The History of Floor Machines

  • The History of Floor Machines

The first useful electric-powered floor machines date back to the early 1900s. Coincidentally, this was about the same time vacuum cleaners were introduced, which we discussed last month.
The first floor machines were known as "divided-weight" machines. With these machines, the bulk of the weight of the machine was on its rear wheels, which remained on the floor during operation. The buffer rolled in a push-pull fashion over the floor for both scrubbing and polishing.
These early machines used brushes made of Tampico and Bassine, vegetable fibers used for centuries for floor scrubbing and polishing. To polish wood floors, carnauba wax would be applied to the floor, and then polished to a shine by going back and forth over the floor with the buffer.
Divided-weight machines lacked sufficient speed, weight, and pressure over the brush to produce a high-gloss shine, and they were hard to maneuver. The major benefits for the user were that the machines were faster and less strenuous to use than polishing a floor by hand.
Swinging into the 1920s
It was not long before manufacturers realized that the more pressure on the brush, the better would be the scrubbing and polishing action. This led to the "swing" machine, which centered its weight on the brush; the rear wheels lifted off the floor during operation.
Getting accustomed to these new machines took some time. Often the cleaning professional's first time on a swing buffer was more like riding a wild bull at a rodeo. These machines seemed to have a mind of their own, and if the nearest wall was where they wanted to go, only training and skill could stop them.
However, in time the swing machine evolved into the 175-rpm electric buffer, probably the most common floor machine used today.
By the late 1950s, manufacturers began introducing the first high-speed, or variable speed, floor machines.  The operator could adjust these machines to rotate at 175 to 350 rpm.
Enter the 1960s and chemical manufacturers were introducing new types of floor finishes that produced a higher gloss shine, a "wet look" as it was called, if polished by a faster rotating floor machine.  Additionally, the finish could be spray buffed, helping to maintain the shine and the floor's appearance for greater periods of time.
Floor technology continued to advance, further extending the length of time required between refinishing. By the 1970s, rotation speeds of 750 to 1,000 rpm were common. Because of the higher rpm, some floor finishes "fractured" or "powdered" under the faster machines, and often pads would quickly degrade because of the speed. Improved floor pads were introduced, and new finishes produced an even higher-gloss shine. Ultimately, the pad and chemical manufacturers introduced products that would hold up well with electric machines producing 1,500 to 2,000 rpm.
A New Floor care Approach?
Although it is doubtful conventional floor machines will ever disappear, a new technology has evolved over the past few years that is certainly giving the old technology a "run for the money."
The new system: Kaivac's KaiAuto.
KaiAuto uses a wide-area squeegee that applies cleaning solution to floors and then extracts it along with soils and contaminants?all at the same time.  The system is much easier to use and does not require the time and training of conventional floorcare machines.
Part of the No-Touch Cleaning? system, the KaiAuto is "finish-friendly," requiring no harsh scrubbing action and helping to safeguard the floors' finish and reduce refinishing cycles.
It also helps protect indoor air quality because of the wetting action?dust particulates do not become airborne and are vacuumed up for easy removal.  Because it helps extend refinishing cycles and helps protect indoor air quality, the KaiAuto is viewed as a much more economical and environmentally responsible floor care system when compared to conventional floorcare equipment.

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