Purchasing Vacuum Cleaners for Commercial Environments

July 12, 2004
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Commercial vacuum cleaners are to the cleaning professional what a hammer is to a carpenter: just about the most important tool in the profession. Of all the equipment used in most cleaning situations-chemicals, cleaning cloths, sprayers, even hard-surface floor care equipment-nothing is more integral to the process than the vacuum cleaner.

Because a vacuum cleaner may be used four or more hours every day in a commercial setting, professionals need a machine that works with them, helping them complete their tasks quickly, efficiently and safely, without harming indoor air quality, their health or the environment. Technicians should consider several factors to determine which vacuum cleaner is best for their needs. Ultimately, the goal is to choose a vacuum that is durable, efficient, offers the greatest value for the money, and produces the best results.

Where Will the Vacuum Cleaner be Used?
In commercial cleaning, there are three basic types of vacuum cleaner: the upright, the backpack and the canister. Each is manufactured by a variety of companies in different shapes, sizes, and models. To help determine which vacuum to buy, first consider where the machine will be used.

Look at hotels. A vacuum cleaner that is lightweight, powerful, flexible, quiet, has good air filtration, and is ergonomically designed is probably the best choice. Because most hotel housekeepers are expected to clean as many as 16 guest rooms every day, a backpack vacuum, which must be placed on the back and then taken off repeatedly during a shift, might not be the best machine for this job. In this setting, an upright machine that is readily accessible, improving both efficiency and productivity, might be the better selection for cleaning hotel guestrooms.

This same hotel, however, may have several stairways running throughout the building, both carpeted and hard surface. Based on maneuverability, the upright selected for use in guestrooms may not be the best machine for vacuuming stairs. A backpack or canister machine with hose and nozzle attachments makes more sense here.

Most large hotels feature at least one carpeted banquet room. A standard upright vacuum cleaner, canister, or backpack, would be inadequate for vacuuming these huge rooms. Instead, a powerful wide-area vacuum cleaner that is durable, easy to maneuver, and has excellent air filtration is probably best.

The hotel's restaurants will probably require a machine that offers the features of an upright or backpack, but is more compact, offering greater mobility and flexibility for the cleaning worker to clean in and around tables, chairs, counters, high and low surfaces, and fixtures without requiring a lot of bending and stooping. In this setting, a high-performance canister vacuum cleaner might be the machine to select.

Equipment Factors to Consider
Once your vacuum cleaner needs have been determined based on where the machine will be used, take a closer look at the various other factors to consider before making your purchase. According to Gary Cirone, vice president of Tornado Industries, a Chicago-based manufacturer of vacuum cleaners and floor care equipment, factors to take into account include:
Ergonomic design. An ergonomically designed machine is one that fits the machine to the worker, and not the worker to the machine. An ergonomically designed vacuum cleaner is, "lightweight, has easy-access controls and accessories, is flexible, and easy to maneuver, and has adjustable handles and grip-handles that comfortably conform to the user's hands," Cirone said.
Manual carpet-height adustment. Because carpets come in a variety of piles and heights, Cirone suggests choosing upright vacuum cleaners with manual height adjustments. "Machines that automatically adjust to carpet heights and piles are not always reliable, and have an added service-cost factor that manual machines do not have," he says. "A machine with a manual height adjustment is usually more dependable, easily adjusting to the variety of carpets encountered in commercial settings."
Soft rubber bumpers. Because most cleaners must work at a very rapid pace, it is not unusual for even skilled professionals to mar walls and furniture when using an upright vacuum cleaner. A protective, soft-rubber bumper surrounding the base of the upright helps guard against damage to walls and furniture.
True HEPA air filtration. "HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] has become the buzz word of vacuum cleaners in the past few years," says Cirone. "That is because we now realize how much vacuuming can affect health and IAQ." Select vacuum cleaners with "true" HEPA air filtration system, meaning the machine is appropriately sealed, trapping 99.97 percent of particles down to 0.3 microns in size so that they cannot become airborne.
Accessories. When vacuuming, there are usually a variety of surfaces areas to be cleaned such as chairs, drapes, upholstery, etc. Vacuum cleaners that can quickly perform an assortment of vacuuming duties, have a built-in wand with stretch hose, and attachments that can be stored right on the machine for quick and easy access all help facilitate vacuuming and worker productivity.
Service friendly. Most vacuum cleaners have filter bags that must be changed, filters that need to be cleaned, and, when using an upright, may require removing bottom plates to clear obstructions vacuumed into the machine. Cirone suggests selecting machines that are "service friendly" so that these tasks can be performed without tools and performed quickly.

It's important to consider is the type of cleaning system being used. Though an upright vacuum cleaner can be used in team cleaning, a backpack is most often selected for this approach. For day cleaning, the quietest machine available is usually selected.

Another consideration is personal choice. Some workers never adapt to wearing a vacuum cleaner on their back, even though they are much lighter and more comfortably designed today than backpacks introduced several years ago. Others consider a backpack the most productive and efficient machine available and prefer it for all of their vacuuming needs.

Is Cost a Factor?
Cost is always a consideration when purchasing any item, including commercial vacuum cleaners. However, Cirone suggests that cleaning professionals and purchasing managers make value a higher consideration.

"A $100 vacuum cleaner will probably not last very long or hold up under the demanding and daily needs of a commercial cleaning situation," he says.

In the long-run, an inexpensive machine may be cheaper upfront, but can cost more in down time, repairs, and poor performance than a vacuum cleaner that costs a bit more but is more reliable, longer lasting, has minimal impact on IAQ and health, and improves worker productivity - in other words, a real value.

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