Automatic floor-care machines are designed for a variety of cleaning tasks — stripping, scrubbing, polishing or burnishing. But the outcome of the floor-care application ultimately depends on the choice of floor pad or brush.

“Floor machines are built to use brushes or pads interchangeably,” says Glen Franklin, owner, Franklin Floor Care, Snohomish, Wash. “On most machines, you can switch from one to the other within seconds.”

Proper floor care involves a two-step decision-making process. First, the cleaning employee must decide whether a brush or pad will be used. Second, and perhaps most important, the precise grade of floor pad or brush must be selected.

Brushes vs. pads
How do cleaning employees choose between floor pads and brushes? Several different considerations are involved, including the nature of the cleaning task and the type of floor surface.

For instance, when cleaning uneven surfaces, such as tile with recessed grout, Franklin recommends brushes instead of pads.
“When cleaning a restroom that has ceramic tile, you really need something with bristles that will reach down into the grout to scrub the dirt out,” he says. “Pads can’t reach into the grout as well.”

The brush’s long bristles get into grouted areas and remove dirt, while the short bristles clean the top of the tile.

Conversely, pads are better for cleaning smooth surfaces, says Ben Valenzuela, service technician, Waxie Sanitary Supply, Las Vegas, Nev. “A floor pad’s contact area, or cleaning surface, is greater than a brush’s, so it cleans smooth surfaces better,” he says.

Pads often are used for floor scrubbing and polishing. Polishing brushes are not used much anymore on smooth floor surfaces, except when cleaning rubber floors, Franklin says.

“Because floor finishes have become more durable and scratch resistant, they don’t respond as well to brushes,” he says. Franklin says you really need to use a pad that is designed for polishing with an ultra-high-speed floor machine.

Franklin also recommends floor pads for high-speed burnishing. “Burnishing actually grinds off the top layer of the floor finish, and this creates a lot of dust,” he says. “A pad absorbs much more dust than a brush does. A brush just throws the dust around,” he continues.

Franklin says it is useful to use a floor-buffing machine that has a bag and a vacuum system designed to suck up dust, so workers don’t have to go back and sweep after buffing.

Return on investment
Cost and durability also must be taken into account when choosing between pads and brushes. “Generally, a good quality brush will last longer than a pad,” Franklin says. “One scrubbing brush might last as long as 100 pads if you take care of it properly.”

Pads are designed to be replaced once they wear out or become thin. “Follow the manufacturer’s specifications, but for optimum performance, pads should be replaced when they wear down to a half an inch or less,” Franklin says.

Some floor pads are more durable because they are specially woven.

“Buying a higher-quality pad will save you money even if it costs more initially, because it won’t disintegrate as quickly or wear down as fast,” Franklin says.

Measuring abrasiveness
After deciding between a floor pad or brush, the next step is selecting a proper grade of floor pad or brush for the application.

Pads and brushes are categorized by their abrasiveness. Different cleaning applications require different levels of abrasiveness.

Floor stripping, which takes part of the top layer of floor finish off, requires the most abrasiveness. Burnishing with an ultra-high-speed floor machine requires the least abrasiveness.

“If you just want to scrub the floor to remove the soil on the top layer without removing the finish, you would select a regular scrubbing pad with a medium level of abrasiveness,” Franklin says.

Floor pads and brushes are often color-coded by their grade of abrasiveness.

What happens when the wrong pad or brush is used?
Cleaning workers may be setting themselves up for disaster if they use the wrong grade of pad or brush abrasiveness.

“If you choose a more aggressive pad by mistake, like using a stripping pad to clean vinyl composite tile, the tile could be permanently scratched,” Valenzuela says.

“Also, if a cleaning employee stays in one spot with the floor machine too long, especially when cleaning softer floors, the machine could cut into the tile,” he added.

If a soft pad is chosen for an application that requires abrasiveness, productivity goes down. “If a cleaning employee chooses a lighter pad instead of the correct one, it could take up to twice as long to clean a dirty floor,” Valenzuela says.

Franklin’s rule of thumb is to use the least aggressive pad or brush first. “You want to test the pad or brush first in an inconspicuous place to make sure you’re not scratching the floor,” he says.

Finally, preventative maintenance and cleaning of floor machines, pads and brushes is key to getting the most out of equipment.

“In order to stretch your dollars, it is much better to take care of brushes and pads by cleaning them regularly, rather than throwing them away after they have been used,” Franklin says.

Lynne Knobloch-Fedders is a free-lance writer based in Vernon Hills, Ill.