Crossing Over: Carpet-Cleaning Equipment and Hard-Floor Maintenance

November 4, 2009
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The floor maintenance industry has traditionally been divided into two camps: carpet and hard surface. As a result, floor maintenance equipment took two separate evolutionary paths. Brooms, mops and scrubbing machines were not well adapted for cleaning carpets, and upright vacuums with beater bars and hot water extractors were not well adapted for hard surfaces. Technicians were often faced with following one specialty or the other based on the equipment and tools they or the company they worked for possessed.

Sure, there was some transitional equipment, such as the rotary and cylindrical floor machines and wet/dry tank vacuums that could be adapted to be used in both carpet and hard surface environments, but the equipment always seemed to perform better on the floor it was designed for.

If only there existed equipment that would work equally well on both carpet and hard surface, that was the goal. Over the years manufacturers and others have responded in the form of new and innovative equipment, tools and materials that actually do deliver.

Throughout the evolution of floor maintenance, technology has been continually charged with reducing labor through equipment, tools and materials that increase productivity and provide superior results. Additionally, the definition of “clean” has changed, which in turn has changed the technology that empowers us to accomplish the task.

At one point in history, dowsing a floor with a bucket of water from the well and letting it dry was considered clean. This would and should horrify the contemporary floor maintenance technician.

Modern technology is helping us to clean more efficiently and effectively than ever before. The rotary and cylindrical floor machine has gradually become transitional equipment for the carpet cleaning industry, allowing bonnet cleaning, shampooing and now application of encapsulating chemistry.

The carpet-cleaning industry has long depended on the hot-water extractor, whether it be truck mount or portable, to deliver hot water, pressure and sufficient vacuum to extract cleaning solutions and soils thoroughly from the carpet.

Rotary machines have added flexibility to carpet cleaning; other equipment is doing the same for hard surfaces.

Over the past 10 or more years, tools have been developed for hot-water extractors that combine contained water pressure and extraction to clean hard surfaces as well.

These hard-surface tools can be likened to an automatic scrubbing machine in that they combine solution application, agitation and extraction; the big difference is in how they do it.

Solution is applied at a constant hot temperature through pressurized nozzles (1000 – 3000 psi) that are stationary or mounted on a spinning arm encased in a protective shroud.

These jets blast soil off the surface, where the vacuum immediately moves it to the recovery tank. In cases of stubborn soil, pre-spray may be applied and allowed to dwell before beginning the process.

The concept of the machine is simple; the force of pressurized solution will get into the smallest pores and wedge the soil out. Wet mops, abrasive pads and brushes will travel over the surface and miss soil lodged in the pores.

Even when a wet vacuum is used, it’s difficult to get soil from a void. The combination of pressurized water and extraction simultaneously is what makes the approach so effective.

These tools are a must for the residential carpet cleaner because most homes have more than one flooring classification. If the carpet cleaner is stepping over hard-floor opportunities because he does not want to invest in a standard equipment package, hard-surface pressurized extraction tools are the perfect answer.

They are relatively inexpensive in comparison to potential return on investment, and are exceptional on ceramic/porcelain, quarry tile, stone or any textured or irregular surface. They do an outstanding job on cleaning some of the toughest soils out of some of the most porous surfaces, such as grout, as good or better than anything else.

The commercial environment and soils are a bit different than the residential environment and commercial technicians are traditionally not used to using extractors, especially if all they have ever done is hard surfaces. Although this technology may not be right for some environments, such as grocery stores, there are many commercial environments where it would be useful, especially those involving stone and clay flooring materials.

Keep in mind that there is a learning curve to this technology, and some technicians may opt to give up before mastering it (it’s always easier to go with what you know). However, keeping on the cutting edge means constantly learning new things.

There are some restrictions that may hamper the use of hot-water extractors in the commercial environment. Accessibility for truckmount units is not always available, especially downtown areas. Financial institutions and many other establishments will not allow doors to be propped open for the hoses.

Many commercial building service contractors do not own truckmounted or portable extractors. When working with portable extractors, some technicians find the additional hoses an annoyance; others think finding independent circuits for the additional power cords too difficult.

For many, it is just plain difficulty in adapting that is the obstacle.

For the floor maintenance professional, pressurized extraction hard-surface tools are worth looking into. Regardless of whether you are a carpet cleaner or hard-floor maintenance technician, there are benefits to be experienced.

Although this technology has some limitations today, I think it is safe to say that it is a direction that is truly making a difference.

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