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The most important factors in floor care are sometimes referred to as The Two S’s: surface and situation.

Of course, there are sanitary supply distributors who place the importance of using a floor pad or a floor brush ahead of The Two S’s. However, the decision of which floor-care tool to use really needs to be based on the floor’s surface and the cleaning situation that must be accomplished, says Glenn Rothstein, president of Bio-Shine, a Spotswood, N.J.-based distributor.

“Everything is predicated on the type of surface and the task at hand,” says Rothstein, who has more than 20 years of experience in floor care. “If you’re buffing a floor, you’re not going to use a horse-hair brush for that — you’re just not, no matter how much you like brushes. At the same time, you’re not going to use a scrubbing pad on a concrete floor. That’s a job for a brush.”

So, putting aside whatever brush or pad allegiances a distributor might have, it’s wise to examine how each option will work on various surfaces when end users attempt to accomplish three principal floor-care duties: polishing, stripping and general cleaning.

The Disappearing Brush
In the 1970s, it wasn’t unusual to see cleaners using floor-machine brushes to polish floors. Today, it’s an extreme rarity, says Rothstein.

“I probably haven’t seen anyone use a polishing brush in more than 20 years,” he says. “It could be just on the East Coast...but in our area, there has been a sweeping evolution toward floor pads for polishing.”

Polishing floors is also called buffing or burnishing. Burnishing pads are usually light in color — white, beige or light gray — because they have to be used at high speeds. The faster the speed, the more likely that a darker color will stain the floor.

“Every once in a while, I’ll have a customer who will try to use a red buffing pad on a high-speed burnisher,” says Ed Corr, president of Corr Distributing, Buffalo, N.Y. “They learn not to do that pretty quickly, because it’s easy to hit a high spot on a floor and leave a splash of red dye there.”

Red floor pads, which have medium aggressiveness, are fine for low-speed buffing, or spray buffing, which is usually around 300 rotations per minute (rpm). Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of confusion in the sanitary supply industry regarding the term “high-speed buffing,” says Rothstein.

“High speed is a very confusing term for many people,” he says. “Some distributors think that because 175 rpm is stripping speed, then 300 must be high-speed buffing. I guess that makes sense, but when manufacturers design a red floor pad for spray buffing, they don’t consider [300 rpm] to be high speed. When manufacturers talk about high speed, they usually mean 1,500 rpm, or even 3,000 rpm.”

Adding to the confusion is that some jan/san professionals use the term “buffing” for lower speeds and “burnishing” for higher speeds, while others differentiate speeds by using the terms “low-speed buffing” and “high-speed buffing.”

Even though floor pads are the accepted means for polishing floors, not any pad will do. Distributors still need to be discerning about which pad they buy.

“There are millions of kinds of floor pads, but a lot of them are just gimmicks,” says Rothstein. “Manufacturers market floor pads with everything from ‘It’s made with recycled 7-up bottles’ to ‘it has a cocoa scent.’ The important thing about a floor pad is its aggressiveness, not all that other stuff.”

Take It Away
Although some end users use brushes to strip floors, most prefer to use a floor pad because there is little or no post-stripping cleaning that needs to be done.

“When you’re stripping a floor, you’re usually taking up a lot of wax or coating, and if you use a floor pad you can just throw it away afterward. With a brush, that’s a $200 investment, so you’re going to have to spend time cleaning it, getting all the gunk out, and making sure it’s ready to be used again,” says Rothstein.

In theory, most pads are designed to be used more than once, and end users should always use both sides of a floor pad. In practice, many cleaning operations don’t have the time or manpower to wash out floor pads, and some use only one side of a pad before discarding it.

“First, [customers] should really be using both sides in order to maximize the return on their purchases,” says Corr. “Second, they have to consider the return on their investment when the situation is cleaning pads. If you’re paying less than $3 per pad, and it takes an hour to remove all the floor wax that’s jammed in there, you’re probably better off just throwing the pad away. If you think about it, cleaners are making more than $3 an hour, so it doesn’t make sense [for them] to spend all that time cleaning pads.”

As end-user customers continue to try to get the most out of their products, distributors are wise to help them maximize the stripping potential of each pad, says Chad Borodychuk, sales representative for Lansing Sanitary Supply, Lansing, Mich.

“I don’t know too many customers who are throwing away floor pads after one use,” says Borodychuk. “A lot of end users — especially in the schools — are seeing their budgets shrink, and they need to get the most out of every purchase. If they’re throwing away a pad after only one use, then they’re obviously not getting their money’s worth.”

The Right Kind of Aggression
As manufacturers have improved the quality of their floor pads, end users have been able to increase the products’ longevity.

“Like any product, there are manufacturers who make high-quality pads, and there are those who make low-quality ones,” says Borodychuk. “Whenever I have a customer come in and check out our stripping pads, I always give them a sample of a high-quality pad. After they’ve used that and they’ve seen its durability, they always want to get that kind of pad for their facilities.”

Stripping pads are designated with a dark color, usually black. They are much more aggressive than pads that are used for buffing or burnishing — their coarse fibers allow them to cut into a floor’s surface easily. Recently, some manufacturers have come out with “high-performance” stripping pads, which are also black, that are even more aggressive than traditional stripping pads.

“We’ve found that the high-performance pads work especially well on tile,” says Rothstein. “They’re so aggressive that they take a long time to wear out.”

There are situations when a floor brush can be better suited for stripping than a pad, adds Rothstein: “Whenever you’re stripping an uneven floor, you probably want to think about using a stripping brush — like a nylo-grit brush — even though it’s going to be a mess to clean up.”

Uneven surfaces that require a floor brush include concrete and ceramic tile.

Two Ways to Clean
There’s no denying that pads have increased in popularity when it comes to polishing and stripping floors. When the task is cleaning — or scrubbing — then brushes have a lot to offer end users.

“Cleaning is a whole different ballgame,” says Rothstein. “You’re not dealing with gunked-up wax — it’s just dirt. If you’re using a good cleaning solution, then that solution is going to hold the dirt, and you can use a quality brush.”

For even floors, Rothstein recommends a nylon brush, although bassine brushes are another option. “The nylon just works better,” he says. “Bassine is kind of a cheap imitation of nylon.”

For uneven floors, the nylo-grit brush, which is made from nylon impregnated with a carbide grit, can be used to clean.

The biggest obstacle in selling a floor brush, though, is the cost. Whereas floor pads can usually be sold for $3 per pad, most quality floor brushes are at least $200.

“The end user sometimes has some sticker shock about the price of a good brush,” says Corr. “There’s sales work that needs to be done. You have to show the customer that he’s getting a good product that will last a long time.”

Needless to say, those customers with a larger budget are more apt to invest in a floor brush than those with less financial flexibility. “Those smaller schools and less-established contractors are probably going to be concerned about giving a brush that costs hundreds of dollars to their cleaning staffs. I think that’s part of the reason that brushes don’t always sell well,” says Corr.

Cleaning performance is really the only area where brushes and pads can be compared accurately, says Rothstein. “With polishing and stripping, there’s really not much advantage to using a brush instead of a pad,” says Rothstein. “When you’re cleaning, however, you can really make an apples-to-apples comparison. You can look at your blue, green and white pads for everyday cleaning and see if they work better than a nylon brush.”

Floor surface still has to be considered, however. Even floors, like terrazzo or vinyl tile, won’t cause any problems for a floor pad, but those uneven surfaces still need to be cleaned with a strong floor brush.

Different Puzzle Pieces
In order to have a truly effective floor care program, pads and brushes need to be matched to the right floor chemicals and machines. Unfortunately, manufacturers seldom seem to design their floor products with that in mind, says Rothstein.

“The problem is the chemical guys and the machine guys and the pads/brushes guys don’t go out to dinner together,” he says. “If they did, they could talk about fitting their products together in a way that provides maximum effectiveness for the end users. Right now, there are great pads that don’t match great floor machines, and effective floor chemicals that don’t really work with either the machine or the pad.”

Although this kind of ad hoc situation may create impediments for end users, it provides a golden opportunity for educated distributors.

“Distributors who know how to match the right chemicals to the right pads and machines will provide a great service for their customers, and the customers will keep coming back,” says Corr.

“Every customer is different and every situation or job is different,” says Borodychuk. “Whether it’s a pad or a brush, it’s the distributor’s job to match the floor situation to the floor solution.”

What’s Your Floor Care Program Really Made Of?

Not all floor pads and brushes are the same. For pads, each one is designated a different color based on its aggressiveness, or its ability to do “heavy-duty” scrubbing.

Usually the thinner, less-aggressive pads are lighter in color; beige or off white is a popular color for less-aggressive pads. These pads can be used for light cleaning as well as burnishing.

As the cleaning and burnishing requirements become more aggressive, pads are usually used at slower speeds so as to not damage the floor. Blue and green pads are usually used for everyday scrubbing, while pink and red pads are used for low-speed (or spray) buffing.

For stripping, the speed is usually much slower — 175 rotations per minute — and a coarse, strong pad that is dark in color, usually black, is recommended.

On the brush side, the differences in tasks demand different brush materials. A polishing brush — something that is uncommon today — is used for buffing floors and is made from horse hair.

For stripping floors, end users must use a brush made from nylon that is impregnated with a carbide grit. This kind of brush is called a nylo-grit brush, and it is aggressive enough to lift floor wax and coating off a floor without damaging its surface. Unfortunately, these brushes are also expensive, and they must be cleaned and maintained after every use.

Finally, cleaning or scrubbing brushes are made with either nylon or bassine. These brushes are less aggressive than stripping brushes, but more aggressive than polishing brushes. Nylon is recommended by most distributors.