ICS Magazine

May Your Next Vacuum Be the Last One You Buy

October 10, 2007

Vacuums have a hard life. They are worked long, bruising hours, getting banged about on hallway walls and conference table legs. Sucking up who knows what, they get clogged and their engines struggle for air. Belts snap and bolts loosen. Finally it is time to get a new machine and you are faced with what seems like ten thousand choices. Facilities managers have little time to scour through thick catalogs and long store aisles for a vacuum, so here are a few tips on how to find the perfect replacement for your needs.

Before jumping in, assess the lay of the land, or carpet, if you will. Talk to the cleaning crew and ask these relevant questions: How many different types of flooring do they encounter on a shift? What do they like and dislike about their vacuuming tasks? Would anything improve their efficiency and comfort? Are there specific challenges and requirements that come with cleaning facilities such as schools, offices or hospitals? Is indoor air quality and cleaning for health important to them and the building owner? Let them know that you want to choose something that will help them be more productive and healthy.

Clean More, Maintain Less
Cleaning and maintenance professionals see it every day – storage rooms cluttered with cheap, ailing vacuums in need of a new motor or awaiting a taut new belt in the mail. Lower-end commercial vacs adhere to the old adage “you get what you pay for.” When it’s all said and done, money is better spent up front on a vacuum built to withstand your specific needs and workloads, rather than on labor for repairs and on soaring costs of replacement parts. It’s time to ask that age-old question: Is price or durability more important? The vacuum that will work best is one that functions well in a range of daily tasks, has a durable body, a long-lasting motor, and an effective filtration system.

To find out which vacuums are the most versatile and reliable, speak to your distributor about how certain models you are interested in have worked out for other buyers. User reviews and testimonials in trade magazines and online can be very useful. Manufacturers that offer a multi-year warranty are certainly worth looking at.

Keeping a vacuum well maintained is a critical part of keeping costs down. Filters need to be emptied and cleaned frequently. A reduction of airflow and suction will occur, causing increased stress on the motor. Some manufacturers have developed a thermal protector device that automatically shuts off the motor if it is overheating - once the filter is emptied and it has five to ten minutes to cool, the vacuum can be turned on again. Even the best vacuum cleaners won’t survive if they are not cared for properly.

Style Matters
These days, vacuums are being engineered with specific cleaning needs in mind. There are models for hardwood flooring installers, restaurants and airplane cleaning crews. By now, you have talked about your most important requirements with your staff, so it’s time to start whittling down the list of vacuums to choose from.

Uprights make use of a beater bar that effectively cleans mid- to high-pile carpeting. Consider models that have a dual motor system, one powering the suction and the other turning the beater bar. This approach improves performance over models with one motor; if power is reduced to either element, the other slows as well. Some models have a floating powerhead that automatically adjusts to different flooring types.

Commercial cleaners are usually faced with cleaning vast areas of a combination of low-pile carpet and hard flooring. Canister or backpack vacuums with tube and wand attachments are a good choice, especially for high square-footage buildings. Long shifts and repetitive motion lead to muscle fatigue and stress injuries, and machines that have been ergonomically designed with worker comfort in mind should be considered for bigger jobs. If you are considering a backpack vacuum, look for models that are lightweight, have good weight distribution, and properly fit the members of your staff.

Heal a Sick Building
Green cleaning and indoor air quality (IAQ) are hot topics in the cleaning industry that have become important health issues for parents, HR departments and hospital patients. Inadequate ventilation and heating systems combined with biological and chemical contaminants such as volatile organic compounds, bacteria, molds, pollen and viruses in “sick buildings” may bring about nausea, dizziness, headaches, eye and throat irritation, fever, and fatigue. Efficient filtration and a proper vacuuming regimen can help alleviate these symptoms.

Carpeting acts as a dust sink, so look for a vacuum with 90 or more cubic feet per minute (CFM) of airflow and 75 to 100 inches of static lift to make sure the dirt and tiny particulates trapped in commercial carpet and settled on hard surfaces is effectively removed from the environment.

Once the dirt has been brought into the machine, it needs to stay there. Studies have shown that many lower-end vacuums kick much of the dust they suck in back into the air, where it can stay suspended for up to 12 hours. A well-built vacuum with a solid body and several levels of filtration has the ability to capture these particles and keep the air clean.

Improved particulate capture starts with filters that have multiple layers, providing more surface area to collect dust, dirt and other particles. Micro-filter bags capture nearly 2,400 percent more dust than single-ply bags. But it doesn’t stop there. Some manufacturers have built up to four-level filtration systems to snare even smaller particles and to protect the motor from clogs. These vacuums have a multi-ply intercept micro filter, a micro cloth filter, a dome filter and an exhaust filter - all placed in succession to snare dust and pollutants at the one micron (39 millionths of an inch) level or larger.

HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters take filtration another step further. Originally developed in the 1940s to remove radioactive dust particulate contaminants in atomic bomb shelters, HEPA filters continue to have a place in industrial settings such as pharmaceutical clean rooms, but are now part of the arsenal in the fight for better IAQ.

High-efficiency micro filters, when part of a multi-stage filtration system, can filter up to 99.9 percent of particles one micron or larger, which covers dust mites, industrial dust, pollen, pet dander, mold and even a majority of yeast and bacteria. HEPA filters remove a minimum of 99.97 percent of particles 0.3 micron or larger, which can include smoke and carbon. However, if the HEPA filtration media isn’t properly sealed (true HEPA-sealed) or disposed of, it won’t offer the added benefits people expect.

The Carpet and Rug Institute has a “Green Label” program that tests vacuums according to high standards for soil removal, dust containment and maintaining carpet appearance. Their Green Label Seal of Approval is clearly visible on vacuums that meet their stringent criteria. One vacuum manufacturer is partnered with the American Lung Association to educate people on the importance of healthy indoor air.

Some Other Considerations
Many vacuums are available that have snazzy features worth considering. If daytime vacuuming is a must for your business, look for models that have decibel levels at 50 or less, which is lower than that of a normal speaking voice. Other options to look for are wall-mounted storage stations, attachment caddies and belts, adjustable-length wands, power nozzles, full filter bag lighted indicators, and air freshening agents.

Spending quality time researching and shopping around for a new vacuum will definitely pay dividends in productivity, worker satisfaction and health.