Small and relatively inexpensive, floor pads and brushes are not always top-of-mind items — until the products cause problems. That’s why distributors should take these basic cleaning tools seriously from the beginning, helping their customers make informed decisions about which product to use and how to use it properly.

Spending the time learning about brushes and pads can pay off by creating satisfied customers, says Dan Ott, co-owner of Facility Supply Systems Inc., Chicago. He recently had an experience with a new customer whose staff used hand brushes to clean a limestone floor with light grout.

Ott knew automation was the best solution for improving efficiency, ergonomics and appearance. However, the customer wanted an inexpensive, low-tech solution. Ott sold him bi-level deck brushes. When results improved, the customer began to trust Ott’s recommendations and eventually switched to 2-gallon autoscrubbers.

“The progression was from being on hands and knees, to standing up, to automating the task,” Ott says. “Sometimes you have to lead them through the steps.”

Helping customers achieve results pays off in repeat business. Make sure you can help your customers with their pad and brush needs by developing a complete understanding of how to select the proper tool, and how to use them.

Key Knowledge
When selecting a pad or brush, the most important issues to examine are the type of flooring to be cleaned, and the kind of floor care being performed. Scrubbing concrete will require a very different product than polishing terrazzo, for example.

“We need to look at what they are trying to accomplish and where they want to end up in terms of appearance,” Ott says. “It’s probably going to be different if we are talking about a warehouse versus a lobby in an office building.”

First, ask your customer about their flooring. Is it hard or soft? Does it have uneven surfaces? Are there large or light grout lines? What type of finish does it have?

Armed with this information, you can help them choose the appropriate pad or brush for each of their floor care needs, including daily cleaning, scrubbing, stripping and burnishing.

“I’ve been in this business 30 years and I’m a believer that if you have a smooth surface, use a pad on it,” says Thomas Mekeel, president and owner of Sac-Val Janitorial Sales and Service, West Sacramento, Calif. “If you have an uneven, grouted surface, use a brush.”

To aid in the selection process, manufacturers color code pads and brushes based on aggressiveness. Lighter colors, such as white and pink, are smoothest and best used for polishing or burnishing. Mid-tones, such as red and green, are made for routine cleaning or scrubbing. Black are the most aggressive and are used for stripping.

Even with this general guide, there are nuances to the selection process. For example, rubber floors are probably always best served by a less-aggressive pad regardless of the task at hand, because even a fine-grit brush can eat away at the surface. Unfinished natural stone — such as slate — is best cleaned by brushes because pads — no matter how aggressive — would likely skim right over the nooks and crannies of the floor.

Another important factor in the decision process is the type and size of equipment the facility uses. Hand cleaning, while rare, is best accomplished with brushes. Scrubbing should be performed with a 175-rpm machine while burnishing requires at least a 1200-rpm machine. Pair the appropriate color pad or grit brush to the machine and task.

Also, be sure to sell the correct size pad for the equipment. A 21-inch burnisher needs a 21-inch pad, not a 20-inch pad. If you use too small a pad, the uncovered edges of the machine are likely to hit the wall and cause damage or leave a wax buildup around the baseboards.

Errors In Judgment
A wax buildup is just one potential problem of using an incorrect pad or brush. However, there are far more troubling consequences of improper care. Using a brush that is too aggressive on a soft surface, such as asphalt tile, can permanently scratch the floor. Using a pad designed for a low-speed buffer on a high-speed burnisher can leave marks and powdering on the floor.

“We’ve had customers go in on a weekend who just needed to top scrub and they used a black pad and ended up stripping the floor,” Mekeel recalls. “When they were done, the floors had a blotchy look. All they wanted was an even scrub, so they should have used a green or red pad. Afterwards, they had to strip it all down and that’s very labor intensive.”

Pads and brushes may seem self-explanatory to someone who’s been in the business for many years, but it’s important to remember that many end users are not old pros. They need your hand holding to avoid costly mistakes.

“The pads are color coded for a reason,” Mekeel says. “They need to learn what they are and we try to help them.”

Avoiding potential problems is why Charles E. Barnes Sr., president of Memphis Chemical and Janitorial Supply, Memphis, Tenn., keeps his recommendations clear and simple.

“A professional who knows what they are doing may use an aggressive pad on a softer floor,” Barnes says. “But I would never suggest that because you don’t want to end up damaging somebody’s floor.”

It is wise to steer people away from using a more aggressive product than needed, even if some seasoned pros could make it work. Too many users jump at the most aggressive solution with the idea that a stronger product is always a better product. This thinking is the root of many floorcare problems because most mistakes involve using too much force and floors are ruined in the process.

Another common rookie mistake is not removing debris from the floor before using a pad or brush. Debris can get caught in the pad or brush and reduce its efficacy or, worse, cause scratches and other damage.

“Every now and then we get a call because the brush isn’t stripping the finish off,” says Joshua Kraft, sales manager and education coordinator for Bruco Inc., Billings, Mont. “The short bristles of a pad driver are not effective stripping brushes. Know your equipment before you start your work.”

Personal Touch
Making suggestions over the phone and sending the correct products in the mail are important, but likely not enough to stop disasters from happening. The best way to ensure your customer will be successful is to get up-close-and-personal with them from start to finish.

Start by doing an on-site survey of the facility. This gives you an opportunity to verify the types of surfaces to be cleaned as well as check for cleaning mistakes.

“There’s no replacement for being able to see the type of floor, what type of traffic is going across it, and to find out what they are currently doing so we can respond appropriately,” Ott says. “We try to be consultants to our customers and solve problems. If you can do that at the beginning, you avoid possible repercussions down the road.”

While not all errors are visible, there are often telltale signs. Look for scratches or swirls in the finish, a shadowy appearance on the surface, or powder on the floor, especially in the corners where it may not have been cleaned up.

These are all indications that the cleaner is using a product that is too aggressive for the floor.

If the customer is defensive or leery of your inspection, let him know that you are there to save him money. Using the correct product will always reduce expenses on both products and labor.

“Also, it protects your flooring warranty by knowing what you are doing before the work starts,” Kraft says.

After visiting the site, help the customer select the best products for their particular needs. But don’t let your involvement end there. Return to provide on-site training on how to use the pads and brushes including initial training, follow-up sessions for new hires, and regular refresher courses for all staff.

Mekeel’s company goes a step further by also coordinating its chemicals to its floor equipment. It creates a customized plan for each customer that includes a bundle of products as well as on-site training and education manuals for the employees.

“We tell them how often to do it, when to do it, and what pad goes with what chemical so the customer isn’t guessing,” Mekeel says. “You have to be there for the customer. If you don’t offer that kind of service, you won’t be in this business long.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SM.