Automatic Floor Scrubbing Equipment

February 6, 2003
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When auto-scrubbers were first introduced in the 1950s, they were designed simply to clean large, open areas faster, easier and more profitably.

Labor is one of the most expensive parts of running a business in the cleaning industry. To help companies reduce costs, manufacturers developed a machine to replace the standard two-man crew responsible for most basic scrubbing procedures.

The first auto-scrubbers were large, bulky and cumbersome, but they were very efficient and saved companies a lot of money. Today’s machines are much more advanced, replete with all sorts of bells and whistles to enhance overall performance. They are smaller, lighter, more streamlined and easier to maneuver; modern auto-scrubbers can be used on almost every floor surface and in smaller, more congested areas than their predecessors.

Versatility

Auto-scrubbers, especially some of the newer machines, can perform a number of different tasks. They are used in daily, periodic and restorative cleaning operations on many different floor surfaces, including concrete; ceramic, porcelain and other grouted floors; natural stone; wood; and resilient floors, including VCT (Vinyl Composition Tile). Although the procedures vary slightly from floor type to floor type, the basic concepts are the same.

Auto scrubbers use electricity, propane or batteries, depending on model and manufacturer. They come in a variety of sizes and are available in riding, robotic or walk-behind styles.

Daily Cleaning

Auto-scrubbers are often used to replace the daily mopping of large, open areas. In these cases a light-colored, light-abrasive pad is used. A light-abrasive pad will thoroughly clean the floor without removing a lot of finish, and will eliminate the need to re-coat the floor. Depending on the maintenance program, scrubbing with a light-abrasive pad may also reduce or eliminate the need to high-speed burnish afterward. On an unfinished floor, material and conditions dictate the abrasiveness and type of pad to use. If the machine is in good working order (particularly the squeegees and vacuum) and the correct procedures are used, you can eliminate, or at the very least greatly reduce, the amount of detail mopping required.

Detail mopping is usually required to pick up excess solution and slurry missed during the process. Walking too fast or having the solution valve open too far for the speed you are moving keeps the vacuum from being able to extract liquid fast enough, and streaks will begin to appear at the ends of the extraction squeegee blade. Detailing also refers to areas that cannot be reached with the auto-scrubber but still have to be cleaned, e.g. corners and edges. To eliminate or reduce water streaks when turning corners, try turning down, or off, the solution flow when approaching the turn. There will be enough solution in the pad to successfully clean the floor but not enough to leave a streak. After the turn, open the solution value to the appropriate level.

The floor should have enough solution on it to suspend the soil present. The more soil present, the more solution is required. The more solution, the slower you have to walk in order for the vacuum to extract the slurry. Using an auto-scrubber for daily cleaning usually requires less solution, meaning you can walk faster and get the job done sooner. Streaking can also occur if something is under the squeegee blade, such as dust, debris or other foreign objects. To prevent this, make sure the floor has been properly swept, dust mopped or vacuumed before starting the cleaning process. If the streaking is from dust or debris under the squeegee blade, stop and clean the blade before proceeding.

Periodic Cleaning

Auto scrubbers are commonly used to perform periodic cleanings. In these cases a medium-abrasive pad is used, usually a green, blue or purple pad. The medium abrasiveness of the pad will thoroughly clean the floor, removing superficial scratches as well a microscopic layer of floor finish that will need to be replaced or restored. After auto-scrubbing a floor during a periodic cleaning procedure, the floor usually requires some type of detailed mopping. In most cases this is a complete damp or wet mopping of the area scrubbed. This is done to remove any remaining soils, residues or powdered floor finish from the process, and helps prepare the floor for the next step, usually recoating or burnishing.

Restorative Cleaning

During restorative cleaning, auto-scrubbers are used in a couple of ways. When a floor is stripped, another machine, such as a standard rotary floor machine, is used. Once this is complete, an auto-scrubber is used to extract the stripping slurry. The auto-scrubber can also be used to rinse the floor with a neutralizer fed through the solution tank. A medium-to-heavy-abrasive pad is used to aid in the removal of any remaining sealer or finish. Auto-scrubbers can also be used as your main scrubbing tool in restorative cleaning. In this case, the solution tank is filled with a stripping solution and the floor is scrubbed much as it would during a periodic cleaning procedure.

It is important to first go over the floor with the vacuum off. This will allow you to apply stripper to the floor and allow some dwell time. Once this is done, go back over the floor as many times as required to remove all the old finish and sealer. When the finish/sealer is removed (in this case, suspended) go over the area again, this time with the squeegee down and the vacuum on.

Of course, this is only a brief overview of auto-scrubber uses and procedures. The auto-scrubber is a very versatile tool; how and when it is used is up to the operator. Many cleaners use it only for daily and periodic cleaning, while others employ it during the stripping process. Auto-scrubbers are great tools as long as they are used properly. Check with your supplier for additional information, follow all manufacturer operating and care recommendations and attend an IICRC-sponsored or other floor care class to insure professionalism.

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