Shine on a floor is the pinnacle of clean, a symbol of a company’s attention to detail, and the best foot forward for your customers. Or is it? Some people think if a floor is shiny, it is slick, but clean, while others feel that dull is safe, but dirty. Where does the truth lie? On one side or the other? Somewhere in the middle?

For most building service contractors, the main goal is to satisfy the customer’s needs. Whether a high-gloss floor or a muted finish, it is really up to the building owners to tell the BSCs what type of look and feel they want for their floors.

“Many — almost all — of my customers want the shiny-floor look. They believe that if it is shiny, it is clean,” says Faruk Atasever, president of UHS Floorcare Systems located in Oakville, Ontario.

However, this look isn’t always appreciated worldwide, says Russell Kendzior, founder of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI).

“In Europe you won’t find the high gloss look unless it is an American-owned company,” he says. “The Europeans think we are crazy.”

In North America, there are some people who do want a duller-looking floor because they believe that it is safer and provides better traction, but they are rare.

“We do have a couple of customers that do want a dull finish to their floors but more as a safety reason than a look reason,” says Atasever.

Does shine equal clean? One of the biggest misconceptions about high-gloss floors is that they are cleaner than their low-gloss or dull counterparts or, similarly, that a shiny floor is even clean at all.

“There is a big difference between shiny clean and shiny dirty. If you use enough chemicals, you can shine a dirty floor,” says Atasever.

The most important part of the shine is the cleaning before the shine is applied to the surface. Dirty mop water and soiled equipment are the two main culprits in the shiny-but-dirty equation.

“You need to clean as well as buff the floor because the buffing will just move around the dirt and in some cases damage the floor surface,” says Jack Bossaers, owner of Heartland Cleaning Co. located in Omaha, Nebraska.

The NFSI agrees.

“There is no connection between gloss level and cleanliness, period,” says Kendzior. Pre-cleaning is the best way to ensure a clean shine on any type of surface. If the pre-cleaning is faulty, then the next step of buffing is already compromised.

In contrast, the dull floor is no dirtier than the glossy floor, and the same rules apply. The dull floor needs a thorough cleaning just as much as the high-gloss floors; they just don’t end up with the same finish.

Finishes and durability Not only do shines and finishes look nice, but they may help with the durability of a flooring product in conjunction with a regular maintenance schedule.

“Deep scrubbing and top coating as opposed to stripping will help a floor last longer,” says David Gyulay, owner of the CEO Group, St. Louis, Mo.

The most damaging material to a floor is dirt. When it becomes ground into the floor and embedded in the surface, the only solution is to strip and refinish the floor.

“Stripping the floor is something you want to avoid because the process itself is hard on the floor. You want to strip only if it’s really needed,” says Bossaers.

Stripping is also an expensive, time-consuming process that can and will increase costs to the customer. A consistent and rigorous maintenance and cleaning schedule is the only way to prevent the need to strip and resurface a floor.

Safety first It is actually a misconception that high gloss leads to a slicker surface.
“The shine has nothing to do with slip resistance,” says Gyulay.

Shiny floors can still indirectly contribute to slips, however, because high gloss can work like camouflage.

“One of the interesting aspects of this issue is the fact that a high-gloss floor makes it harder to see moisture on the floor, and that contributes to slips and falls,” says Kendzior. “If I am walking on ice and I know it is ice, I can adjust my gait to safely walk on ice. But, if I don’t know it is ice, there is a very good chance that I will slip. It is the same for a wet floor.”

Cleanliness is also a factor in the slip equation. The most important thing you can do is make sure the floor is clean because that ensures good contact between the surface of the floor and the shoes the person is wearing. Increasing the points of contact between the people and the floor makes any surface — dull or glossy — safer.

Regardless of the floor’s appearance, the real problem concerns how slick the floors really are. In the past there was no universal measurement available to measure floor slickness, so the NFSI designed the Universal Walkway Tester to determine how much grip a floor has. This little robot determines how slippery a floor is and gives BSCs and their customers actual numbers.

“It is great because this system allows BSCs and building owners an opportunity to measure their floors and determine what, if any, action is needed to make their floors safer,” says Kendzior.

If the floor is found to be dangerous, there are products and finishes that can be used to increase the grip of a floor. The measuring tool also allows BSCs to be able to measure the safety of a floor and provide those numbers to their customers to help with liability issues.

“A contractor can show that the customer knew the rating of the floor and agreed on that level of safety,” says Kendzior.

The conclusion that the gloss level of a floor does not impact safety and durability might be surprising. But new tools have made the shine debate less challenging and easier to deal with for all BSCs.

D.M. Maas is a business writer in Washington, D.C.