If you're just getting into the field of building service maintenance or office cleaning you're sure to face the decision of whether to use a floor buffer or a floor scrubber for your floor cleaning jobs. You may think at first "these must be the same kind of machine, right?" Well, not really.
Generally, a floor buffer is a machine that has a horizontally rotating head that sits directly on the floor. Think of a large, round scrubbing pad spinning in a circle. The spinning of the pad is powered by a small motor, usually directly over the center of the pad. Some buffers come equipped with a solution tank that can squirt cleaning solution directly into the scrubbing pad and onto your floor. This extra feature allows the user to put small quantities of cleaner on the floor as needed, without having to stop and pour it directly out of a bottle-- a real time and back saver. But, there is no way for a buffer to "vacuum up" that solution once it's on the floor.
Floor buffers are also known as rotary floor machines because the scrubbing surface is constantly rotating in a circle in one direction. Automatic floor scrubbers MAY have a rotating head, similar to buffers, but many models offer a cylindrical brush head. We'll address that difference in a minute. Just know that you'll run across the terms "floor buffer" and "rotary floor machine" as meaning the same thing.
Buffers are made to spin at a variety of speeds. The speed at which the pad or brush rotates directly affects the kind of floor cleaning job you want to do. Low speed buffers are designed to handle scrubbing jobs, when your floor has in-ground dirt that you need to put some muscle into scrubbing away. Low speed machines are also your machine of choice when you need to strip off the old wax coating from a hard surface, like commercially tiled floors you often find in grocery stores. Low speed buffers will rotate from about 175 rpm. Variable speed buffers will go from about 175-350 rpm.
Low speed buffers are also appropriate for scrubbing - or bonneting - carpeting, provided the machine has enough horse power (or dual capacitors) to handle that kind of high-friction rotation. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for whether a floor buffer can be used for carpeting or not. Many manufacturers will void your warranty if you've used a machine on carpeting that's not supposed to be used that way (don't worry, they'll be able to tell if you send your machine in for warranty work!)
High speed buffers are designed just for polishing hard floor surfaces. They rotate at very high speeds, anyway from about 1000 rpm to 3000 rpm. You CANNOT use high speed buffers for any kind of scrubbing work. With the right polishing pad and a little buffing spray you can bring a great shine to a hard floor surface. You just can't do that with a low speed or variable speed machine.
Most floor buffers run from a direct connection to a power source, but some have internal batteries or a propane-powered engine to propel the rotating pad. The advantage of a battery or propane-engine type model is being free of power cords interfering with your scrubbing job. The advantage of the electric models is constant source of power without having to worry about draining a battery or fuel tank. Battery-powered models are often used in LEED and green building maintenance programs.
Floor scrubbers, also known as automatic floor scrubbers or auto scrubbers, are a whole different animal. They not only have a scrubbing head, but an automated system for dispensing cleaning solution and then vacuuming it up. So, in one pass over your floor, you can dispense cleaning or stripping solution, scrub it into the floor, and vacuum it all up with a squeegee attachment at the back of the machine. Auto scrubbers have a separate dispensing tank and a collection tank to keep your clean water from your dirty water.
Even though automatic scrubbers are generally more expensive machines up front, the time saved in cleaning your floors could very well off-set that initial cost. Saving operator time (and money) is the most frequent reason for purchasing these efficient machines for building maintenance programs.
In the end there are many factors to consider in deciding which kind of machine, a floor buffer or a floor scrubber, is best for your particular situation. If you have a very large facility with both wide open spaces (like the middle of a mall) and tight spaces (like in bathrooms) then maybe your best tool for the job is BOTH kinds of machines.