This is part one of a three-part article comparing commercial and consumer vacuums.

Commercial or consumer? That is the question many building service contractors ponder when deciding on the type of upright vacuum they should purchase to clean their facilities.

Unfortunately, cleaning industry consultants say far too many penny-pinching contractors are driving to their closest big-box store to buy vacuums intended for residential cleaning instead of buying commercial vacuums from jan/san distributors that are specifically designed to handle the wear and tear of professional cleaning.

“There are a lot of people out there that don’t think about how well something cleans, because they think that a vacuum is a vacuum is a vacuum,” says Jim Smith, executive vice president of HP Products, Indianapolis.

Although big-box retailers sell consumer vacuums that may look the part, industry experts and distributors say nothing compares to a commercial vacuum. In fact, purchasing a lower-priced consumer vacuum with the assumption that it will perform as well as a commercial one, will only leave end users with a headache in more ways than one.

“It’s often a quick purchase,” says BJ Mandelstam, founder and president of Cleaning Matters, a Denver-based custodial consulting practice. “The need is immediate, and it becomes, ‘Where is the easiest place to get this?’ versus, ‘Where am I going to get the best service or the best value?’”

The purchases of consumer vacuums can not only deplete a contractor’s budget depending on how many “throwaway” or “disposable” vacuums are purchased on a yearly basis, but it can also have a major effect on the cleanliness of a facility and the health of its occupants. Industry experts say it is important for end users to start making more informed purchasing decisions when it comes to vacuums.