suit all types of floors. They also have to take into account factors such as footfall, type of traffic and age of the floor before recommending a polishing solution. So which floor surfaces cause the biggest headaches?

Bio-Productions floorcare adviser Chris Barsby says it is not the type of surface alone that creates the most floor polishing problems.

“It is crucial to choose the right product and use the right machine,” he said. “Footfall is also important: if you have 1,000 people an hour walking on your floor you will need to treat it differently to a floor that only 10 people will be using.”

He adds that architects can cause the biggest problems by choosing an inappropriate type of flooring in the first place. As an example he refers to the 1980s fashion for rubberised floors in facilities such as airports and other high-traffic areas. “These were totally inappropriate and many have now been replaced with terrazzo or vinyl,” he said. “If you have the wrong floor in the wrong location it can be a nightmare to treat.”

According to Barsby, most floors that have been properly maintained are relatively easy to polish. “Problems arise when people cut corners and don’t use the right products or look after a floor properly,” he said. “I once visited a golf clubhouse where the floor was made from old wood. It had been badly treated using a very cheap polish, and as a result the area immediately in front of the bar was completely black and looked appalling.

“You need to consider both the floor surface and the footfall, then decide how you want to maintain the floor afterwards – whether you will be using a maintenance product or simply a mop and water.”

He says that in these days of terrazzo and laminate floors, problems can arise when contractors are unable to recognise the composition of a particular floor.

“Most professionals will know what a floor is made of or will make a good guess, but if they are wrong they can cause endless problems for themselves,” he said. As an example he refers to a contractor who attempted to strip down a floor surface believing it to be wood – only to find it was a actually a cheap laminate.

Vital to differentiate

Premiere Products’ local international director Mark Hughes agrees that most experienced contractors can differentiate between the newer types of flooring. “In general they are sufficiently experienced to tell if a surface is a laminate or composite and will treat the floor accordingly,” he said. “However, we do receive calls from householders asking us how to treat a certain floor.”

He says each type of flooring has its own set of polishing complications. “When treating a wood floor you have to take into account how it has been prepared,” he said. “For example, you have to look at whether the flooring has been newly laid or sanded to a point where it is very smooth, since you will need a ‘key’ for the polish to adhere to.

“Terrazzo is quite straightforward to polish and so is marble and quarry tile – particularly if you keep to a daily or weekly maintenance regime. Problems only occur if you leave a floor for longer periods without maintaining it – say six months or more - because then you will need to strip the floor back and polish it as new. So it isn’t so much the polishing as the maintenance that is the issue.”

He says undulating floors can be a problem since these cause the polish to ‘pool’. “There is little you can do about this if the floor has been laid incorrectly,” he says.

Premiere Products offers emulsion polishes for use on various types of flooring, plus Premiere Wood Wax for use on wood and magnesite. “We are also working on a new range of environmental products,” says Hughes.

European market development manager of 3M Richard Jones says a longer-lasting floor protection product – such as its own Scotchgard Floor Protector - can be more cost effective on high traffic floors than traditional polishes.

“Most building owners want to protect their floors with some sort of coating, but the floor will have to stripped back to its virgin state fairly frequently so that the varnish can be reapplied,” he said. “The initial cost of a floor protector is higher but it cuts down both on labour and product costs since it only needs to be applied once a year.”

According to application specialist at Hako Klaus Serfezi, no floor surface is difficult to polish if it has been properly coated. “This requires experience and cleaning staff should be trained on the correct use of the polishing machine,” he said. “However, some floor surfaces – such as laminates or porcelain stoneware tiles – should not be coated at all.”

Hako offers three polishing machines ranging from a 450 rpm model for use on uncoated glossy surfaces to an ultra high-speed machine for hard floors in highly frequented areas.

“The age of the floor doesn’t matter: it is the current state of the floor covering that determines whether or not the surface can be coated,” said Serfezi. “Minor imperfections can be levelled by coating the flooring. However, if the surface is heavily worn or structured it should possibly be sanded down first and then coated afterwards.”

The more traffic on a floor, the higher the need for maintenance says Serfezi. “In heavily used areas the walkways will need to be properly cleaned before being polished,” he said. “Choosing the right coating is very important since highly frequented areas need extremely
resilient coatings whereas basic wet cleaning would be sufficient in less frequented areas. “

Marble confusion

Numatic floorcare channel manager Kevin Andrews says there is some confusion – both within the cleaning industry and among the public – as to how to polish marble and terrazzo.

“How many times have we seen an operator working away on a marble or terrazzo floor using a machine with a standard red pad fitted?” he said. “We all know that red pads have their place, but it is important to ensure that the correct type of product is matched to the floor. Luckily with the advent of the diamond pad, maintaining this type of flooring is a much simpler process than it was 30 years ago.”

Numatic makes a range of single-disc rotary machines that can be supplied with various brushes, pad drives and specialist sanding and scarifying heads.

According to Andrews, a rise in health and safety awareness has led to an increasing demand for non-slip floor surfaces which has spawned a wider range of products from tile manufacturers. “This can put more pressure on those involved in cleaning, especially in the leisure sector,” he said. Numatic has worked with flooring and chemical companies to produce a range of machines designed to cope with non-slip surfaces.

“Time is a key factor when cleaning such surfaces since most chemicals require a minimum of three minutes’ contact time,” he said. “Unless staff are aware of the potential problems with using an inappropriate chemical they could be adding to the slip problem.”

Senior group product manager of Nilfisk-Advance Domenico Coppa says no floor surface is difficult to maintain provided one uses the right tools and the right knowledge.

“However some surfaces are more delicate than others and here operator knowledge is crucial to ensure that there is no damage to the floor,” he said. According to Coppa the most delicate floor surfaces to treat are cotto tiles, particularly when renovating old floors; delicate parquet surfaces and marble or polished concrete. “These floors need cleaning and maintenance knowledge and in the case of cotto and marble they also require knowledge about the origin of the specific floor,” he said.

Nilfisk offers a range of floor polishing machines in low, high and dual speed formats as well as various walk-behind and ride-on burnishers. According to Coppa, floors with uneven surfaces or wear can be more of a problem than older floors when it comes to polishing.

“However, variations in age and material can be managed with the right knowledge and even restoring an old floor can be made simple using the right equipment,” he said. “For example, we at Nilfisk offer Eco Brilliance pads for restoring marble floors without the use of chemicals.”

Maintenance frequency

He says it is important to consider the suitability of a floor for a specific environment when laying it. “The type of traffic expected will influence the kind of floor to install and the frequency of maintenance operations,” he said.

“If the floor surface is not too delicate and cleaning operations are carried out correctly, factors such as wheeled traffic and high footfall should not be an issue – though of course the floor will need extra cleaning and maintenance.”


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