Take a look in your supply closets. Find the brooms, brushes, mops, squeegees, scrapers and other hand tools. Take a look. Do they look significantly different to you than the ones you ordered last year? Or, for that matter, the ones you ordered five years ago, or the ones your predecessor ordered 25 years ago?

With few exceptions, they probably don’t, at least not superficially. The fiber composition might be different. The colors of the mops might match the colors of the buckets and cloths. But, by and large, a broom from today would still be immediately recognizable as a broom to someone from years, or even decades, ago, say manufacturers of these products, many of whom have been around for decades themselves.

“By and large, some types of products are not drastically different from 25 years ago,” says John Lindstrum, president of Zephyr Manufacturing, a 77-year-old manufacturing firm in Sedalia, Mo. “Much of the cleaning process is still the same; there has been no mechanization that would replace some of the traditional products.”

Changes have been more subtle, says Rory Beaudette, national sales manager for ACS Industries, a 65-year-old manufacturer in Woonsocket, RI.

“Our product line tends to be classic in nature, [but] we do try to vary the fiber or filament content on our brooms and brushes, modify the colors and make other adjustments to make the brushes or brooms more appealing [or] more functional for the user,” says Beaudette.

The things that do tend to change reflect the evolving needs of the user, say industry experts. Functionality and aesthetics are important, but quality is becoming even more vital for hand-tool selection, Beaudette says.

“We have found building service contractors … are looking for professional-grade [tools] that are built well and will stand up to the daily use, and all of this at a price that is competitive,” Beaudette says.

Competitive price is also a must for many contractors, agrees Lindstrum. Some BSCs do simply select the least expensive option, but other contractors are realizing that if they spend a little extra at the beginning and buy a higher-quality mop, that can pay off in longevity, he adds.

“The industry has access to better yarn, better spinning, and better, stronger raw materials,” adds Lindstrum. “The wearability and usability of yarn-based mops has improved tremendously.”

Another factor BSCs consider when buying hand tools is the tool’s impact on the worker, says Mark Unger, chief operating officer for Unger Manufacturing, a company originally founded in 1964 in Germany. Its U.S. headquarters are in Bridgeport, Conn.

“With all the safety issues facing BSC customers, many look for ergonomic tools that enhance workers’ performance and improve sanitation,” Unger says. “[Our] tools are designed to help cleaning professionals increase productivity, improve safety and create a work environment with limited exposure to hazardous chemicals or high-risk activities.”

“With labor being a very big issue with building service contractors, any [ergonomic changes] that we can offer to make the job easier or faster is something that we continuously focus on,” adds Beaudette. Manufacturers look at various fibers that are available, including the trim length of the fiber, the density of the fibers on the brush, broom or mop and similar factors that make products more efficient.

Another part of efficiency is size, both relative to the user and to the area being cleaned.

“You do not want to be putting a mop that is too large in someone’s hand [so] that [he] can’t handle it,” says Beaudette. “Conversely, if someone wants to mop large areas you need a mop on the large or extra-large size. Fit is important.”

What’s coming?
Industry experts expect hand-tool evolution to be just that — evolutionary, not revolutionary. Radical redesign and automation are years, if not longer, away; brooms and mops will continue to look and function similarly to, but perhaps better than, they currently do.

“We anticipate the development and manufacture of more ergonomically designed cleaning tools in response to jan/san industry needs,” says Unger. “We see manufacturers working to meet the demands for high- quality cleaning products that provide greater cleaning efficiency, improved ergonomics and peak cleaning performance.”

One trendt hat experts predict will continue and evolve is microfiber. Now offered by a handful of manufacturers, microfiber is beginning to crop up in mops, cloths and towels; some other manufacturers are beginning to take a closer look.

“We are also following the trend in microfiber. Although we do not have this product as of yet, it is something we have studied and will be making a decision on soon,” Beaudette says.

However, while useful in some applications, microfiber isn’t the right fit for everyone, cautions Lindstrum.

“We consider microfiber well-suited to health care, but not much else — good microfiber is very expensive, and it can save money on chemicals,” he says. But, most non-health-care cleaning doesn’t need the levels of safety or prevention of cross-contamination that microfiber offers.

Otherwise, expect to see classic designs tweaked, with higher quality, more color coding and more ergnomic features. And, for most BSCs, that will be fine, as these subtle changes aren’t for the sake of change, or so something appears “high-tech.” They’re changes that should meet BSCs’ needs for years to come.

Do you do windows?

Like other cleaning tools, window-cleaning devices also haven’t changed dramatically in years, says Robin Tucker, vice president of sales and marketing for Tucker Manufacturing Co. Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Squeegees, buckets and poles have been around for decades.

Indeed, his own company’s telescopic-pole window-cleaning system has been around for approximately 50 years. While the basic design of the pole system is similar to that of a half-century ago, improvements in filtration, reverse osmosis and deionization mean hard-water spots and residues are easier to remove and prevent than ever.

Building service contractors haven’t been Tucker’s primary customer market, but a small, but increasing number of BSCs are offering window cleaning directly.

“Some window cleaning is done in-house, but more facility managers are looking for ways to clean windows economically,” he says. “They’re contracting out, and looking to their BSCs, who will then do it themselves or subcontract to window cleaners.”