Are equipment purchases getting too costly? Or are you looking for ways to reduce the number of labor hours at accounts? Instead of slashing budget items to lower expenses, building service contractors should look at how their cleaning equipment is treated after use. What they find may surprise them.

I was working with a building service contractor managing a large, long-term health care facility composed of several buildings. This facility is situated on a large and beautiful campus, with townhouses, apartments and long-term health centers. If a person or couple requires a retirement home, assisted living or continuing care, this facility has it.

The distributor taking care of some of the facility’s supplies and all of its equipment is kept busy with machine pick-up and repair. In a recent conversation, the service manager at the distributorship made the remark to the janitorial supervisor, “You could pay for the latest, state-of-the-art equipment with the money you have spent on repairs this year!”

The remark was made in passing, but the supervisor took it seriously and started investigating. The total amount of repair costs were staggering, but she took it a step further and calculated the lost labor hours, which were just as shocking.

She determined repairs are triggered by machine failure most often occurring during the performance of a required task: vacuuming, extracting, stripping, burnishing, etc. In other words, equipment was not being cared for properly nor were the manufacturers’ maintenance schedules being followed.

It is very expensive when equipment is not cared for and breaks down during a task. Not only does it cost money to have the equipment repaired, but labor is also wasted returning the equipment, finding a new machine to finish the job and contacting the distributor to pick up the broken machine. All of these extra tasks take time and cost money.

The service manager at the distributor said some of the most common, reoccurring problems with equipment are caused by improper usage. Examples of this include:

•Removing power cords from the outlet by pulling on the cord instead of the plug;
•Not rinsing solution tanks;
•Not circulating a rust inhibitor through the system;
•Winding cords improperly so they end up with kinks in them causing internal shorts in the cord;
•Not checking water in batteries and improper charging techniques;
•Using an autoscrubber for stripping, but not rinsing the squeegee, hose or recovery tank;
•Dropping equipment from trucks, vans and even loading docks.

Correcting even a few of these problems will prevent breakage and save money on repairs. In addition, building service contractors should instruct their janitors to perform routine maintenance. Almost every equipment manual includes a chart with the required maintenance steps and when they should be performed. If a contractor has lost a manual, they are available online. Print or photocopy this schedule and keep it near equipment.

Skip Seal is a trainer and consultant with more than 30 years management experience in the cleaning industry. He is a LEED Accredited Professional and a Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) ISSA Certification Expert (I.C.E.). Seal and his team offer support across the country with sales and operation analysis, new market penetration, and sales training. He can be reached at