Orbital floor cleaning machines are most commonly used to strip finish from hard floors. However, many building service contractors are realizing the benefits of using this equipment on carpeting as well. In addition to saving money on new equipment purchases — the same machine can clean both hard and soft flooring — orbital floor machines produce a better end result in less time, and carpets stay cleaner longer.

“The use of orbital action machines for commercial carpet maintenance, both as an interim and restorative cleaning system, has risen drastically in the last couple of years,” says Craig Jasper, approved instructor of the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), headquartered in Vancouver, Washington. “They are extremely fast at cleaning lightly soiled carpets at rates of up to 5,000 square feet an hour.”

These orbital floor machines, also known as oscillating floor machines, vibrate the pad driver in quarter-inch circles between 2,250 and 3,500 revolutions per minute. They work on carpets by agitating the carpet fibers with the aid of an absorbent pad, thereby absorbing the soil and wiping the fibers completely clean.

“The orbital rotation of the machine cleans in all directions,” says Keith Schneringer, marketing manager of Waxie Sanitary Supply in San Diego, California. “So it’s cleaning on all sides of the carpet fiber — front, back, left and right — giving [building service contractors] a really good cleaning result on the top of the carpet.”

Because orbital machines excel at cleaning the surface of carpet fibers, they are best suited for interim cleaning between deep cleaning extractions.

“Extraction is time consuming,” says Dan Houle, president of Regent Supply in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “With orbital machines, the idea is you’re trying to extend out those extraction times as long as possible, and never let your carpet get really dirty. For example, if you’re extracting every six months you could use the orbital machine every three months and extract once a year. So, it will extend the life of your carpet and the savings to a building is massive.”

Likewise Tom Tipton, owner of 4 State Maintenance in Coffeyville, Kansas, attests to the labor-savings benefit of cleaning carpets with orbital floor machines.

“Ultimately the machine abrades or agitates the surface that it’s cleaning,” he says. “So in high-traffic areas where there’s a tremendous amount of ground-in soil, the orbital machine can greatly benefit the effort. It expedites the process of cleaning. If you didn’t have that form of agitation you’d have to run the extractor over the area a number of times, which lengthens the cleaning process and is costly to the consumer because of the extra labor involved.”

In addition to being labor-intensive, extraction can often lead to oversaturated carpets.

“In high-traffic areas with heavy soil loads, people often over-wet the carpet when trying to remove the soil by extraction and damage the carpet fibers,” says Tipton. “But with the orbital machine you can release the soil load with the agitation effort and successfully remove it from the carpet.”

And because orbital machines don’t over-wet carpets, dry times are quicker than those of extraction methods — anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

“Typically with extraction you leave some moisture behind,” says Schneringer. “Whereas with the orbital machine, you’re putting down the water and cleaning along the top of the carpet fiber, so you’re not overwetting the carpet, and it dries faster. It works really well for areas where you don’t have a lot of time to let carpets dry.”

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Orbital Machines Improve Carpet Appearance