There are a variety of durable and reliable floor machines on the market today that rely on different power sources to do their all-important jobs. But when it comes to propane-driven, battery-powered or electric-corded machines, do you know which is best suited for which type of cleaning operation? The right answer can improve your bottom line and make for happier clients.

Propane vs. electric
Before building service contractors evaluate the “ups” and “downs” of the different types of floor machines, they first have to identify their needs and budgets, the sizes of the facilities they clean, what kind of debris they are cleaning and how much head or contact pressure is needed.

“First, you’ve got to be certain that the equipment you’re considering can handle the job it’s supposed to do,” advises Ron Fournier, sales manager for IG Champion/The Clean Depot distribution company in Toronto. “That’s basic.”

Each power source will have its fair share of pros and cons. The advantages of propane machines are speed, greater head pressure, and the higher shine that they produce, says Dennis Richards, president, Puritan Cleaning Professionals Co., Missoula, Mont.

“They’re a lot more efficient and maybe twice as fast as the other floor machines,” he says.

But propane machines also have their disadvantages.

“The downside is that their exhausts can set off fire alarms, and you can’t use them during hours when employees are working,” says Richards.

“You won’t see a nursing home or a hospital use a propane-powered machine in their hallways because the machine is gas-driven and is too loud,” adds Dave Frank, consultant with the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (AICS), Highland Ranch, Colo. “But you’ll commonly see them used in supermarkets and large department stores when building occupants aren’t present.”

Corded machines, on the other hand, are almost the rule for institutional cleaning, says Fournier.

“With these there are no fumes that are associated with propane machines and there is no risk of spillage or leakage from batteries,” he adds. “And they are extremely quiet.”

Puritan’s Richards also likes corded machines and says they are best suited for his company’s particular cleaning operations. They are easier to transport, he observes, and they can get into the smaller areas of his clients’ buildings.

“We’ve got many buildings with smaller areas to clean and like to use a lighter-weight unit that can get into smallish offices, bathrooms and lunch rooms,” he says.

However, the machine’s light weight can also be a drawback. The lighter head pressure forces cleaning crew members to work harder to achieve the same results as a propane machine, says Dick Ollek, president, Mid-America Building Maintenance, Wichita, Kan.

Corded machines can also be less efficient because of the time it takes to continually reposition the cords at different outlets, says Fournier.

“You must have access to electric outlets,” says Richards. “And if you’re cleaning bigger spaces, you’ve got to change outlets frequently. That can be time consuming.”

Buying battery equipment
The most popular floor machine in today’s market is the battery-powered machine, says Fournier.

“It gives the operator complete freedom. That’s because it’s not tied to a cord and an outlet. In most applications it’s used in areas that are sensitive to propane fumes produced by propane-powered equipment,” says Fournier.

Battery machines are useful for cleaning wide-open areas, or facilities where noise is an issue. But like all floor machines, battery-powered ones have their limitations.

“They’re cleaner and quieter running machines, but the batteries do need maintenance, and you also need extra sets of batteries on hand, which can be an issue for storage,” says Ollek.

After examining the specifics of the account and the pluses and minuses of each type of power source, BSCs can make an educated decision as to which machine is the right answer. However, no single option is going to be a match for all accounts — BSCs will most likely need a variety of machines in their corral.

The Shrinking Of The Floor Machine

Besides power source, size is another feature on floor machines that drive their desirability. Once upon a time, large machines were king. The bigger the machine, the more floor you could cover. Now manufacturers tout their machines can fit through doorways and between the myriad aisles of America’s supermarkets. Why are contractors interested in resizing their floor machines?

The new machines are more agile and better for smaller grocery chains, where square footage ranges from 18,000 to 25,000 square feet. They are ergonomically designed for easy use. Front line visibility has improved by at least 60 percent; operators can see better and better control their machines.

“This results in fewer impacts and fewer missed spots, because these smaller machines can get into areas where standard autoscrubbers can’t go,” says Ron Fournier, sales manager for IG Champion/The Clean Depot, Toronto. “Their run time is almost equal to or better than the larger machines. Furthermore, their maintenance issues are almost non-existent.”

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.