Building service contractors (BSCs) who are responsible for servicing wide expanses of hard flooring are probably well-acquainted with the autoscrubber. These machines lay down a precise mixture of cleaning chemicals and water, agitate the mix with a pad or brush and vacuum the slurry up all in one pass. Large autoscrubbers increase productivity, reduce labor costs, and deliver wide expanses of sparkling clean floors so efficiently that justifying their larger price tags is easy. 

But what if facilities have a smaller space? Or a big floor with various obstacles to navigate? A traditional mop and bucket system may seem like an obvious choice for these cases. Introduced as far back as the 1890s, mops and buckets are still popular and common cleaning tools because they are inexpensive to buy and relatively easy to use. While mopping, workers can easily reach under furniture and around fixtures and other barriers. The advantages, however, stop there.  

Manual mopping can be inefficient, labor intensive, and hard on the body if done incorrectly. Even worse, these tools don’t really clean as much as they spread dirty water around the floor. Because of this, mopping creates more opportunities for cross-contamination and more chances for a slip-and-fall accident on a wet floor.  

Leaving mop water on the floor to dry also leads to dirt and chemical buildup, something Stan Hulin, president of Future Floor Technology, Inc., Gladstone, Oregon, calls “tacky floor syndrome. Even microfiber mops leave residue on floors,” he says. “Over time, this film attracts and holds on to more dirt and leaves floors sticky.” 

Versatility on a Budget 

A productivity advantage over traditional mopping, say experts, is a floor buffer, which delivers a more hygienic clean than mopping and with far less effort. They range in size from 12 to 20 inches and rotate at slow speeds (175 RPM). Swing machines can be used to strip floor finish as well as buff, clean and scrub a hard surface floor.  

“These machines are very versatile,” says Charles Wood, Redwood Vacuum & Janitorial Supply, Santa Rosa, California. “All you have to do is change the pad and be sure to use the right cleaning chemistry.”  

Wood points to other benefits of a swing buffers’ small size.  

“Smaller equipment is much easier to move around and easily fits into a van for transport,” he says. “This also means swing machines can effortlessly squeeze into smaller elevators and tiny supply closets.” 

However, there are disadvantages to cleaning hard floors with a swing buffer. These machines require many steps to get the job done, starting with removing loose soils with a vacuum or dust mop. If there is no onboard tank to apply solution, technicians must apply cleaning chemistry by hand with a pump spray or mop.  

It’s also imperative that workers choose the right pad for the right job. Use the wrong color and cleaning personnel may prematurely damage the floor’s finish. The general rule of thumb is the darker the color, the more aggressive the pad. Brush pads offer a good option for cleaning grout and tile floors as the brush bristles reach into the grout to scrub out dirt and bacteria.  

Finally, after cleaning with a swing machine, technicians must remove the wet slurry, preferably with a wet/dry vac — but a bucket and mop could work in a pinch.  

These steps all add up to a labor-intensive process that requires more than one piece of equipment. But despite the somewhat detailed process, Wood still feels this technology offers a lot of benefits.  

“The price of a swing buffer, wet/dry vacuum, and a bucket ringer and damp mop is still considerably less than a walk-behind scrubber,” he says. 

Autoscrubber Advantages 

Autoscrubbers offer the easiest, safest and most efficient way to clean a hard surface floor, say experts. They finish the job in one pass, leaving floors dry and ready to walk on, eliminating the chance of slipping on a wet floor. Modern machines are so efficient that they also save on cleaning chemicals and water, making them an environmentally conscious choice, too.  

They range in size from 45-inch ride-on models to 12-inch micro models. And yes, the smaller machines are just as efficient as their bigger cousin and far more effective than a bucket and mop.  

According to The Official ISSA 612 Cleaning Times & Tasks, a 17-inch non-propelled walk-behind unit will clean more than 12,700 square feet per hour. Meanwhile, a 16-ounce damp mop and single bucket and wringer will only clean 4,100 square feet per hour. Efficiencies and return on investment are obvious when comparing these findings. The smaller equipment can also easily maneuver in and around corners and into crevices that larger autoscrubbers cannot reach.  

“This allows better and more thorough cleaning where access is an issue,” says Hulin. “The smaller machines are also great for restrooms where there is a lot of tile and grout. These are very effective in extracting dirt from grout lines.”   

Small autoscrubbers can be electric powered, featuring a cord. There are also newer units available that include Artificial Intelligence capabilities. But most distributors still recommend battery-powered equipment for its productivity advantages.  

“Battery-operated equipment charges faster and lasts longer than in the past, and fewer cords mean fewer tripping hazards,” says Ken Horton, WCP Facility Solutions, Simpsonville, South Carolina. “Battery-powered floor scrubbers also provide freedom of motion and movement that is ideal when cleaning and maneuvering in tight spaces.” 

Horton adds that many of these machines are also ergonomically designed to create less stress for the operator.  

“This leads to less effort, which contributes to the larger value of protecting cleaning teammates from stress injuries or repetitive injuries,” he says. “It also allows more efficient cleaning in all spaces no matter the size.” 

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