Vacuums are a critical part of the daily cleaning routine, and a large portion of a building service contractor’s equipment investment. But the way BSC employees treat their vacuum cleaners often is disproportionate to how important and expensive they are.

Link Creuzkamp, a salesman with the OK Vacuum and Janitor Supply in St. Louis, has a strategy.

“Take care of them,” he says. Creuzkamp isn’t the only one with that opinion. Manufacturers, lab engineers, sales people and cleaning supervisors all agree that cleaning workers, and their supervisors can reduce the cost of replacing vacuums through simple routine care.

Sounds easy enough, but it’s a little harder to put into practice.

“So many facilities have to share equipment,” says Creuzkamp. “They can’t assign each custodian a vacuum. So the thing you hear is ‘It was that way when I got it this morning.’”

Proper training helps reduce vacuum damage, but employees have got to be motivated to perform routine maintenance tasks. This is where supervisors step in with incentives for employees who maintain their equipment better, and repercussions for those who don’t.

Simple steps
The No. 1 vacuum killer is failing to empty filter bags.

“The principle behind vacuum cleaning is very simple: You move air through a carpet and suck the dirt into a bag,” explains Creuzkamp. “If you reduce the air flow, you don’t get the dirt.”

There’s another danger to restricting airflow. It can cause the vacuum motor to burn out. Plastic parts also may melt when temperatures rise, following restricted air movement.

How often should cleaners empty the filter? It depends on how much they vacuum and what kind of debris they pick up. One manufacturer says three inches of sand in a vacuum bag is so heavy that it will restrict a vacuum’s performance. Another engineer warns that sheet-rock dust is such fine particulate it can clog filters and minimize airflow well before the bag is full.

While contractors may want to eek out a little more use from each bag and filter, they also should calculate the cost of replacing these items regularly versus the maintenance and replacement costs they are risking by not caring for their vacuums properly. And routine replacement will increase vacuum efficiency, leaving less dirt behind for the next cleaning shift.

A good rule of thumb — if the bag is two-thirds full, it’s time to empty or replace it, says Creuzkamp. He says this rule applies to cloth and paper bags.

Occasionally, cleaners should wipe cloth bags clean.

“The pores of the bag will get plugged with soil and reduce airflow,” Creuzkamp says.

If you use a vacuum four to six hours a day, you’ll want to wipe out the cloth bag once or twice a month by turning it inside out and brushing it. Contractors shouldn’t put cloth bags in washing machines because the agitation can weaken the bags’ structure. Cloth bags also should air-dry rather than putting them in dryers because the high temperatures can cause the rubber rings to crack, which prevents a tight seal and thus reduces airflow.

Keeping the vacuum itself clean also can help improve performance. Some manufacturers recommend routinely wiping the machine down, inside and out.

“Anything on the inside will eventually pass through the motor,” explains one vacuum designer.

Another good place to check is the power cord and switch.

“I can’t tell you how many times I get a machine back with worn wires spewing out of the cord,” one manufacturer says. Routine checks will catch worn cords before they become a problem. And supervisors should remind employees to pull from a vacuum’s plug rather than the cord to reduce wire fraying.

Finally, Creuzkamp reminds BSCs that lower is not necessarily better when adjusting vacuum settings.

“Most people set the vacuum as low to the floor as they can get it,” he says. “All they are doing is cutting out airflow and reducing the efficiency of the vacuum.”

Jennifer Jones is an industry writer based in Salt Lake City.