This article, The Evolution, Value, and Future of Floor Finish, was prepared for client Betco
It was not that many years ago that property managers, wanting their floors to have a higher-gloss shine, would ask their jansan distributors and contract cleaners if they could suggest a good “wax” to use on the floor. For more than a century, that was the term used to describe floor finishes, and there was a good reason for it.
Many of the early floor polishes were pastes made from leaves of the carnauba plant mixed with solvents and other ingredients. These waxes were combined with water to make a liquid paste, which could be buffed using a low-speed machine to clean the floor and produce a reasonably good shine.
Polymer emulsion finishes, introduced about 40 years ago, were the first really big advance in floor finishes. These were more durable than waxes, easier to apply to the floor, and usually required little maintenance other than dust and damp mopping. However, over time, the appearance of the floor—specifically the shine—would deteriorate, usually requiring that the floor be stripped and refinished.
From here, metallic floor finishes were introduced that offered more protection to the floor and, unlike their immediate predecessors, could be buffed. This meant scratches, heel marks, and more deeply embedded soils on the surface of the floor could be removed by buffing, restoring the floor to a high-gloss shine. This also helped reduce strip/refinishing cycles, which proved—among other things—to be a significant cost savings.
Today, many floor finishes incorporate a combination of ingredients including acrylics and polymers that are far more protective of the floor—the ultimate goal of a floor finish—and can also be burnished using ultra-high-speed burnishers.
It was with these floor finishes that the “wet look” floor, often found in medical facilities and grocery stores, was introduced.
How Much Is the Floor Worth?
Because the finish is the foundation of an effective floorcare program, selecting the correct one is among the most important decisions a facility manager or contract cleaner can make. When David Frank, a frequent presenter at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN® tradeshows and President of the American Institute of Cleaning Sciences, is asked his advice on which type of floor finish managers and contractors should select, he usually asks them: How much is the floor worth?
This might dumbfound some people at first. But when they understand why he is asking the question, they come to realize that it is possibly the most important question to be asked when it comes to floor finish selection and the long-term maintenance of floors in a commercial facility. He is asking, essentially, if the floor is in a high-traffic, highly visible and important area such as a lobby seen by all visitors to a facility. Or is it a building service entrance or walkway used just by staff and vendors of the building? Where and how the floor is used will have an impact on the amount of time, energy, labor, and money that the facility manager will likely want to spend on the floor…in other words, how much the floor is worth to the manager.
This will also determine what types of floor finishes will likely be applied. For instance, for the service entrance, a highly durable floor finish that provides a moderately high-gloss shine with infrequent buffing would likely be the best finish selection. The goal here is first to protect the floor and then to keep the floor looking clean and presentable.
For common areas or office areas used by both staff and visitors of the facility, a more versatile finish that combines durability and reparability and can be burnished regularly to maintain a higher-gloss shine would be the preferable choice. Finally, for more prominent areas where a “wet look” shine is desired, an ultra-high-speed burnishable finish is the best bet. This is a high-maintenance floor that will likely need to be cleaned and burnished daily in order to achieve the desired wet look.
Next Steps in Floor Finishes
We can expect floor finishes to continue to evolve. While it has been a relatively challenging process, in recent years environmentally preferable, green-certified floor finishes have been developed that are proving to be comparable to traditional floor finishes in both cost and performance. With some of these more advanced green finishes, zinc, which can prove harmful to the environment, has been removed, and these finishes may also require fewer coats to achieve the desired results.
Additionally, finishes that dry and cure faster, allowing the user to recoat the floor in as little as 15 minutes, are just now being introduced. This will likely prove to be a major advance in floor finishes because some finishes can take up to an hour to dry and cure before the next of several coats can be applied. Because floorcare is a time- and labor-intensive cleaning task, any finish that can reduce curing time will likely be well received by both facility managers and contractors.