Keeping hard-surface floors clean and safe is an important function of any housekeeping department. This time-consuming task requires not only a floor machine, but also the accessories to complement it. There are pads and brushes designed for every type of flooring, and experts recommend that housekeeping professionals incorporate a variety of these accessories in an effort to develop the most comprehensive floor care program possible.

“We use different pads and brushes for different applications,” says Marlin Wynia, director of housekeeping custodial services for Oregon State Hospital. “It’s not ‘one accessory fits all.’”

Hard-surface floors have become increasingly popular in recent years. Commercial buildings now commonly include vinyl, linoleum, stone, ceramic, laminate, concrete and wood; with some facilities investing in specialty surfaces: cork, rubber, steel and leather. Each type of floor requires a unique method of maintenance – including the correct machines and accessories.

Standard practices
The basics of hard floor care haven’t changed much over the years. A typical janitor’s closet includes a buffer and autoscrubber, a variety of pads and brushes, squeegees, drive pads and clutch plates.

“Some of our stuff is so old I don’t think I was born when it was made,” Wynia says.

Synthetic floor pads, which have been around for about 25 years, are differentiated by coarseness and designated by color—the lighter the color, the softer the pad. Light pads (pink, light blue, beige) are used for polishing and buffing, medium pads (red) are used for daily scrubbing and light stripping, and black pads are used for heavy-duty stripping. Some cleaners also use steel wool pads for heavy-duty scrubbing.

While some people prefer pads for scrubbing procedures, since the surface area of a pad has better total contact with the floor and can scour off soil and finish buildup, sales of rotary brushes for floor machines have increased in recent years.

Soft bristle brushes can be used for light scrubbing and polishing hardwood or uneven floors. Aggressive, stiff bristle brushes with silicon carbide-impregnated bristles can be used for stripping or heavy-duty scrubbing. As yet, there has been little success in developing brushes that can be used in high-speed applications.

The old standbys remain popular because they are easy to use and sometimes have a lower initial cost. To meet tight budgets, however, many housekeeping managers are beginning to seek out more durable options.

New and improved
Manufacturers are responding to user demands by creating new machine accessories that address a variety of needs. One recent creation is the eraser pad, which removes scuffmarks without hurting the floor finish.

Some cleaners love the pink eraser pad, including Wynia, who says the new pad replaces the need to scrub floors with the light blue brush and then lay more wax. “Eliminating that step saves on labor costs,” he says.

There are less favorable reviews from other housekeepers, such as Tom Parrish, director of custodial services/facilities operations at Washington State University. “We tried the pads but chose not to use them because we didn’t feel that they worked as well as our other two burnishing pads,” he says.

Other newer options include a centrifugal brush, burnishers with dust filtration, high-productivity pads, and more economical and longer-lasting accessories.

“The new stuff is more durable and has a longer usable life,” Wynia says. “We’re not ordering as many pads as we used to but we’re still cleaning the same amount of space.”

When considering which machine accessories are right for your facility, keep the following guidelines in mind:

• Match the product to the task. It is essential to pick the right accessory for the floor and situation. For floors with a soft finish, skip the aggressive hog’s hair burnishing pad and instead choose a more suitable white or beige-colored pad. When working on floors with an uneven surface, such as ceramic tile or aggregate concrete, a brush with nylo-grit fibers works best.

If you are uncertain about which pad or brush is most effective for a particular type of flooring, seek advice from your janitorial supply distributor or the flooring manufacturer.

• Never become complacent. Re-evaluate your floor care program annually, looking for areas that could be improved. Work with your janitorial supply distributor to find solutions to any trouble spots, such as high labor or chemical costs.

A distributor could show you a new procedure that cuts costs, such as dry scrubbing as an alternative to stripping and recoating hard surface floors. The procedure, which involves scrubbing a small amount of solution using a 1,500-rpm burnishing machine with a special pad, can reduce chemical and labor costs.

Or, the distributor could offer advice for increasing the life of your products, such as how to avoid chemicals that destroy squeegee blades.

• Cheaper isn’t always better. Although better accessories cost more up-front, they can produce long-term savings. For example, according to a leading pad manufacturer, a facility can realize 30 to 60 percent savings in labor and product costs when stripping an area of 60,000 square feet, using a premium quality pad rather than a standard one.

“High-productivity pads are especially useful for tough stripping jobs,” says Joel Daniel, president of Premier Service Company in Nashville, Tenn. “They make cutting into heavy buildup faster and reduce the quantity, and therefore cost, of chemicals. Since the work moves along faster, labor is also reduced.”

Make the most of your investment with proper maintenance. For example, as a pad is used it will become dirty and not perform as well. Increase longevity by removing dust and debris from the floors before using the pad, by using both sides of the pad, and by rinsing the pad after each use or hiring a service that cleans pads and returns them in like-new condition.

“We have 900,000 square feet, and most of it is hard surfaces, so we spend a lot of time on floor care,” Wynia says. “If you reuse a $6 pad three times, you are saving $12, which adds up, especially when you buy 50 or more pads a week.”

Many housekeeping managers find cost advantages in using brushes over pads, since the pad driver doesn’t have to be removed as often as when pads are used. Brushes allow the user to stock and clean fewer pads, since brushes typically outlast a pad many times over. This helps the end user recoup the higher cost of a brush.

Future findings
Even with all of the newer products available in the marketplace, there are still many accessories housekeepers have on their wish lists.

A square scrubber and buffer would help Wynia’s wax crew make quicker work of edges, which are time-consuming and labor-intensive chores. Wynia envisions a belt-driven pad that would work around the edges without splattering chemicals onto the baseboards and walls.

Wynia also dreams of a pad that would fall between the blue and black pads currently available. His staff puts down eight coats of wax and, instead of noxious stripping, they do frequent water scrubs to remove and replace just a few layers of wax.

“The black pad is too aggressive and the blue pad takes forever to get the job done,” Wynia says. “It would be nice to have a pad right in the middle for semi-stripping or scrubbing.”

Whatever innovations the future holds, housekeepers can be certain of one thing: Floor machines and their accessories will continue to be important tools in their cleaning arsenal.

Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa.