For most building service contractors, having an extractor or vacuum out of commission means lost income. Caring for carpet equipment is the same as caring for your profit margin. Luckily it’s in the BSC’s power to prevent many mechanical problems, and help to ensure that their investments enjoy a good, long life.

Know, maintain equipment

Daily preventative maintenance is the easiest way to keep a machine running well. Lubrication, for example should never be overlooked. Exposure to moisture can quickly corrode and rust parts so they freeze up or disintegrate and fine pieces fall into internal machinery where they shouldn’t be, so protecting them is vital.

“After I finish my service, I run a quick spray on connectors,” says Humberto Olivas, owner of Louisville-based Discount Carpet Cleaning & Janitorial Service. “Every time you put water in the line with male or female connectors you create friction, and the WD-40 reduces friction.”

Keeping parts lubed and electrical switches safe means being careful with water. Olivas keeps a funnel handy so when machines are filled, the water goes only where it should — into the tank.

Also, knowing when to add defoamer is key.

“If you don’t pay attention to that, soap will get into the air line and start sucking foam and dirty water into the unit and places you don’t want it to,” says Vernon Sampson, owner of Oakland, Calif.-based Customer First Carpet Care & Building Services.

Filters and debris bags should be changed regularly.

“If a filter is clogged, you won’t get suction because there is no air flow,” says Joe Stapf, president of Sanford, Fla.-based Platinum Floor Care Services. “If I get a dirtier job, or more jobs, I’ve had to clean mine daily, sometimes twice a day. It makes a big difference. Loss of air flow and suction can build up pressure, overheat the engine, and damage the machine.”

Olivas replaces the debris bag when it’s half full.

“If you let it fill, your suction is lower and you’re making the engine work three times harder,” he says. “I don’t care if I pay for it or not — I put in a new one.”

Olivas also checks the filter bag each time he replaces the debris bag.

“When changing my paper bag it’s easy to take a quick peek at the filter bag to see if it’s clean,” says Olivas. “I take off the filter, wash it, and put it back. This extends the life of the machine.”

Of course, storage should always be indoors. Even if it doesn’t rain, humidity, fog and mist, especially in areas near salt water, will cause corrosion. And in the winter ice can form inside, expand as it thaws, and crack parts and dislodge components.

It’s important to dump the waste tank before it’s full and the machine cuts off.

“When it shuts off itself, water overflows and goes into the engine area and saturates with water,” he says. “At end of a job you must check out the engines, wipe them down, dry them, spray them with an air compressor to get all the liquid out, and lube. You’re paying $2,000 for a machine, you don’t want it to last only two years.”

Keeping the outside clean as well, is key to ensuring that grit isn’t knocked from vibration into the interior.

“How it looks is how it runs,” says Stapf. “If it looks clean, it runs clean.”

Training users

Of course it’s not just the owner who is using and caring for equipment — employees have to take care of it, too.

Sampson encourages his people to know what a healthy machine runs and sounds, smells and looks like, and to then use their senses to know when the machine is acting up.

“First, look out for changes in the sound,” he advises. “When a belt breaks on a vacuum cleaner there is a distinct change in sound — the motor spins but it’s not picking up. If you get a penny or screw knocking around, shut the vacuum off and try to dislodge it, rather than let it knock around until the sounds goes away. It can break the fan if it’s plastic.”

Magnets can prevent some metals from entering the machine, and lights can help technicians see better to avoid picking up sharp objects or liquids, he adds.

An electrical or burning smell can mean something is lodged in the motor, and the unit should be shut off immediately.

Extension cords should be taken care of and never be knotted together, even though it’s something that employees may think is a smart move, Olivas says.

“Employees do it because they don’t want it to disconnect,” says Olivas. “But it will create more heat in the wire, and pull the wire from the internal motor, stressing the cable and the engine. If it’s loose, turn it off, and connect it again.”

Sampson takes this a step further, and loosely lassoes the cord on the top bracket for storage, as opposed to stretching it between the top and bottom brackets.

Vacuuming with one hand holding the cord allows the cleaner to feel the tension before it’s pulled at the plug head.

“You can stop yourself and reposition,” says Sampson. “Otherwise you can break the head or the ground plug off. That’s usually how it happens.”

Also train janitors to unplug by holding the head, not yanking the cord. Employees can be trained to treat machines well — and they can be trained to perform minor surgery in the event of a problem.

“Something as simple as changing a belt I expect my employees to do,” says Sampson. “Or, if you run over a cord you can strip the insulation right off, so I try to keep some electrical tape at all job sites. If no electrical tape is available they should stop using it immediately and use a sweeper until another unit arrives.“

Take extra time and caution when transporting equipment, whether it’s up and down stairs, or carrying into or out of a van, especially on rainy days when slipping can be an issue. Also, tie the machine into the van so it’s steady when making turns.

Machines should receive annual check-ups to ensure they remain in good working order. cp

Lauren Summerstone is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.