Ever since truck mount extractors came onto the market roughly 30 years ago, many building service contractors have sworn by their power, reliability and ability to clean carpets better than portable extractors. But, thanks to improved technology, portables have regained their footing in the market. Due to some facilities’ space constraints, BSCs are finding out that truck mounts aren’t always the best option.

“There are pros and cons for each, but if you are working on commercial carpets, you need to have both in your arsenal,” says Bob Armbruster, president of Clean Team Inc., Toledo, Ohio. “It’s important to understand the value of each.”

Assessing Truck Mount Systems

Truck mount carpet cleaning is a water-based vacuum-extraction cleaning system that is more powerful and can be more effective than solvent-based methods.

BSCs can choose between two different types of truck mount systems: Slide-in truck mounts, which are powered by their own engines and are built within a frame or chassis that is bolted into the vehicle, and van-powered truck mounts, which are powered off of the engine of the vehicle. With both options, the machines supply the cleaning solution, heat, pressure and vacuum for the cleaning operation.

Slide-in truck mount systems can be used on a variety of vehicles and can be easily transferred from one vehicle to another. These systems also consume lower amounts of gas. However, slide-in truck mounts take up a lot of cargo space. They are also generally more complex to operate and have higher maintenance requirements.

Van-powered systems, on the other hand, are more compact, so they take up less interior space of the vehicle. They also typically require less maintenance so they are more reliable. Unlike slide-in systems, van-powered extractors are limited in vehicle options. They also consume a lot more gas; during last year’s gas price spikes, this would have been a concern for many BSCs.

Despite their differences, both truck mount versions are able to clean carpets faster than portable machines. And since they don’t have to be emptied often like portable extractors, many BSCs tout their convenience, too.

“You can’t beat the power or the heat and the almost endless water supply,” says Bob Merkt, owner of Kettle Moraine Professional Cleaners Inc., West Bend, Wis. “We carry 110 gallons of clean water vs. the portables that you have to constantly fill and dump out.”

Since all the solution tanks, cleaning products and waste tanks are mounted on the vehicle, there is no need for an exterior power or water source to carry out the cleaning operation.

“You won’t need buckets of water and solutions to carry through the building, so the chance of spilling is greatly reduced,” says Jim Thompson, owner of A1 Building Services, Wyoming, Mich. “All the dirty water containing the soil is vacuumed into the waste tank mounted on the vehicle.”

Truck mount extractors remove soil, chemicals and pollen from carpets easier than portables because suction is stronger and the water gets heated to a higher temperature.

“I would say that it’s at least three times faster than using the portables,” says Merkt.

Portable Power

Portable extractors have come a long way in the last decade and many BSCs prefer them to the truck mount extractors.

“I’ve looked into truck mounts, almost bought them, but just didn’t understand why they are so much better,” says Evelyn Pino, owner of Action Janitorial in Pleasantville, N.J. “With a portable machine you can easily transport them from floor to floor, you can get into smaller spaces and you can get up in tight corners. Plus, do you really need all that power that a truck mount gives you?”

If a BSC is working on a high-rise building, he won’t be able to use a truck mount system. Although truck mounts use positive displacement vacuum pumps that enable them to clean several hundred feet away from the unit with minimal loss of power, they are not recommended for use at these long distances, as the hoses start to lose pressure once they reach 150 feet. Therefore, anything above the third floor of a building will not be cleaned as well.

Even when the hoses can reach, sometimes they can be too much of a nuisance in commercial cleaning.

“We work for four different hospitals and we’re dealing with five-, six-, seven-story buildings and truck mounts aren’t a good option because you don’t want to be dragging hoses through the floors of a hospital, obviously,” Thompson says. “We use a couple of different systems and the dry-time for our systems are about 45 minutes. Shutting down an area for six to seven hours, which would be required if using a truck mount, is not an option.”

There’s also a security factor that must be taken into account for those who work at sensitive facilities.

“You’re not going to want to leave a door open at a bank or lawyer’s office, where there can be valuable or sensitive material inside, so a truck mount isn’t practical for these environments,” says Merkt.

Portables, however, do have their own problems, including constant emptying and refilling, particularly on floors that may not provide access to a janitor’s closet.

“You might have to go to another floor to empty and refill which adds time,” says Pino.

And staying longer at accounts is one thing BSCs want to avoid.

Money Matters

Price is a major factor when comparing truck mounts to portables. A truck mount system can cost as much as $15,000 while a comparable portable extractor is only $5,000.

“A truck mount is expensive. You need to have it out everyday to make it worth having,” says Armbruster. “You can’t use it everywhere such as a high-rise building, or one where you can’t keep a door propped opened because of high security, so you need to take all this into account before investing in one.”

Because truck mounts can be harder to train people on, more mistakes are common, which could get costly as well. Maintaining truck mounts is also more labor intensive as the gaskets and dump doors must be changed and cleaned regularly.

“If someone is just starting up in the business, I would recommend that they start with portables,” Thompson says. “Once they establish the needs of their clients, they can evaluate whether to change.”

When making a choice between truck mount or portable extractors, BSCs need to take into consideration the customer’s needs, the size and scope of the building and the amount of money they want to invest.

Keith Loria is a freelance writer based in Larchmont, N.Y.