ICS Magazine

Portable Floor Care Equipment: It’s Come a Long Way

November 1, 2012
man cleaning tile with portable cleaner
My first portable extractor resembled R2-D2 from Star Wars. A compartment in the back served as the fresh water tank which surrounded the waste tank (a 5 gallon bucket I lifted out of the machine to empty into the toilet.) Underneath was a pump that could produce 35 psi and a single loud centrifugal vacuum. This was connected to a heavy 12-inch drag wand that made me grateful I was still in my 20’s and had a young back.
Wow! I was so proud of this machine. It was such an upgrade from the rotary machine with a shampoo tank and brush that it replaced.
I was pretty excited that I could load a scoop of powder into my bucket of water, pour it into the machine and then squirt and suck my way to a “clean” carpet. Sure, there were a few problems:
1. I could spit with more force than my pump put out.
2. I could suck stronger than the vacuum.
3. It was a lot of work hauling water to and from the machine. 
But overall, I was pretty happy with this machine. 

Some might argue that truckmounted extractors have relegated portables to the pages of ancient history. But portable extractors have come a long way since then. There are many reasons why portables still have a prominent place in the market.
Upfront cost: A new entry-level portable can be purchased for $2,000 or less. Entry-level truckmounts sell for $10-$15,000. For both start-up companies and those looking to expand, the cost of a truckmount may be out of reach. In addition to the cost of the extractor itself, there is the cost of a vehicle to transport it. The term “truckmount” implies it will require a large vehicle. A smaller, less expensive vehicle may be suitable for moving a portable from job to job.
Cost of operation: A portable will normally be powered by the customer’s electric supply. A truckmount requires gasoline, and perhaps another fuel for heat, that is paid for by the cleaning company. Maintenance and repair costs for a portable should also be less expensive.
Access to job sites: For security or other reasons, some customers do not want vacuum and solution lines running through a doorway or as a potential safety hazard for a business that must be cleaned during operating hours. Although truckmounts may be able to clean above the 2nd floor, it will be a cumbersome set up. As the distance from the carpet to the truck increases, there is a loss of vacuum power and a drop in water pressure. A portable will be just as happy cleaning on the 10th floor of a hotel, office building or condominium as it is on the ground floor.
Environmental concerns: Some potential consumers may see an environmental advantage when comparing a portable extractor to a gas-burning truckmount and the associated fumes and carbon monoxide.


Today’s portable carpet extractors are much different from the one I started with. The components have improved. In addition, several manufacturers have been listening to input from cleaners about features they would like for convenience, increased production rates and improved performance.
Water Pressure: Pumps that can be adjusted up to 500, 800 or even 1,200 psi are available in many lines. High pressure (1,200 psi) machines are actually dual purpose machines. In addition to cleaning carpet, they can be used to clean hard surfaces including tile and grout, stone and concrete. The high pressure flushing action reaches deep into hard-to-clean porous surfaces like grout. Being able to offer more services with one machine is a desirable feature during the recent economic downturn.
Vacuum: Vacuums have become quieter and much more efficient. A high-end extractor may offer either one or two three-stage vacuums providing considerable lift and airflow. This allows faster drying or the ability for portable extractors to be effective at longer distances from the machine. A long standing question has been: ‘Should vacuums be arranged in series or parallel?” Series delivers more lift while a parallel arrangement yields almost double the air flow. Cooling systems designed into the vacuum motor itself, internal air flow and vent placement results in motors that run cooler and thus last longer.
Heat: Water temperatures of 200º F or greater are available when using extractors that have on-board heaters. Because available electrical power is normally limited, technicians may need to give up some power elsewhere to get the best heat. While pressure may remain constant, a reduction in flow is often necessary to achieve higher solution temperature. 
Convenience: In addition to performance, users have asked for features that make using portable extractors more convenient and ideas to reduce total time at the job site. One notable response has been a dolly-type or taller more upright design. This allows for easier loading and unloading and stair climbing. These models may also have a smaller footprint requiring less floor space in often crowded vans. Other manufacturers have engineered designs that include larger rear wheels, skid plates, taller/wider or better placed handles and even roller wheels on the back to facilitate easy stair climbing, loading and unloading.
Because a technician has multiple cords and hoses, plus other equipment to move onto and off the jobsite, the latest designs include a holder for the wand molded into some of the body, cord wraps, molded in locations to carry 5-gallon buckets, sprayers and other tools. Some manufacturers offer optional baskets or trays for carrying spotters, and other tools and accessories.
Sooner or later, repairs and maintenance will be necessary. A clam shell design and more open layout allows for easier access to the mechanical components. One manufacturer has borrowed from the computer industry with a plug-and-play wiring harness that simplifies motor or pump replacement and upgrades.
Sturdy roto-molded plastic bodies extend the life of modern extractors.
Larger fresh water and waste tanks means there will be fewer interruptions to empty and refill the machine. This is a real timesaver on larger jobs. To save even more time and labor, most manufactures are offering features that include auto-fill with automatic chemical metering and automatic waste dumping.
Waste tank placement and shape permits easy and complete emptying, making cleanup easier and eliminating a possible source of unpleasant odor. Dump valves are now located for easy draining into a commode.
Boosting your effectiveness: Portable extractors can do a great job on a variety of carpet and soil types, however many professionals are finding a significant advantage by adding a counter-rotating brush machine to their arsenal. Reports of amazing amounts of dry soil and hair being removed from the carpet when the machine is used with catch trays attached are numerous. I know several high-end cleaners who use their Brush Pro to agitate pre-spray, pile lift and remove soil all in one step. They then follow with their extractor – truckmount or portable. They do this on every job – commercial and residential. 
The counter-rotating brush machine is a great tool for encapsulation cleaning. This should be an added service for every professional in between extraction cleaning. This equipment is also amazing in its agitation of oriental rugs. Waterproof in up to 2 inches of water, it can go right into the wash pits to work. Hard surfaces such as tile and stone are also very effectively cleaned with the Brush Pro.  
If you currently clean with one of these modern portable extractors and/or counter-rotating machines or if you are considering adding one to your business, there is no reason to feel inferior to your colleague with a truckmount. You’ve come a long way baby!