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Seasoned floor maintenance personnel understand how to specify the correct floor pad for the most efficient burnishing, buffing, scrubbing and stripping procedures. But professionals without experience rely on their jan/san distributors to point them to the products that will make their work as efficient as possible. Distributors can help end users avoid using a floor pad that is too weak to have an effect and essentially would be a waste of time. On the other hand, a floor pad that’s too aggressive can cause problems that require extensive remediation.

“All floor pads should be used according to the function to be performed,” says Rory Beaudette, vice president of sales for ACS Industries Inc., Lincoln, R.I. “It begins by determining the function such as stripping, cleaning, scrubbing, buffing, polishing or burnishing. Once known, the question of floor type, floor finish and machine type need to be addressed.”

Pad Types

An industry standard color-coding system for low-speed floor pads helps bring some logic to the situation. In general, moving from light to dark, least-coarse to most aggressive, are: pink, white, beige, red, blue, green and black.

Buffing pads are lightest in color and remove scuff marks and dirt floors.

“Buffing takes the dirt up and brings a semi-gloss back to the wax,” says Scotty Roberson, sales and marketing manager for Norton Abrasives, Stevenville, Texas.

A buffer or swing machine used at 175 to 600 rpm is often used with a buffer or polish pad, which are typically synthetic or microfiber, says Roberson.

Cleaning pads are designed to clean a little more aggressively than buffing pads, and remove dirt off a floor’s surface without removing floor finish. Depending on traffic, some technicians follow this up with burnishing, using a slightly more aggressive pad during wet or wintry weather to help get the job done in a timely manner.

Slightly more aggressive than cleaning pads are scrubbing pads.

“They remove the top layer or two of wax, along with all of the scratches and dirt,” says Roberson.

To save on labor, many facilities are using harder finishes, says John Miller, executive vice president of sales for Americo, Acworth, Ga. These finishes can have layers scrubbed off and polished to look like new, which extends the time between more intensive stripping and recoating.

“It’s five times less expensive to scrub and recoat vs. strip and recoat,” says Ed Michels, marketing development manager for 3M Building and Commercial Services Division, St. Paul, Minn. “The pad cost is 1 to 2 percent of the procedure; the majority of cost — 80 to 90 percent — is labor. We try to encourage customers to practice scrub and recoat more frequently to extend the amount of time between stripping and refinishing.”

How often a cleaning crew needs to scrub depends on traffic.

“You know it’s time when your regular daily cleaning operations are not getting the floor clean, and you’re seeing traffic lanes, and perhaps a yellowish appearance,” says Michels. “That tells you that there is soil embedded in the floor finish.”

The blue or green scrub pad will remove one to two coats, giving the floor a uniform, dull surface. Then users can apply another coat or two of floor finish.

To remove more coats of wax, users turn to stripping pads which are darker in color.

“Stripping pads with open weaves can resist loading up with finish, so the pad can do its job, not float on the surface,” adds Michels. “You can remove four to six coats of finish with properly mixed floor stripping chemical.”

Stripping pads are made to be reused, or to be disposed of. Rinsed with high-pressure jets at a car wash, or more commonly on site in a janitor’s sink or a dedicated washing machine and air-dried, can be a greener alternative than disposing of them after one use. When stripping floors, put used pads into a plastic bag so they don’t dry out and harden prior to cleaning them, says Michels. Depending on the pad’s quality, it can strip up to 50,000 square feet before losing its effectiveness.

Other tips for longevity include using both sides of the pad, brushing it gently during rinsing, and taking it off the machine when it’s not in use.

High-Speed Burnishing Pads

High-speed burnishing machines run at 1,000 to 3,000 rpm and apply more heat and pressure to the floor to remove wax.

“The high-speed pads are where it begins to get a bit more complex, primarily due to machine speeds and floor finishes being used,” says Beaudette.

Adding to the confusion is a lack of industry standard for color-coding burnishing pads.

“Most manufacturers offer a full range of natural and synthetic high-speed pads,” says Beaudette. “The choice is dependent upon the condition of the floor in relationship to the level of shine to be achieved without the removal of floor finish.”

Different facilities require different waxes, says Roberson. For example, gym floors use a water-based wax that can be removed quickly. Grocery stores require harder waxes to withstand shoes, carts and palettes. Different waxes will require different pads.

“An electric burnisher creates up to 2,000 rpm, but has little downward pressure,” says Miller. “Battery-powered burnishers create a higher rpm and more brush pressure, and propane creates the maximum rpm and the most downward pressure. Tell your vendor what finish and what machine you have, and the vendor should be able to provide you with recommendations on the best pad to complete the system.”

Floor Pad Compositions

Most floor pads are a composition of synthetic and natural fibers. Synthetics such as nylon and polyester create softer pads, while natural fiber content (hog hair, coconut, walnut, etc.) creates a coarser, more aggressive pad.

“The reason hog bristle works better than other natural fibers, is because it’s hollow and can heat up and cool down,” says Randy Flowers, regional sales manager for ETC of Henderson, Henderson, N.C.

Hair is also biodegradable, and some say it’s green for that reason, but others say feel that’s cancelled out by the processing needed to acquire the hair.

High hair content can also create a burning hair odor when used with high-speed applications. On the upside, heavy hair can generate more heat so you can burnish harder waxes more efficiently, says Roberson.

“Synthetics can be manipulated in different ways,” he says. “To act like heavy hair, the manufacturer can change fiber deniers and latex binders which makes the pad heavier. A 5 denier is pretty thin, a 50 denier is a lot heavier and will be a hardier product.”

“The best area of use for a totally synthetic pad is at low-speed jobs for scrubbing or stripping with wet solutions,” adds Flowers. “Blended natural fiber pads are best used with ultra high-speed burnishing. You can use a totally synthetic pad for burnishing, but it will take longer to remove black marks, scratches, and give the gloss of a natural fiber blend pad.”

Microfiber is another synthetic that is often blended into floor pads.

“Microfiber pads are excellent for daily cleaning or burnishing,” says Miller, adding that they don’t create dust when burnishing because they don’t micro abrade.

A downside can be cost, but they’re easily cleaned and readily reused. Also, while microfiber won’t decompose quickly in a landfill, users can reduce the harshness of the chemical and rely on the fiber to clean.

Continuing Education

Before choosing a floor pad, users need to determine the hardness of the finish, the frequency of care, the equipment, and the chemical being used. It’s a recipe that can be fine-tuned until an end-user knows exactly what works for their needs.

Manufacturers encourage distributors to ask questions and get recommendations for their clients.

“We’ve done extensive testing on a wide variety of floor finishes, and we have data available for our customers on which floor pads perform best in creating gloss, whether using electric, battery and propane burnishers, to take the guesswork out,” says Miller.

Manufacturers also recommend continuing education from associations to empower distributors, building service contractors, facility managers and housekeeping managers to understand the facets of floor care.

“One of the biggest areas missing is education of the distributor, and thus the end user, on where to use particular products,” says Flowers. “It’s wise to choose a manufacturer that will give you education. Products need to work together so you don’t waste labor. Ninety-five percent of the job is labor, and four percent is chemical. Using a wrong, cheap or inferior pad will undo the other 99 percent.”

Lauren Summerstone is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.