The right tool for the job can make the task a whole lot easier. For years, autoscrubbers and carpet extractors have made floors shine and kept carpets clean. Today, building service contractors have access to a floor-cleaning machine that can stretch budgets, boost productivity and green the cleaning operation.

Combination scrubber-extractor machines clean both soft and hard surfaces, reducing or even eliminating the need to have both autoscrubbers and carpet extractors. With these machines, cleaning staff can use one machine to pre-spray and extract carpets, and to scrub hard floors. A push of a button switches the unit from pre-spraying to extracting mode while a quick tool change readies it for hard-surface cleaning.

"These machines were developed because there was a need," says David Bahcall, vice president of Texas-based Complete Supply Inc. "There are a lot of facilities that have both carpet and hard floor. These units offer two machines in one."

Stretching Budget Dollars

Tough economic times have BSCs and the facilities they serve taking a closer look at ways to stretch their budgets. Multi-purpose machines such as these can help BSCs maximize limited funds, says Stephen Wehse, equipment specialist for NASSCO Inc. of New Berlin, Wis.

The investment saves money because BSCs get two complete machines for a price that's comparable to one. Consider that a large walk-behind extractor costs approximately $10,000 and an autoscrubber might set an operation back a similar amount. A multi-purpose floor machine carries a lower price tag.

"The bump up for a multi-purpose tool adds about $2,000 to the equation, as opposed to spending approximately $9,000 for a large walk-behind scrubber," Wehse says. "You are saving a fair amount by going with one machine."

Measurable cost savings often proves very attractive to budget-conscious BSCs, according Dave Faunce, equipment specialist for Lansing Sanitary Supply (LSS) of Lansing, Mich. He states LSS recently sold a combination unit to a large casino because of its lower price point.

"I was about $10,000 lower than the competition," he says. "I didn't have to quote an extractor and a hard floor machine, and that got me in under the other bids."

Saving Time

Combination machines can reduce labor, which makes up the largest chunk of a BSC's budget; saving in labor definitely affects the bottom line. The ability to switch from hard floors to carpets within seconds takes less time than putting an extractor away when finished with carpets and retrieving an autoscrubber to clean hard floors.

The switch from one surface to another is fairly simple. But Faunce warns that some machines are easier to change out than others. One machine may only require a push of a button and a switch of a hose to move from carpets to hard surfaces, while another might require tools for the changeover. The easier the switch, the greater the productivity gains.

The machines can also make operators more efficient by offering a wider swath than their single-mode counterparts. Most carpet extractors are 18 inches wide, while combination machines are typically 28 inches wide, says Bahcall. In addition, brushes are typically two inches in diameter on single-mode machines, while the brushes on multi-purpose units are four inches in diameter and there are two brushes instead of one.


Training needs may also be reduced because cleaners only need to learn to operate and maintain one machine as opposed to two. Cleaners need to know how to change combination floor machines from one service to another, specific operation techniques and tips, and routine maintenance.

Faunce stresses the order in which floor types are cleaned is an incredibly important part of combination machine training.

Hard floors should be cleaned first, then carpets should be cleaned.

"If you pick up sand while you're cleaning carpet and then you go to a hard floor, unless you take the brushes out and rinse them, you could scratch the floor," Bahcall says.

Maintenance training is also critical because if the machine goes down, neither carpets nor hard floors can be cleaned, he adds.

"If you use the machine, clean the machine," Bahcall says.

That entails frequently emptying dirty water and scrubbing down the tank. He recommends using a scouring pad to ensure the tank gets fully cleaned. While brushes do not require daily cleaning, he advises BSCs to clean them at least once a week. The brushes should be removed, inspected for foreign objects, and rinsed.

"If you teach operators to properly clean and maintain them, you will have a machine that virtually never breaks," Bahcall says.

Greening the Clean

Multi-purpose floor cleaning tools also have a place as the industry moves to green cleaning. These machines operate at less than 70 decibels, have built-in chemical proportioning systems, and can extract carpets in low- and high-moisture modes, according to Wehse.

"These machines are very green," says Bahcall. "They allow you to conserve water, use less chemical and produce less wastewater."

Combination machines offer two carpet-cleaning methods: low-moisture and high-moisture. The low-moisture setting sprays water on the brush and puts down approximately 25 percent as much water as the unit's high-moisture mode. To transition to heavy-duty cleaning, operators simply push a button. So, if an operator notices a coffee spill on the carpet, he or she changes the unit from its low-moisture setting to a method that pre-sprays than puts out about four times as much water, says Bahcall.

"If I see a spot and need to put down more chemical on that spot, I can," he says.

Putting less moisture on the carpet also can be healthier.

"Any time we introduce moisture into the carpet, we create the potential for bacterial growth," Bahcall says, noting that some machines also come with anti-microbial brushes that kill any bacteria picked up, eliminating the potential to spread bacteria across the facility.

Some machines also offer built-in automatic solution dispensing systems to ensure chemicals are diluted correctly. Chemicals are not combined until just before the solution is sprayed on the floor, eliminating leftover solution or chemical waste. BSCs can order extra chemical solution bottles for the machine in order to quickly switch chemicals as cleaners move between floor surfaces. Users simply turn a dial on the machine to achieve the correct chemical dilution.

"The beauty of it is you never put chemicals into the solution side of the machine," says Bahcall. "That is a big benefit on the maintenance side because chemical residue in the solution can clog filters. These machines actually dilute the solution past the pump, reducing breakdowns."

Points to Consider

There are some things BSCs should consider before investing in this equipment, says Bahcall. He recommends considering a few things.

First, are there enough open areas to operate the machine? The machine may be overkill in a 5,000 square foot facility, especially if it houses many cubicles and offices.

"You are looking for large common areas," says Wehse.

The size of the facility, and the variety in surfaces, also play a role. A facility with vast amounts of carpeting and a tremendous amount of hard floors may actually need specialized machines for each purpose rather than a multi-purpose tool, says Faunce. If the facility is primarily carpet and hard surfaces are found only in its restrooms, a multi-purpose machine may not be needed.

How long the machine will be in operation matters as well. These machines run on batteries and need recharging after about three and a half hours. Recharging takes about eight hours. If BSCs need to operate the unit more than three and a half hours a shift, the machine would not be a good fit.

"They would have to recharge it, and if it takes eight hours to recharge, the unit wouldn't be recharged before day's end," Faunce says. "But a smaller facility might be able to use that machine for three days before the battery needs recharging."

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.