Just like you wouldn't get dressed without taking a shower first, a floor needs to be cleaned thoroughly before it's buffed. But cleaning solutions do more than just dislodge tough dirt; they actually help to protect your floor in the process as well.
On a pH scale, cleaning solutions like the ones you'd find under your kitchen sink are almost never neutral; in fact, most have a pH balance of eight or above, which means they're bases [source: Ophardt]. So while these products, such as ammonia and bleach, may work well in some areas of your house, you'd actually be doing damage if you used them on your floor [source: Curtiss].
Instead, cleaning solutions used with floor buffers are called neutral floor cleaners. Neutral floor cleaners not only work to dislodge stubborn dirt, they also lower the pH of the water they're mixed with to neutral -- a pH level of seven -- to avoid damaging your floor [source: Curtiss].
Even with a neutral pH, however, a cleaning solution wouldn't be effective without what's called a surfactant package [source: Curtiss]. If you've ever washed your own car, you may have noticed that the water starts to bead up on the outside. That's because of surface tension; it's the same force that allows a mosquito to skitter across the surface of a lake without falling through.
This is all well and good if you're a mosquito, but surface tension is less than ideal when a thorough cleaning depends on the solution's ability to reach into all of the cracks and grooves in a surface. Surfactant packages make sure your cleaning compound will sink in instead of just sitting on the surface of your floor [source: Curtiss].
That works really well for another reason: When water soaks into the polymer coating on the floor, it also begins to soften it. It's not enough to damage the floor or sink through the thin polymer coating, but it does just enough to increase the effectiveness of the buffer significantly [source: Curtiss].