ICS Magazine

Vacuum Cleaners: What's Important...and What's Not

October 14, 2003

When it comes to commercial vacuum cleaners, some seemingly meaningless features may end up being very important. Conversely, some features that may seem really special at first may end up not having much value after all.

One of the most important considerations, of course, is pick-up performance, the combination of airflow, brush revolution, and brush agitation.

"Pick-up performance is determined by the speed of the brush roll and the suction power," explains Wendy Hartley, product manager for Nilfisk-Advance. "The speed of the brush is important, because it will increase air flow."

Weight is a big issue if you're carrying the vacuum. However, "a heavy machine with a light handle that travels across the floor almost by itself is usually not a problem," said David Devon, national sales manager for Thorne Electric, a Koblenz distributor.

On the other hand, a light machine may feature a heavy handle, and it will fatigue to the operator. "I have seen machines weighing 28 pounds that vacuum effortlessly," Devon recalls. "Conversely, I have seen machines weighing 14 pounds and yet are fatiguing to the arms."

"We have a die-cast aluminum vacuum, but it weighs less than most plastic models," states Mark Moore, director of field sales for Royal Appliance. "We have found that 15- to 20-pound vacuums tend to be well-accepted."

A low profile is important so workers can get under beds, which is especially important in hotels and motels, according to Nilfisk-Advance's Hartley. Thorne Electric's Devon notes that a machine's ability to go completely horizontal is just as important as low profile. "A low profile machine that won't lay flat on the ground is ineffective," he said.

Cords are very important. "Hospitality doesn't like a 50-foot cord," Devon notes. "Contractors, on the other hand, don't like 30-foot cords."

One solution is to purchase a vacuum with no cord, having instead a short pigtail that allows the operator to attach a cord of the desired length. According to Devon, the most common reason a machine is out of service and operators are faced with downtime is a cut cord. With a pigtail, all you need to do is attach any standard replacement extension cord, he said.

On-board accessories sound important, but not everyone is in agreement. "Our all-metal vacuum line does not feature tools on board," Royal Appliance's Moore said. "While on-board accessories may be important to the household market, we don't think this is as important to commercial users."

Devon agrees. "(On-board accessories) has its place," he admits. "However, the vast majority of vacuuming is done without tools. Our research shows that, in most cases, the tools just aren't utilized."

Filtration and emissions. Regardless of how effective a vacuum's pick-up performance may be, the machine isn't doing its job if it ends up emitting particles back into the air.

Part of this is determined by the way the machine is built. "The Carpet and Rug Institute has told us they have seen vacuums that claim HEPA ratings that actually release more particles back into the air than many vacuums that don't claim HEPA performance," Hartley said.

"Once you capture the dirt, you don't want to let it back out," Devon explains. He believes that the best filtration system is a paper bag with a secondary cloth bag or secondary filter. "There are certain bags that offer extremely high filtration, almost HEPA standard filtration," he said.

Bag or bagless? This is an area of some controversy. One benefit of a bagless system, according to Devon, is that downtime attributed to a filled or ripped bag is removed.

There is a lower cost of operation, because you're not buying bags, he said. The downside, though, is slightly less filtration, and the problem of disposing the contents of the container, he said.

Moore concedes that "bagless" is a major buzzword in the household market, and its popularity is growing, especially because of its convenience. "In the commercial market, though, demand is not as high," he said. "Bagless systems tend to be dirty and dusty, and filtration tends not to be as good."

Last but not certainly not least is durability. "Downtime is very costly," emphasizes Moore. If you own a unit that doesn't break down on you, you're going to save money not only in terms of reduced repair and replacement costs, but also in less downtime, he said.

Longevity obviously depends on the number of hours being used and the environment. "Restaurants, for example, are very hard on vacuums because of the grease that gets into carpets and eventually builds up inside and coats the motor housing," Moore said.