Cleaning & Restoration Tools and Gadgets / Hard Floor Maintenance

High-Pressure Extraction Tools – Are They in Your Cleaning Arsenal?

The hard surface flooring industry and the carpet cleaning industry have been polar opposites for decades

June 17, 2013

  1. Pressurized hard surface extraction tools work by using high-pressure jets spinning in a shroud that are angled to blow soil out of low-lying grout areas 
  2. These tools are moderately priced ranging from $500 to $1,200 for the spinning tool itself
  3. Several sizes of such tools are available, ranging from small counter tools to large floor area tools
Floor maintenance technician? Carpet cleaner? Pressurized hard surface extraction tools cover both vocations.  
The hard surface flooring industry and the carpet cleaning industry have been polar opposites for decades. Equipment, tools and materials that worked for hard floor maintenance were tried on carpets and although they worked sometimes, they were not always consistent in delivery. The same can be said about carpet cleaning equipment, tools and materials being used for the hard surface environments, they would come close, but somehow, could not connect. Well, as the old saying goes, the past does not equate the future and today we are seeing crossover success in at least one area.
The primary equipment used in carpet maintenance is the hot water extractor. It works by injecting pressurized hot water into the carpet through jets mounted in a wand attachment and then extracting the contaminated solution out using a powerful vacuum through the wand. The residential carpet cleaning technician relies heavily on the truckmount extractor, while the commercial carpet cleaning technician utilizes both truckmounts and portable extractors. Both types of equipment fulfill the requirements of heating the water and cleaning chemicals in the solution tank, injecting them into the carpet and extracting them into the recovery tank.
The primary equipment used in hard surface floor maintenance is the rotary floor machine. It is basically a motor on a handle that delivers rotary (circular) agitation to the floor surface at a low speed (usually 175 rpm) in conjunction with abrasive pads or brushes. Cylindrical counter rotating brush machines have also entered into the market and are used in a similar fashion. Traditionally after the floor has been agitated with a pad or brush, the contaminated solution was extracted using a wet vacuum with a wand or floor attachment.
The basic reason that these two different, yet similar, methodologies have never combined has to do with the fact that most hard floor maintenance of the past has had to do with floor finish maintenance or removal. The traditional method of maintenance was to apply floor seal and/or floor finish and then maintain the surface of the floor to ensure protection of the flooring material, cleanliness, appearance and safety. Chemical coating was the accepted rudimentary maintenance for all hard surfaces.
Today, more and more technicians understand their role in floor maintenance and have come to the realization that not all hard surfaces require floor polishes. In fact, some flooring materials perform better without them. This is particularly true with the ceramic and clay type flooring materials that really do not require floor finish on them and have textured grout lines that are extremely difficult to clean. So a question entered into our industry - wouldn’t it be nice if we could combine the pressurized extraction equipment with a rotary floor machine to satisfy both functions? Pressurized hard surface extraction tools were born. Now these units come in many shapes and sizes and have created a whole new method of cleaning grout and irregular textured surfaces.
Pressurized hard surface extraction tools work by using high-pressure jets spinning in a shroud that are angled to blow soil out of low-lying grout areas up into the shroud for the extractor to evacuate. Most of these tools are free spinning relying on centrifugal force to push them around (there is however at least one unit that has an independent motor that drives the jets in the opposite direction to act as a more aggressive option). The point is that the soil is lifted up off the surface and extracted before it can settle back down in the low lying areas, which is extremely important when working on textured or grouted surfaces.
These tools are moderately priced ranging from $500 to $1,200 for the spinning tool itself, considerably more if you do not own a truckmount or portable extractor and have to purchase one of those. They are pretty lightweight and easy to use with very few adjustments, namely operating pressure (optimum 800 to 1,200 psi) and vacuum settings to maximize movement and suction. They are not complicated and can be mastered in a very short period of time. There are several sizes ranging from small counter tools to large floor area tools.
Although these tools are exceptional at cleaning grout lines and textured surfaces, it does not mean that they will easily remove all soil. Depending on the type of soil, the environment and the traffic conditions, some soils may be very difficult to remove. Add to that floor finish and encapsulated soil, and then you will have a challenge no matter what tools you have. Keep in mind that you will still need to incorporate temperature, agitation, chemical concentration and dwell time into the cleaning matrix.
With light, moderate and even some heavy soiling conditions, the pressurized extraction tool may cut through the soil and extract it easily just using cleaning solution and extraction. However, beware of greasy and oily soils, embedded soils and soils encapsulated in floor finish, as these may not be removed so readily. They may require hotter water, more aggressive cleaning or even stripping chemicals, more dwell time and, in some cases, agitation with abrasive pads or brushes. 
When encountering very difficult grout cleaning, some technicians will just turn up the pressure to the maximum level and think that the added extra pressure will get deeper in the pores and clean the grout better. This may seem logical, but keep in mind that excessive pressure can literally blow the grout out from between the tiles. In severe cases, the potential of repairing the grout might be in order.
It is better to start with stripping chemicals if you are removing a polymeric film from the tile or high alkaline chemicals such as degreaser to soften or loosen up stubborn soils. Increasing the water temperature when possible and allowing dwell time will certainly help to get the soil to release. If after cleaning the tile with high alkaline cleaning chemicals there is still deeply embedded soil in the grout, then an acid cleaning might be in order. Acid cleaning chemicals work by actually breaking down the grout a little so that soil and some grout are released. Repetitive acid cleaning is not recommended because over time it will ultimately break down the grout to a point where it easily erodes away.
The pressurized hard surface extraction tools are marvelous additions to the floor maintenance technician’s arsenal. Whether you are a carpet cleaning technician or a hard floor maintenance technician, this tool spans the realm of both vocations to find common ground for better cleaning.  

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