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The use - and misuse - of floor buffers and floor scrubbers
The question put to our panel of experts a month ago about how to 'make good' six floors of metal tiles that had been scratched by a buffer, led to a great deal of discussion but sadly no cheap solution to the problem! Here one of our experts, Rafael Cobos of the highly respected consultancy Futureclean Assured Systems discusses why buffing machines need to be handled with care...
Floor buffers and scrubbers are remarkably useful cleaning equipment, yet like all other industrial cleaning machines, they are capable of causing significant and expensive damage. We all know the damage that can be caused through the misuse of a pressure washer on soft surfaces, as such we are instinctively cautious - at least we should be. Are we just as cautious when using floor buffering machines and scrubbers? Do we stop to consider the possible effect(s) they have on different floor materials? And how the floor material properties vary over the life of the floor?
The first thing to consider is the weight of these floor machines, starting at 40Kg for the small ones and going upwards, they are quite heavy. This weight exerts a large pressure, but even and static, over the floor area (diameter of around 450mm) directly beneath the pad or brush. However, when the machine is in operation the pressure shifts from front to back as the operator lifts and lowers the handle respectively. In doing so, the pressure is concentrated onto a much smaller area and as a result the force exerted on to the floor increases significantly.
The next thing to consider is the force exerted by the rotation of the pad or brush as the machine is being used. As the handle is lifted and lowered in order to cause the machine to sweep side to side, the force is directed at an angle to the surface of the floor. The abrasiveness of the pad or brush imparts friction against the floor surface, which is a function of the pressure and force exerted by the machine.
The fore and aft swinging action of the pad or brush is relatively imperceptible, but it is enough to concentrate the forces on to a much smaller area. This concentration of forces (the pressure exerted by the weight of the machine and the friction generated by the force of rotation) imparts a high frictional resistance against the floor surface, and in combination with the abrasiveness of the pad or brush, the heat generated permanently affects the floor surface material, usually through heat softening or through wear. Of course, on every pass the damage caused happens on the microscopic level and slowly builds up after a large number of passes; the degree of damage depends on the 'hardness' of the floor material, the time spent using the machine and how the machine was used.
The implications of over-buffing, even with a light coloured pad, or misuse of the machine cannot really be understated. Obviously, over-buffing wears the floor surface away leading to premature aging, but more importantly it also dramatically affects the slip rating. All common polymer-based flooring (rubber, vinyl, EPDM, etc) has tiny ridges and troughs in the surface which increases the surface roughness and hence the slip resistance. Buffing of these soft surfaces permanently wears those ridges and troughs away, creating a smoother and a more slippery surface.
Please take note that buffing will affect the slipperiness of the floor and often negatively.
On some floor types that are already smooth, like metal or painted floors, buffing or scrubbing has a particularly detrimental effect in that the abrasiveness of the pad or brush and the pressure exerted causes the surface to be scored with thousands of fine radial lines. Unfortunately, this is permanent damage and can only be remediated by specialist floor polishing or recoating the floor.
What if a floor polish is applied and buffing takes place to maintain the 'shine'? The floor polish acts as a very good sacrificial coating, in that it wears away as a sacrifice to the underlining floor material. Again, bear in mind that all floor coatings and polishes will change the original slip resistance value of the bare floor, and that equally applies to repeated buffing the coating.
What is the answer? If over-buffing reduces the life of a floor and changes the slip resistance value, then keep it to a minimum and make sure that the machine is properly used and maintained. Also, move away from the false notion that 'shiny floors are clean floors', they are not. Use sacrificial coatings and polishes that provided adequate slip resistance, even after buffing, and are hard enough to resist wear.
6th December 2012