Woman worker cleaning the floor with polishing machine

A reader writes: "Please explain the difference between buffing and burnishing. They seem to be same, yet different."

The reason for some of the confusion is that many people use the terms interchangeably which can be confusing to a novice. I will give you my definitions and ask other readers to clarify or give their interpretation if it differs from mine. Note that both processes involve using a floor machine (buffer or burnisher) to polish a floor that has finish (also known as wax) to produce a glossy appearance by removing the top layer of finish which may have become scratched and dirty due to floor traffic.

One difference between buffing and burnishing is the speed of the machine. Other factors are the type of pad and the hardness of the floor finish.

Buffing has been around for a very long time and is simply the use of a rotary (think going in a circle) floor machine that sits on a drive block that sits on the appropriate type floor pad (usually red). Originally, most buffers were use for two primary purposes: scrubbing/stripping and buffing. The operator balanced the rotation of the machine so that it removed a top layer of finish and produced enough heat to soften the product producing a shine. Another name is "swing machine" since the operator could go back and forth in the polishing process.

Burnishing was introduced in the late 1960's in the United States although I believe it was used earlier in Europe and Australia. The early machines tended to cause the floor to powder since the speed and pad oftentimes was too aggressive for the floor finish. Over time, different pads and finishes have been developed to handle the higher heat generated resulting in what is often called a "wet look" which can be impressive to visitors.

We will look at the different types of burnishers in a future article.

Your comments and questions are important. I hope to hear from you soon. Until then, keep it clean...

Mickey Crowe has been involved in the industry for over 35 years. He is a trainer, speaker and consultant. You can reach Mickey at 678-314-2171 or CTCG50@comcast.net.