Vacuums: The Unheralded Equipment Essential
October 18, 2011
When it comes to their equipment, professional carpet cleaners will wax eloquent on truckmounts, wands and hoses, yet rare is the cleaner who will boast proudly of that most common of cleaning tools, the vacuum cleaner. In an effort to figure out just why this is, ICS asked two prominent figures in the business – ProTeam vice president of sales Rich Steinberg and Richard Bodo, director of business development for Windsor – for their thoughts on where the industry stands today, as well as what the future holds.
ICS Cleaning Specialist: The vacuum is a core piece of equipment for every carpet cleaning professional, yet it often seems to be one of the most overlooked. Why is that?
Rich Steinberg: Perhaps it is that people assume that all vacuums are created equal. If you can hear the dirt being sucked into the machine, and you can see it when you empty the bag, it must be working. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
A vacuum may appear to effectively clean the flooring, but how much of that dirt and dust is blowing back into the air? In order for a vacuum to fulfill its cleaning potential, it must be equipped with a filtration system that extracts impurities down to a microscopic level, otherwise irritants and allergens build up in the atmosphere, putting building occupants at risk.
Choice of vacuum does not only influence the cleanliness and health of the building, but the health and productivity of the cleaning professional. An upright vacuum that is pushed back and forth with one arm is probably not right for a facility with large rooms as the repetitive motion could increase risk for injury or strain. A backpack vacuum that is carried on the hips, allowing increased mobility and speed without strain on the arm and shoulder may be a better choice for large facilities.
These are factors that many facilities managers do not consider when buying a vacuum, but they can influence the success or failure of a cleaning program.
Richard Bodo: I don’t think that most people in the cleaning industry understand the importance of vacuuming. Industry studies show that on average 79% of the soil in carpet is dry, insoluble soil that must be removed with a vacuum. While most people assume that their extractor will remove these dry soils when they are wet, that just isn’t the case as extractors are not designed to remove dry soils in a wet state. At the end of the day we all learned before as young kids that when you add water to dirt you get mud.
Another thing to remember is that the dry soils are what typically causes the damage to your carpets and causes them to look dull and worn out. The average grain of sand has 32 cutting edges and polishes like 12 grit sandpaper. Removing these soils quickly and efficiently will extend the life and appearance of your carpets. ICS: There are a number of different configurations out there (uprights, canisters, etc.). Can you give a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of each, and where they might be used to maximum effect?
RS: An upright vacuum works best for cleaning medium- to high-pile carpet when speed is not a priority. According to the ISSA, a single motor upright vacuum can clean a 10,000-square-foot facility in three and half hours. High-powered dual-motor models – which dedicate one motor to the suction, and one to the beater bar – can speed up that time by 30 minutes.
Even with a dual motor system, uprights are designed with more moving parts-like belts and brush rollers – that make for more frequent maintenance and upkeep. Consequently, the lifespan of many upright models is short – often not more than a year. To protect your investment, look for a multi-year warranty.
Canisters work well on low-pile carpet and hard surfaces. A tank canister cleans a 10,000 square foot space in 4 hours, and a speed canister-basically a backpack vacuum on wheels-covers the same ground in 1.5 hours. Canister vacuums can have filter capacities up to four times the size of standard uprights-maximizing cleaning ability with minimum downtime.
Backpacks work best for mid- to low-pile carpet and all hard floor surfaces, with the ability to clean a 10,000 sq. ft. facility in only 1.3 hour. The design is economical and ergonomic-fast, efficient and comfortable for the worker to use. Studies show that, when combined with an effective cleaning program, quality backpacks can increase productivity by up to 70 percent.
The benefits of a backpack vacuum are hard to beat, but some situations may call for a speed canister or dual-motor upright. Choose a vacuum with superior filtration, an ergonomic design, and a multi-year warranty.
RB: Upright vacuums are ideal for areas that have a high soil load, such as entryways, outside restrooms and elevators, and transition areas from hard surface to carpet. All of these areas are going to have a high soil load and need the agitation and the airflow provided by an upright vacuum. Generally speaking, the first 40 feet inside an entrance is the most critical and is your first line of defense. If you use an upright vacuum in these areas you will keep the spread of soil down to a minimum.
Back packs, canisters, wide area vacuums, and stand-on vacuums are ideal for areas where the soil load is not as high and productivity is the key. Once you are past the first 40 feet you are not typically dealing with heavy soil loads so this is where vacuums that are extremely productive, and fit the space you are cleaning, come into play. Canisters and back packs are efficient and effective in cubicles while wide area vacuums and stand-on vacuums are effective in corridors.
ICS: What are the top three questions you hear from cleaning professionals when they’re shopping around for a new vacuum?
RS: “How does it perform?” Product performance can be determined by a test of the vacuum, taking note of cleaning effectiveness on multiple types of flooring and in many different situations. For example, consider the daily movements of cleaning workers in your building. Are they reaching to sweep cobwebs out of corners or to clean under furniture? Make sure the vacuum you choose is appropriate to the set of tasks that are unique to your facility.
Another important gauge of product performance is to seek out testimonials from current users of the vacuum model you are considering. Ask what they like and what they would change. Ask how the vacuum is performing six months, a year, even five years after purchasing.
“Is it durable?” Millions of vacuums are manufactured to be disposable. Some facilities shell out thousands to replace most of their vacuums every year. However, those who recognize the value of a vacuum that is build to last will see their investment pay off - not only in the superior cleaning power of a machine that is built with care and attention, but in reduced replacements and repairs.
“What kind of cleaning and repair costs will there be?” This is an important concern, because finicky machines that need frequent maintenance and repairs can end up costing a lot more than the listed price. Look for a machine that is durable and long-lasting with basic maintenance that is easy to understand and perform. Vacuum owners should habitually check and empty filters to extend the life of the vacuum and reduce potential repair costs.
RB: Due to our current economic climate most often the first question is price, followed quickly by cost. One of the first reactions to the economic downturn in 2008 was for users to quickly resort to buying inexpensive vacuum cleaners. Where they normally would purchase and use a vacuum for 3 to 5 years they quickly found that inexpensive vacuum cleaners were consistently lasting 12 to 18 months. That lead to an understanding of price versus cost and so now we often hear customers asking about costs related to repair, parts, warranty, and consumables.
Lastly, most people ask about the CRI Rating for the vacuum.
ICS: Building on that, what’s the one question cleaners should be asking, but aren’t, when they’re shopping for a new vacuum?
RS: “What does filtration actually do, and how great an impact does that have on overall vacuum performance?” If more vacuum buyers asked this question, they would be better informed both to choose a vacuum and to care for it. A vacuum has two essential tasks, suction and filtration. Suction is the airflow into the vacuum, filtration is removing everything that you don’t want blowing back out the other side.
In many vacuums the bag is the first filter. It removes the largest pieces of dirt and debris. Dust and microscopic pollutants and allergens flow into a second filter. Some vacuums are poorly constructed, and, while they may have a secondary filter, or even a HEPA filter, unfiltered air still leaks into the environment.
A filtration system with three, four, or five levels can extract irritants down to 0.3 microns in size. (For reference, one micron is the width of a human hair.) A vacuum equipped with multi-level filtration and a durable, molded body can seal in impurities, improving indoor air quality and building health.
RB: The first question you should ask is if this is the right vacuum for the job. As I said earlier, considering the soil load the area receives is critical to determining what vacuum you should purchase. Areas with high soil load need a combination of airflow and agitation to effectively remove soil from the carpet pile. So, back pack vacuums, canisters, and wide area vacuums are just not as effective on high soil load areas as an upright vacuum with a properly adjusted brush.
Conversely, a 12- inch upright vacuum is not an effective tool in a 100-foot-long, 12-foot-wide corridor in the interior of a building. This is where you want productivity and your wide area vacuums are most effective.
ICS: Power, size, weight, design; all these things have advanced greatly in the past decade. Breaking out the crystal ball, where do you see the next big advances in vacuum design over the next 5 or even 10 years?
RS: As technology improves, batteries are getting smaller and more powerful with longer life spans. Today, compact battery-operated vacuums are being utilized in facilities with space limitations or to give cleaning professionals the added mobility of a cordless unit. Recent innovations in cordless technology include wet/dry vacuums that weigh less than 11 pounds.
Expect these models to become more compact, ergonomic, and have longer battery-life in the next decade. Backpack vacuums will continue to expand in versatility for all types of carpet and hard flooring. Of course, vacuum design and construction will improve on all fronts as manufacturers push towards increased efficiency and productivity.
RB: As soon as the technology is ready, batteries will be the next big advancement in vacuums. Lithium Ion batteries are available currently on a few canisters and back pack vacuums but they just do not have the run time needed to be practical, not to mention the current price. As soon as the price for the technology comes down and the weight and run time are acceptable, vacuums will lose their cords and run on batteries.
For More Information
ProTeam – www.pro-team.com
Windsor – www.windsorvacuums.com