Nanotechnology-Small Leaps in Green Floor Finish
If you’ve been in the industry for any length of time—or even if you are a relative newbie—you have undoubtedly heard the oft-repeated pros and cons surrounding green floor finishes. Proponents of these floor polishes are quick to point out that green finishes are nontoxic, contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or harmful metals as binding agents and don’t contaminate the waterways when disposed of properly. In short, green floor polishes are better for the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
Conversely, critics of these safer formulas cite poor performance and durability and higher product and labor costs compared to their traditional counterparts. And until recently, these criticisms were often true.
A Brief History
Beeswax was an early choice for floors, selected largely for its ability to produce a glassy shine. Expensive and quick to dull, however, the beeswax was soon replaced by carnauba wax; known for the swirls produced in the buffing process much like appear when it is used for waxing the hood of a car. Next came the first synthetic floor finishes made of man-made polymers. While a welcome replacement for the more expensive and labor-intensive wax finishes, these new coatings were not without their drawbacks, including being difficult to remove. To combat this, researchers increased the acidity of the formulas, which made them easier to remove but reduced their durability.
This lack of hardness was soon solved by ingenious scientists who discovered that adding zinc, which would cross-link with the acids in the polymers, made the finishes more scratch, water, and detergent resistant without making them harder to remove.
It seemed the floor finish problem was solved…until the U.S Clean Water Act of 1972 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency included zinc on its list of “priority pollutants” thereby stripping zinc-imbued floor coatings of any chance to earn a green designation.
Calcium: Strong Bones. Yes. Floors? Not So Much
The need to remove zinc from floor finishes sent researchers back to their labs, and after much trial and error, they discovered the best non-toxic binding agent replacement for zinc was calcium.
Sadly, while calcium was proclaimed the safest “green” binding agent, it simply didn’t have the staying power of zinc or the other ingredients, making it the weakest link and the finishes less durable, which once again, drove up product and labor costs. So, while many wanted to “do the right thing,” and use less harmful floor coatings, the truth was they needed to use what worked, and the green formulations available fell short.
That is until nanotechnology appeared.
A Small Lesson
Nanotechnology involves the ability to see—and control —individual atoms and molecules at the “nano” size, according to Nano.gov. (For an idea of how tiny we are talking, consider that a sheet of newspaper is approximately 100,000 nanometers thick.) The technology has been around for centuries; however, the microscopes needed to see and manipulate things at the nano level were only discovered about 30 years ago. Since then, seeing has been believing.
At its simplest level, nanotechnology involves nanoparticles that fill in microscopic fissures in surfaces, creating a seal. Because the particles are bonding with themselves, there is no need for zinc, calcium or other potentially dangerous or subpar binding agents. The technology also eliminates the need for the ammonia used in traditional finishes. Meanwhile, nanotechnology offers advantages that are not possible in substances on a larger scale—attributes that have rocked the floor finish world.
Nanotechnology molecular floor coatings are safer, user-friendlier, and more durable, lasting up to 10 times longer than conventional floor finishes. The new nano-solutions help repel water, bacteria and dirt; dry faster; offer higher-luster; and are easier to clean and remove. They even provide more coverage—3,500-4,000 square feet per gallon versus the 1,500-2,500 most traditional floor polishes cover. What’s not to like?
Nanotechnology has solved the higher cost, more labor -intensive and sub-par performance issues of the past green floor finishes. So today the question isn’t whether you can afford to go green when choosing a floor polish, it is if you can afford not to.