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Global Trends in Waxes & Polishes.

Multinationals are developing global product technologies to meet changing floor maintenance practices around the world.

FLOOR POLISH vehicles have improved dramatically over the past two decades. Polymers currently available to the formulator deliver very high levels of gloss and much greater durability than their predecessors. The challenge today for formulators and manufacturers is to provide polishes with longer-lasting gloss, while minimizing labor costs which constitute more than 90% of floor maintenance expense. The drive to lower labor costs is the most prevalent trend in the I&I and household markets on a worldwide basis.

The manipulation of aqueous latex polymer composition and polish formulation is still the major technology used to improve polish performance properties. However, it is not the only technology available. Another method to boost polish performance is sequential polymerization. In sequential polymerization, the properties of synthetic polymers are manipulated by designing a high styrene polymer core with an all-acrylic shell. This manipulation of polymer particle morphology combines the durability of an all-acrylic with the gloss of a highly styrenated polymer.

A third method for changing polish performance properties is to manipulate the polish film morphology. In this technology, the film formation process is altered so that ion association clusters are formed in the polish film. This gives the polish the uniquely durable physical/mechanical properties of a highly covalent crosslinked film without detracting from polish removability. These physical/mechanical properties translate into a very high level of gloss retention and resistance to traffic damage, particularly resistance to black marking. This manipulation of film morphology is also carried out with very low ammonia content in the formulation, resulting in very rapid recoatability and high gloss build.

As any realist must recognize, new technologies for floor care are more expensive than the old technologies they are intended to replace. As preliminaries to even entering the market, they require a dedicated research commitment, inventive chemists and engineers, a broad manufacturing technology base, an intimate understanding of market needs and formulators with the vision to recognize new market opportunities. With these requisites in place, the new technology will be successful in the market, even at a higher price, if it is able to provide a savings for the end user. This savings is measured in terms of reduced maintenance, while providing improved appearance and ease of use. This article will provide a look at this and other major trends affecting the global wax and polish market.

North America

Labor-saving polymers. The drive to reduce labor costs associated with floor maintenance has led to the development of high-performance, low maintenance floor polish vehicles. The most recent technology is that of mixed-metal crosslinking polymers which represent a dramatic improvement in gloss and durability over conventional zinc crosslinking chemistry--without compromising high speed burnish response. Mixed-metal emulsions contain both alkali and transition metals. These emulsions cure and crosslink right on the floor. They can be formulated in the traditional way and can be removed with conventional strippers. This technology provides highly durable finishes that work with all forms of maintenance equipment--from slow-speed machines up to ultrahigh-speed burnishers.

Floor polish emulsions containing mixed metals provide a way of obtaining better scuff and mark resistance without incurring the drawbacks of reactive chemistry. Innovative polymer design has given these vehicles some of the elastic modulus properties of cured-film systems. Yet, as thermoplastic polymers, mixed-metal containing latexes do not produce brittle films and offer the ease of handling and formulation and removability commonly associated with zinc-crosslinked acrylic floor polish polymers.

By raising the bar of durability, mixed-metal polymers have permitted the formulation of longer-lasting polishes that substantially reduce the frequency of maintenance, lowering costs to end-user facilities. That's why polishes made with these labor-saving polymers are finding expanded use by cost-competitive labor providers such as contract cleaning companies. Besides reducing labor costs, mixed-metal polymers are "odor friendly." Polishes made with this technology have a very low ammonia odor, making them ideally suited to environments where people are highly sensitive to odors and in buildings that operate for extensive periods of time.

Contract cleaners. Contract cleaners provide a broad range of services to their end-user customers. These run the gamut from snow removal, painting and exterior maintenance, food and laundry services, to pest control, landscaping, building security and interior facility maintenance. Contract cleaners free up in-house janitorial staff to handle other responsibilities and are a good source of information on the latest products and equipment for building and grounds maintenance. However, the principal function of contract cleaners is to supply interior maintenance services. These cleaning duties include floor care (from simple cleaning to waxing, polishing, stripping and sealing), restroom maintenance, carpet and upholstery repair and window cleaning.

Today contract cleaners consume 28% of the janitorial and household cleaning products used in the U.S. Since the early 1990s, the average annual growth rate of the contract cleaning industry has been 8.2%--nearly twice that of the I&I market, which has increased by an average of 5%. The expanding importance of contract cleaners reflects a trend by companies to outsource labor to contractors to lower their maintenance costs, while providing a total facility maintenance solution. Contract cleaners purchase more floor care products (45% of total purchases) than any other product group. To maintain current business and capture new business, contract cleaners are constantly looking for products that will minimize their costs by reducing the labor required to maintain floors. It's no surprise that longer-lasting polishes formulated with labor-saving, mixed-metal technology are in increasing demand by contract cleaners and are making a major contribution to their continuing Success.

Maintenance flexibility. There is a growing interest in the creation of polishes having the versatility to be maintained by any type of machine. Polishes based on metal-crosslinked, modified acrylic polymer technology have been developed to meet this need. This technology imparts to polishes the ability to be maintained by machines which range from low-speed spray buffers to high-speed propane burnishers. These polishes are specially designed for areas where very good lay-down gloss and durability are required. The tremendous versatility of these finishes makes them ideal candidates for virtually all maintenance environments. They are expected to find significant use in schools, health care facilities and retail establishments.

High burnish response/sustained gloss. Another important growth area continues to be highly burnish-responsive floor polishes that produce sustained gloss. This is particularly important in retail establishments (discount and department stores, supermarkets and grocery stores), where floors having a "wet look" gloss are desired. There was an initial introduction of polishes that, once they were burnished, returned as good or better gloss than they originally had. However, today's marketing needs require that these highly burnishable coatings must also provide acceptable slip resistance. Accordingly, manufacturers and formulators are now striving to upgrade these products, while building on technology that will improve durability, provide the desired slip resistance and lower labor costs considerably.

Switch from solvent-borne. Another significant trend is the gradual switch from solvent-borne, oil-modified urethanes (OMU) to water-based systems in important markets. For example, water-based technology for wood finishes has taken a leap of performance in recent years and now is cutting into the market share of OMU. The latest type of water-based technology--a crosslinking, one-pot chemistry based on the silanol-siloxane reaction--has been used to produce clear finishes designed specifically for athletic surfaces, such as gymnasiums and racquetball courts. These finishes have excellent durability and a high gloss comparable to that of OMU, without the flammability and toxicity concerns and yellowing discoloration typical of OMU. In addition, these aqueous thermoset coatings provide a slip resistance that matches the OMU standard--an important safety consideration. Sneakers are designed to work with OMU films. If the slip resistance of the finish is above the standard established by OMU films, the sneakers will lose their ability to slide smoothly, resulting in toe injuries. If slip resistance is below the standard, knee injuries will result. What's more, the aqueous silanol-siloxane chemistry avoids the extremely serious problem of side bonding (shrinking stress that can cause cracking or splitting of the wood), which is common to wood finishes based on aqueous polyurethane dispersions.

In addition to their expanding use in the I&I market, wood finishes based on this silanol-siloxane chemistry are gaining steady acceptance in the household market because they provide an aqueous product with industrial-grade durability.

Environmentally-friendly products. With the advent of improved communications and the increasing trend toward "corporate globalization," manufacturers and formulators must meet environmental requirements and be aware of regional environmental sensitivities in other parts of the world if they are to successfully market their products there. For suppliers of floor polishes, regional regulations are becoming global regulations and products friendly to the environment in one region are finding expanded use in others. Examples of these products, initially marketed in North America, can be seen in the European and Asia-Pacific regions.


Gloss and labor savings. In the northern parts of Europe polishes having high gloss is not a requirement. Polishes with low-moderate gloss are preferred for several reasons. High gloss is frequently associated with a slippery surface, a perceived severe safety hazard in hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, northern Europeans believe high gloss polishes more clearly reveal the irregularities in flooring surfaces. (In comparison, the small surface irregularities common in highly polished floors in U.S. supermarkets would be totally unacceptable to them.) Northern Europeans also prefer the low-sheen, "natural" look of finished wood and other surfaces. For these reasons polishes based on allacrylic technology, providing good laydown gloss and durability, continue to be the products of choice for facilities which receive low frequency maintenance.

Southern Europeans, on the other hand, are very impressed with the highly attractive "wet look" of high gloss and are willing to overlook flooring surface defects to achieve it. However, long-lasting gloss is more important to them than "wet look" gloss for economic reasons. Most facilities in Southern Europe simply can't afford to burnish every day. They are willing to sacrifice additional gloss for longer-lasting gloss because it will require less maintenance. Reflecting regional preferences, the trend is accelerating toward polishes utilizing mixed metals crosslinking technology to provide outstanding gloss and durability while offering a superior balance of detergent resistance and removability.

Equipment. In contrast to maintenance practices in North America, very few propane burnishers are being used in Europe. Instead, 2000 rpm electric high speed machines are used in environments where high gloss is needed. Running at 220 volts, these machines have more power than their North American counterparts (which run at 110 volts). This allows European electric burnishing units to provide more pressure at any given rpm, delivering higher gloss to the polish. While closing the performance gap with propane burnishers, these high speed electric units are popular with Europeans for another reason: they are far less noisy to operate.

A major exception to this heavy focus on electric high speed machines is reflected in the trend of floor maintenance practices being introduced by North America-based mass merchandisers, notably in Germany. These merchandisers have traditionally used high gloss floor polishes in their U.S. stores because experience has shown that the appearance of their floors has a big influence on the buying decisions of shoppers. Consequently, these floors have to be burnished frequently. This has opened up a promising new market for high-gloss polishes in Europe -- but one that requires use of ultra-high-speed burnishers, rather than electric high speed units, to attain the required gloss levels.

Ecology. This is the preeminent driver for floor polishes in Europe. It is mandatory that floor polishes have the lowest possible adverse effect on the environment. They are desired to be alkyl phenol ethoxylate-free, biodegradable, non-toxic, and fluorocarbon-free. This focus on "environmentally-friendly" products is a major reason for the acceptance of zinc-free floor finishes in the I&I and household markets --not surprising, since Europeans were much quicker to jump on the zinc-free bandwagon than U.S. flooring professionals due to the ecological advantages of these finishes. Europeans are very sensitive to the fact that low concentrations of zinc in wastewater reduce the ability of specific bacteria to decompose sewage, inhibiting sewage plant efficiency. Along with the environmental considerations of eliminating the possibility of zinc contamination in formulator and end-user waste streams, zinc-free polishes continue to find success in the household market because of other important benefits. They are easy to remove and have industrial-grade durability, which is expected in this market. The general durability of European household polishes is higher than that of comparable U.S. finishes and probably closer to the durability standard of moderate I&I polishes in this country.

Another example of the "ecological conscience" of Europeans is the increasing emphasis on reducing the amount of cleaning chemicals that go down the drain at home and in the workplace. Europeans have discovered that "less is best." They can economize on use of ecologically-negative soaps and wash-wax detergents to clean floors by first protecting them with polish.

Removability. In recent years the technology of zinc-free polishes has become increasingly sophisticated, so that removability is no longer a barrier for this technology to find acceptance in the European household market.


Reducing maintenance costs. Formulators serving the I&I market in this region face a challenge that is not encountered to the same degree by their counterparts in other parts of the world. This region has the highest population concentrations on the planet and the heaviest concentrations of foot traffic in metropolitan areas. Unlike in the U.S. and Europe, pedestrians here tend to wear casual footwear only on the weekends. For the rest of the time they wear the far more substantial "business-type" shoes. Repeated traffic from many individuals wearing these shoes rapidly degrades floor polishes. To stand up to this pounding, polishes must have exceptional resistance to heel marking and dirt pickup. However, in parts of this region, labor costs are high and floor maintenance is expensive. As in Southern Europe, it is not financially feasible to buff floors daily. That's why the trend is increasing in the Asia-Pacific Region toward polishes made with mixed-metal crosslinking technology to minimize maintenance frequency. This trend has received added impetus by the expanding role of contract cleaners in floor maintenance in Asia-Pacific countries. Like their North American and European counterparts, contract cleaners here also apply longer-lasting polishes made with labor-saving, mixed-metal polymers.

Discontinuing formaldehyde. Traditionally, floor polish formulations have employed a 37% formaldehyde solution to protect their products from microbial contamination. Formaldehyde's major performance benefit is low-cost efficacy. In recent years, however, serious questions have arisen about the safety of formaldehyde exposure. Because of toxicity concerns, the use of formaldehyde biocides has been discontinued in Japan, and this trend may find its way to other Asia-Pacific countries. To replace formaldehyde, the Japanese have turned to biocides based on breakthrough isothiazolone chemistry. These biocides are not dangerous to the environment if handled properly, are completely biodegradable and present no long-term ecological threat. The active ingredients of these biocides are effective against many types of fungi and bacteria at very low concentrations. This broad spectrum of antimicrobial efficacy means floor polish manufacturers do not need a combination of agents to ensure good protection. Efficacy at low concentrations assures that these biocides can be used sparingly and therefore economically. In addition to broad spectrum efficacy and strength, isothiazolones retain their microbial capacity during storage.

No more APE. Another trend, principally in Japan, has been the continuing elimination of APE surfactants because of the environmental concerns they pose. This trend is similar to what took place in Europe a decade ago. Bioaccumulation of APE surfactants, and the possibility of these surfactants acting as "environmental endocrine disruptors," has prompted raw material manufacturers and formulators to develop products that eliminate the need for these ingredients or rely on other "environmentally acceptable" alternatives.

Odor-friendly polishes. This is one of the primary drivers for floor polishes in the Asia-Pacific region. This requirement--it is considered far more important here than in North America --has resulted in rapidly increasing use of polishes made with mixed-metal polymer technology, which has a low ammonia odor.

Multiple polish technology shifts. For years conventional styreneacrylic, metal-crosslinked floor polish polymer technology was prevalent in this region. However, this technology has a tendency to produce polishes that attract dirt and detract from the overall durability of the film. For these reasons, floor polishes based on the all-acrylic technology have supplanted styreneacrylic chemistry in the Asia-Pacific region because they have an improved dirt pickup resistance.

Managers of end-use facilities are looking for polishes that have longer-lasting gloss and higher resistance to dirt pickup. Formulators have developed polishes that provide these all-important performance benefits through use of two different technologies. One technology maximizes the qualities of gloss and durability by use of sequential feed polymerization. This process allows for polymer particle architecture that combines the positive aspects of highly styrenated acrylic polymers with the durability associated with all-acrylic polymers.

The second technology, which appears to be more prevalent in this region, is that of mixed-metal crosslinking chemistry. This chemistry provides an unmatched gloss/durability combination, thereby reducing the frequency of maintenance and lowering costs to end-user facilities.

Needs Drive Change

The motivation of labor savings can be seen throughout the evolution of floor polish technology. Just as with the biological natural selection process, the evolution of technology in floor care is an ongoing process. Though the changes of the past half century could be viewed as a revolution in technology, rather than an evolution, the pressures from the market environment which have driven these changes have not disappeared. Hence, the change process will continue.

Michael Locco is market manager-floor care products in the Americas. Dr. Theodore Tysak is global floor care technology manager. Both are based at the Rohm and Haas Research Laboratories in Spring House, PA. Viktor Stadelmann is European floor care technical manager and is headquartered at the Rohm and Haas location in Valbonne, France.
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Author:Locco, Michael; Tysak, Theodore; Stadelmann, Viktor
Publication:Household & Personal Products Industry
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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