- THE MAGAZINE
When it comes to the pros and cons of truckmount systems and portable carpet extractors, the discussion can get a bit dicey. That’s because some carpet cleaning technicians swear by truckmounts, while others feel just as strongly about portables.
Take Richard Sanchez, owner of AJ Janitorial (Santa Rosa, CA), for example. He says, “Hands down, a truckmount does the better job. It’s more powerful, generates more heat and is overall much more effective cleaning the most soiled carpets.”
But Michael Weaden, who works for a property management company in Chicago, says he would not be able to do half of his carpet cleaning jobs without a portable. “How are you going to efficiently get a truckmount on the 21st floor of an apartment building to clean the carpets?” he asks.
Then there’s Karl Fischer of Commercial Carpet Care in Calgary, Canada, who says, “The truth of the matter is that the quality of the cleaning job depends less on the equipment and more upon the skills of the person performing the work.” Fischer goes on to say that customers have frequently asked him to re-clean carpets that were previously cleaned by someone using a truckmount who “simply did not know how to do the job.”
While there may be many strong opinions when it comes to truckmounts vs. portable carpet extractors, the truth of the matter is that each type of equipment serves a purpose and has a place in the industry. In fact, some carpet cleaning technicians have concluded that they actually need both.
Portable hot water extractors first became available during the late 1960s. By the 1970s, manufacturers had also begun to offer truckmount systems. Over the years, new technologies have made both types of machinery more effective and easier to use. For instance, some manufacturers of portable carpet extractors have focused on making it possible for operators to load and unload, transport, set up, use and store these machines while working alone. Carpet extractors have also become much more powerful. In fact, some portable machines provide cleaning technicians with solution pressures and temperatures that rival some truckmounts.
Slide-In or Van-Powered
The first truckmount systems were what are known as slide-in systems. These machines are installed in the back of a truck or van by sliding them in and then bolting them to the vehicle. They are powered by their own built-in motors and vacuum systems.
The other type of truckmount system is known as the van-powered truckmount. These models are also sometimes called direct drive truckmounts or power-take-off truckmounts. As the name implies, the power for these machines comes from the engine of the vehicle. This means the engine must be operating in order to run the truckmount.
There are pros and cons to these two different types of truckmounts:
- Cleaning technicians can transfer slide-ins from one vehicle to another fairly easily. Van-powered systems, on the other hand, are actually attached to the van’s engine, making installing and removing them more complicated.
- Slide-ins tend to take up a lot of cargo space. Van-powered units take up less cargo space, providing the operator with more room for wands, restoration equipment and other cleaning needs.
- Slide-ins provide the operator with more control over the system, while van-powered units tend to be less complex, easier to operate and require less maintenance than slide-ins. It is also easier to train technicians to use van-powered units.
Of course, the most important question is which type of system - slide-in or van-powered - cleans carpets faster and better. Surprisingly, in most cases there is little difference. If the equipment is used properly and is operating effectively, either type should produce results that will satisfy customers in about the same amount of time.
The Advantages of Truckmounts
The primary difference between using a high-performance hot water portable extractor and a truckmount lies in productivity. Quite simply, you can clean faster with a truckmount at the same or higher level of cleaning performance than you can with a portable.
“One of the most often overlooked reasons for this has to do with the water ‘flushing’ capabilities of truckmounts when it comes to heavily soiled carpeting,” says Dole Bloss, marketing director, HydraMaster/U.S. Products. “While many portables can produce as much solution pressure as truckmounts (300–500psi), there is still a significant difference in solution water flow (how much water flows through the soiled carpet).”
According to Bloss, this is important, as the more water that flows through the carpet, the more soil will be removed. “Truckmounts have solution flows between 1.4 and 2.0 gallons per minute (gpm). By contrast, even the highest-level portables usually have solution flow under 1 gpm.”
Truckmounts also have more vacuum power to recover that water flow, and greater water heating capacity to maintain hotter solution temperature under all conditions. This means that even though truckmounts put more water into carpeting, carpet fibers still actually dry much faster after truckmount cleaning than with a portable.
Bring in the Portables
While portable extractors have come a long way in the past few years, they still cannot compete with the overall power of truckmounts. However, their cleaning effectiveness should not be underestimated. As already discussed, much more depends on the skills of the technician than on which type of machine is used.
Nevertheless, using a portable unit will invariably take longer than using a truckmount. This is typically because technicians must empty and refill the machine’s tanks frequently. “You need [to carry] buckets of water throughout the home or building, which can spill on the floor,” adds Jim Thompson of A1 Building Services in Wyoming, MI. Truckmount waste tanks, on the other hand, are actually mounted on the vehicle, and technicians may only need to empty them after a few jobs or at the end of the workday.
Many portable extractors are available with auto-fill and auto dump features to help alleviate this situation, but this also means that the technician will have to find an area to set up these features, and will have that many more hoses to hook up and monitor.
Despite this drawback, portables definitely have their benefits:
- Cleaning professionals can easily transport them in any truck or van.
- They are the most efficient option for extracting carpets in high-rise facilities.
- They keep facilities more secure. All facility doors can be kept closed and locked when using a portable, something that is usually not possible when using a truckmount.
Advances in the engineering, design, and ergonomics of portable extractors have given cleaning and restoration professionals much to consider when comparing portable models. A recent online survey of professionals who use portable extractors indicated that the following are some of the most important features to consider when purchasing one of these machines:
- Easy loading and unloading
- Easy maneuverability
- A solution fill area with a large enough opening to prevent spilling while filling (this area should also be separated from electronic controls and switches)
- A well-designed vacuum system that does not restrict airflow and that uses sealed vacuum blowers
Cost is one of the major differences between truckmounts and portables. According to Bruce Daw, a veteran of the professional cleaning industry and National Sales Director with HydraMaster/U.S. Products, “A truckmount system can cost as much as $15,000 or more. A powerful portable may cost only about $5,000 or less.”
Not surprisingly, this big price disparity makes a difference when it comes to choosing a machine. Says Daw, “A building service contractor or in-house cleaning service will likely select a portable because they only clean carpets occasionally. On the other hand, the technician who is cleaning carpets every day for a living will likely select a truckmount, at least eventually.”
In the past, most professional carpet cleaners started with a portable, and then eventually “graduated” to a truckmounted system. Today, most cleaning contractors must start out with a truckmount in order to effectively compete in the marketplace - but they may later add a portable extractor that can serve as a second cleaning unit, a back-up in case of problems with the truckmount and an option for jobs that are difficult or impossible to access with a truckmount.
Is more training required to use a truckmount vs. a portable? Training is required for both, of course, but overall, cleaning professionals need more training to learn how to operate and maintain slide-in truckmount systems, as they are more complicated machines than their portable counterparts.