Floor maintenance is both an art and a science. The same can be said for buying floor maintenance machinery. The many nuances include: choosing a a low speed buffer or high-speed burnisher; knowing which machine will do what; and determining compatibility, size, power and price.
The two principal types of floor machines are the “traditional” low-speed buffer, and the high-speed burnisher. Each type of machine has it pros and cons, which are very important considerations.
The traditional buffer
The traditional buffer has been used for decades for both commercial and residential cleaning. This machine rotates at about 175 RPM; there also are dual-speed machines that can rotate at either 175 or 300 RPMs.
When purchasing a buffer, look for machines with a heavy-duty metal frame and a base that is 17 to 20 inches in size. The 17-inch base is the standard for the industry, though you can find larger and smaller machines. The larger the machine, the more area it will cover and the faster it will complete your work. However, too large a machine may make it difficult to work in smaller areas; too small a machine will add to your workload in a larger area. (If this is your first machine, purchase a standard 17-inch unit.)
The buffer should have rubber bumpers around the base to protect clients’ walls and furniture, a safety lock-out switch so the machine can stop immediately and a 50-foot power cord.
Also, consider purchasing a tank and shampoo brush with your buffer. With these attachments, low speed buffers also can be used for carpet shampooing, bonnet carpet cleaning, and even sanding and grinding.
Buffers should be seen as an investment, not an expense. They can last for years and have good resale value. Three to four companies make the motors that drive most buffers and, according to Horne, all are considered good and dependable.
A new buffer will cost $800 to $1000. Used machines usually sell for about half that price, depending on age and upkeep. Definitely consider a well-maintained, used machine, if you are looking to save equipment costs.
High-speed machines, also known as burnishers, rotate at more than 10 times the speed of a conventional buffer, usually between 1,500 and 3,000 RPMs.
Burnishers rotate faster than buffers, but they also are much heavier, which helps provide a “wet-look” shine and maintain floors quite well. They also are much more complicated, requiring more maintenance and upkeep than a traditional buffer.
When deciding what type of burnisher to buy, consider the power source. Some burnishers are electric-cord powered; others are battery powered; and others run on propane.
Electric-cord burnishers: The electric cord burnisher is the least expensive, the lightest and the easiest to maintain. Because it is lighter, it is best used for smaller spaces such as individual offices and small office buildings.
By changing a pulley on some corded models, the machine can be adjusted to about 350 RPMs. At this lower speed — and with a splashguard attached — the burnisher can be used for stripping a floor as well.
When used for burnishing or polishing, it’s a good idea to purchase a dust catch — the high speed of these machines can make dust a real problem.
Electric cord burnishers usually come with a 50-foot, 14-gauge power cord. Battery-powered burnishers: Battery-powered burnishers do an “acceptable job” according to Earl, who has more than 40 years in the janitorial supply business. Hospitals and medical centers often prefer the battery-powered units because they enable one worker to cover a larger area more quickly, he says. Both the electric and battery operated machines have a standard base size of 20 to 24 inches.
These units also should have a dust control attachment to capture as much dust as possible.
Propane burnishers: The propane burnisher is the “big daddy” of the floor machines. If your client list includes large retail stores, you will have little choice but to use a propane burnisher to maintain these massive locations.
Propane burnishers today often are walk-behind units with a 20- to 27-inch rotating base. They can reach speeds up to 3000 RPMs. Their heavy weight — 285 to 320 pounds — helps produce the best floor shine possible.
While buffers have just a few parts, propane burnishers have a larger variety as well as much more complex engines. They are more like a small car and need to be maintained as such. The oil itself should be checked and changed on a regular basis. They also have catalytic converters that need maintenance and attention from time to time as well.
Should the unit run low on oil, most machines have an automatic “cut off” to protect the engine.
Repairs for a propane burnisher can get expensive, especially if the machines have not been maintained well or have been abused. They have an average life expectancy of 700 to 800 hours, but that can extend with proper maintenance.
Purchasing a burnisher is a much more costly proposition than a traditional buffer. These machines can cost from $2,000 to more than $5,000, but many supply houses will arrange bank financing or lease-to-own arrangements.
Buffers and burnishers essentially are incompatible. The waxes, pads and materials used for a low-speed buffer are inappropriate for a high-speed burnisher. This is because the burnisher rotates at such a fast rate, it literally would burn-up the pads and the finish used for a low speed buffer. And a buffer rotates too slowly to work with the waxes and pads made for a burnisher. Essentially, both types of machines have their own pads, polishes, waxes and accessories, making both a complete, but separate, floor maintenance care system
Riding a new machine
The first time you use a buffer is like the first time riding a wild steer; it can get a bit crazy. They seem to have a life and direction all their own, going just about every-which-way. But after a few times out, you will learn how to control one. Lifting the handle slightly up or down will move the machine to the right or the left. Be very careful to stay clear of any electric cords for, in a quick second, the cord will be wrapped around the machine.