Floor polishes have changed significantly over the decades, and as they've changed, so too has the floor maintenance industry.
Floor polishes have changed significantly over the decades,
and as they’ve changed, so too has the floor maintenance industry. Natural
waxes that played an integral part of the early floor maintenance polishes have
gone by the wayside, and new polymer emulsion finishes have successfully taken
Although there are many different varieties of floor
polishes today, the challenge of floor polishes is still the same; they must
protect the flooring material while being easy to clean, possess an acceptable
gloss appearance that is maintainable and provide a safe surface to walk on.
That’s an awful lot to ask of a thin film of plastic.
The term “wax” has been used for over a century in the floor
maintenance industry, although it is now somewhat of a misnomer. Its roots come
from the early days of floor maintenance with the use of natural waxes in early
polishes. Many of the original waxes were made from the carnuba plant and mixed
with a solvent to make a viscous paste wax.
These paste waxes were applied using steel wool pads and
maintained by buffing them with soft brushes in conjunction with a slow speed
rotary floor machine. Later carnuba waxes were suspended in water-based
emulsions to form liquid wax that could be easily applied with a mop instead of
steel wool, and were unproblematic to buff with a brush or soft pad.
When the first polymer emulsion floor seals and finishes
entered the market, they set in motion changes that impacted floor maintenance
then, and even more so today. The new floor polishes where more durable than
waxes and the ease of application was simple enough that almost anyone could
apply them without any trouble at all.
The early polymer emulsions were generally no-buff systems
that were applied and left to dry into a durable film. At this time there was
very little maintenance, you either scrubbed and recoated or stripped and
refinished. So the floors would start out looking very good and slowly
(sometimes quickly depending on traffic) deteriorate to an unacceptable
Cross link metal interlock floor finishes entered the
market, which resulted in durable floors that would hold up much better than
natural and early synthetic waxes. With them came spray buffing methodologies
that incorporated synthetic pads used in conjunction with low speed floor
machines. The finish was usually watered down 50/50 and applied to the floor
using a spray bottle in a small area. The process filled in superficial
scratches with floor finish and was buffed to a slightly higher gloss by
smoothing the surface with the floor machine and pad. This was a method that
was widely used and is still referenced in many specifications to this day.
Unfortunately, spray buffing was a time-consuming and a very
slow process. In order to speed up the process, high-speed and ultra high-speed
buffing machines were invented and better results were achieved quicker. With
the new machines came new variations of pads and floor finishes.
The new floor finishes were incorporating pure acrylic,
styrene acrylic and in some cases urethane polymers. Some of these floor
finishes became too hard and difficult to maintain, that’s when thermoplastic
polymers hit the market. These new floor finishes made a significant change in
floor maintenance. Thermoplastic floor finishes had the ability to become
malleable with heat and friction, but when they cooled down, they would
transform to a durable film. Battery and propane buffing equipment was invented
to maintain this new generation of floor finish and the “wet look” was easily
achieved and maintained.
Most of the history of floor finish has focused on the
durability, ease of cleaning, appearance and safety of the film. Modern
developments of floor finish include more durable polymers (semi-permanent and
permanent systems), higher solids content, matte finishes and slip resistant
formulations. One of the newest developments is the use of anti-microbial
preservatives in floor finishes.
This new technology allows for an EPA-registered broad
spectrum biostatic preservative to be incorporated into floor finish. The new
development results in a film that inhibits the growth of microorganisms that
it comes in contact with. This is not to say that it kills organisms that it
comes in contact with, rather it prevents micro-organisms from reproducing by
destabilizing metabolically active cell membranes which result in subsequent
growth inhibition and cell death.
The impact that antimicrobial preservatives in floor finish
may have is extremely important for floor maintenance programs in any
environment. But it is even higher when you consider the additional protection
that can be attained in the healthcare, education, day care, assisted living
and any other environment where micro-organisms exist. This may very well be
the single most important development for the future of floor maintenance in
The evolution of floor finishes has truly been a phenomenon
when you think about it. When the combination of wind, water and gravity can
erode the Himalayas, what chance does a thin polymeric film have against the
same elements? The ability to continually restore the “wet look” of that thin
film over and over again is nothing short of amazing. And now that technology
has given us the ability to build anti-microbial preservatives into floor
finish that protect us against what we can’t see, I would say we are treading
on ground that is very close to miraculous. Well, I guess it’s not just wax