In the past, when a new concrete floor was installed, it was ground to a high polish with diamond-grinding equipment. After that, though, there was no way to maintain the floor as the shine wore away.

"The only alternative was to come in and re-grind the floor, which was very costly, and it also ended up grinding away at the floor," says Marc DuCharme, national sales manager for Americo, Acworth, Ga.

These days, a relatively new product, diamond floor pads, allow janitors to clean and polish concrete, natural stone, marble, granite, travertine (limestone) and terrazzo floors on a regular basis.

"The pads don't actually grind down the floor," says DuCharme. "Rather, they micro-polish the top surface of the floor."

Concrete floors aren't coated with a layer of finish like the more common vinyl floors. As a result, the surface of hard flooring will get scratched and worn, says Randy Flowers, vice president of corporate accounts for ETC of Henderson Inc., Henderson, N.C.

This is where diamond floor pads come in. These pads are designed to polish the floor and remove scratches without damaging the floor — and without requiring chemicals.

"Diamond pads can do this because they are designed using smaller diamond abrasives, which are harder than the surfaces they are abrading," says Flowers.

Diamond floor pads have been used in Europe for the past five years and started appearing in the United States three years ago, says Ed Michels, marketing development manager - hard floor systems, for 3M Building & Commercial Services, St. Paul, Minn. It's really been the last two years, however, when the market for diamond floor pads has taken off.

How The Pads Work

Diamond pads are created by coating one side of a traditional floor pad with industrial diamonds.

"Diamonds are applied only to one side, because they are so expensive," says Flowers. "If we applied them to both sides, some of them would be removed by the pad driver, or the driver might get damaged."

The pads can provide everything from rough cleaning to fine polishing. They are designed to remove slight scratches and transform a dull, worn floor into a glossy and brightly polished one.

Many manufacturers have a series of pads, each one designed for a different purpose. The first pad is white, 800 grit, and is usually designed to remove smaller scratches, providing a clean and uniform surface that is ready for polishing. The second pad — yellow and 1,500 grit — is designed for a maintained floor, preparing it for high polishing. The yellow pad can remove small scratches and gives the floor a luster finish. The third pad, which is green and 3,000 grit, brings out the full shine and luster of the floor, giving it a "wet look."

A very aggressive, red, 400 grit pad is also available and can be used on damaged floors. It removes deeper scratches and discoloration in the stone.

In terms of equipment, diamond floor pads can be used to clean and polish concrete and stone surfaces using traditional equipment, such as low-speed autoscrubbers or swing machines, or on high-speed equipment. Most other stone polishing processes require heavy-weighted rotary machines or buffers.

"We recommend a high-speed burnisher," says DuCharme. "The first step is to mist the floor surface with a water bottle to help lubricate the pads."

Only water is needed to polish the floors. Diamond pads work without the use of waxes, sealers or strippers.

"The pads themselves actually polish the floor surface," says DuCharme.

Pads can be cleaned and then reused. End users should rinse them with hot water and then hang them up to dry, says Michels. If pads need more care, they can be soaked in a 8:1 parts water/stripper mixture for a few hours, then rinsed and dried, he adds.

"Most manufacturers also have a color indicator to tell you when the pads are used up, so that you don't discard them prematurely," says Michels.

Growing Popularity

Schools, retail stores, shopping malls, hospitals and government facilities are switching to concrete and hard floors as a way to lower costs. Hard floors have perceived lower installation and maintenance costs, but this is true only if the floors are properly maintained.

"If hard-surface floors are not maintained properly, the high cost of having to grind or resurface them can eliminate all or most of the short-term savings," says Flowers. "There is no such thing as a no-maintenance floor."

Besides the low costs associated with the floors themselves, diamond floor pads are growing in popularity because of ease. Janitors can use the pads to clean and polish stone surfaces using traditional equipment that most end users probably already own, so there are no new machines to buy, says Michels.

Other stone polishing processes require heavy-weighted rotary machines or buffers, adds Michels. So, janitorial companies or cleaning departments would need to buy specialized equipment that only would be used on some flooring.

With the acceptance of green cleaning and sustainable facilities, the environmental benefits are another reason these pads are growing in popularity.

"Rather than using the traditional stripping and finishing process that use chemicals, it is all done with pads," says Bradley. "As such, it is a much 'greener' approach."

The process is also safer for janitors since they don't have to handle harsh chemicals. There is less chance to damage floors, too, because there won't be mistakes of using the wrong chemical, says Dan Draper, president and CEO of Nationwide Janitorial Service, Mishawaka, Ind.

As more facilities switch to concrete and other hard floors, building service contractors and in-house service professionals will be interested in a product that can be used with their current equipment to save money and for ease of use. Diamond floor pads will be able to maintain floors without requiring expensive machines — or even chemicals.

William Atkinson is a freelance writer based in Carterville, Ill.

Diamond Brushes

Diamond floor pads are not the only option for polishing concrete floors. Diamond floor brushes, a related technology, are also gaining popularity. Different grits are available and users simply apply water to the floor rather than harsh chemicals.

"It only requires putting water down on the floor to get a polish with the brushes," says Jeff Malish, president of Malish Corp., Willoughby, Ohio.

Like diamond pads, another benefit of diamond brushes compared to the traditional grinding process is that the brushes have been developed to be used on standard floor cleaning equipment, including single disc machines and walk-behind or ride-on autoscrubbers.

"Most high-pressure grinding requires heavy-duty machines, most of which require 480 volt power," says Malish. "It is a complex and expensive process and requires a lot of training."