Cleaning equipment is a necessity for every building service contractor. The question is, which equipment should be acquired: the low-cost, bare-bones brand, the more expensive top-of-the-line product, or some middle-of-the-road offering?

If BSCs have a strong, trustworthy relationship with their supplier, then a good place to start is to get the distributor's recommendation, says Mickey Crowe, founder of CleenTech Consulting Group LLC, Kennesaw, Ga. Reputable equipment suppliers have years of experience in helping clients choose the right tools. And they are just as interested as their customers in finding the best machine for the job.

After this initial feedback, BSCs should then factor in quality, reliability, technology and service before making their final decision.

Give It a Test

Consumers would never buy a car without going for a test drive first. The same should be said about floor equipment.

"We went through a detailed machine testing procedure a couple of years ago," says Larry McAlpin, vice president of strategic projects and responsible for purchasing at Riteway Service Inc., Birmingham, Ala. "We chose six manufacturers to work with and rotated the test equipment between six different sites every two months. The test sites included hospitals, schools and steel mills, so the equipment really went through the paces facing different soils and cleaning conditions."

To accurately match equipment to the jobs they will actually be performing, BSCs should test equipment in real-world situations, says Crowe.

"You don't want to use a small scrubber to try and clean a large wide-open facility or a large ride-on scrubber in a building with short narrow hallways," he says. "Use the equipment that will give you the best production for the area to be cleaned."

Crowe suggests asking manufacturers for a return on investment (ROI) calculator to help choose the right machine. This tool is designed to help end users determine how quickly they can expect to recoup their equipment investment through labor reduction and redirection.

Dependability Matters, Not Price

Building service contractors may not enjoy spending thousands of dollars on new equipment, but to many BSCs, price is not the most important deciding factor.

"We evaluate on dependability, longevity, and effectiveness. Price is not foremost in our consideration," says Rudy Hauenstein, project manager, Crothall Services Group, Wayne, Pa.

When it comes to equipment, lower-priced options can lack quality and aren't built to last, say BSCs.

"You definitely get what you pay for in equipment, without a doubt," says McAlpin. "There is a huge difference in quality between a $600 dollar floor buffer and a $1,200 floor buffer. The cheaper stuff just doesn't hold up under tough conditions."

BSCs should look past the price tag and buy for the long-term.

"Buy the best value," says Crowe. "You can buy cheap and it breaks down. Was that a good deal? Always buy the most dependable equipment you can find."

Consider Technology, Green

Technology also plays a role in deciding what equipment to buy. For a long time there was very little fundamental change in cleaning equipment. However, in the past few years the changes have been significant.

For example, one manufacturer has introduced a line of automatic floor scrubbers that can strip old finish using only water and a maroon floor pad without the aid of chemical strippers. Additionally, water and chemical use is reduced in daily cleaning activities by up to 70 percent with this type equipment.

The machines are quite effective and cost a bit more to buy; however, the additional cost is offset by the elimination of stripper. An added bonus is that there is no objectionable chemical smell.

Eliminating chemical fumes can be a significant benefit particularly in healthcare and educational markets. Patients in hospitals and nursing homes with diminished respiratory capacity cannot tolerate the solvent odors present with traditional strippers. The number of students with asthma is on the rise. Twenty million people in the United States suffer from it, including 6.5 million children. Asthma-related illness is the No. 1 cause of absenteeism in American schools.

Another way to reduce the need for chemicals is to use electrically converted water technology. Machines with this technology change the electrical charge of water so that the water acts like a magnet to break down and attract soil. All the benefits mentioned earlier regarding reduced chemical costs and improved indoor air quality are applicable here as well. The acquisition costs are higher but they are consistently returned over the life of the machine and this technology could prove to be a more economical choice when all factors are considered.

Other new technologies include machines that let operators switch between chemicals and water while cleaning. Also, equipment that uses a high-speed microfiber scrub head instead of a traditional floor pad can reduce water usage up to 90 percent and cleaning time by up to 50 percent by eliminating the need for changing the water.

All these technologies affect costs and buying decisions but also create improved environmental factors. Reducing water and chemical usage has a positive impact that should be considered. This is true especially when serving clients that appreciate added environmental benefits.

Don't Forget Service

Finally, BSCs must also consider the impact of service when choosing what equipment to purchase.

"Service and support is everything," says Crowe.

It is not wise to buy equipment from a supplier that does not have a proven service department serving every geographic location in which the equipment is used. Parts and repair services should be available quickly so that costly downtime can be avoided.

Some equipment vendors even generate reports that help identify where building service contractors spend their service dollars. Equipment that breaks down frequently can be spotted and eventually eliminated. Quality equipment service helps ensure that the contractor can provide reliable services to clients without interruption.

Quality, reliability, technology and service are all factors to consider when purchasing cleaning equipment. Budget restraints do, at times, require buying less expensive equipment but in the long run a healthy mix of these attributes will guarantee BSCs' equipment dollars are spent wisely.

Louie E. Davis Jr. is a cleaning industry veteran and freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.


Cleaning equipment is one of the largest capital investments made by contract cleaners and few companies want to spend operational cash on it. Next time BSCs need a new machine, they may want to consider leasing as an option. Benefits include:

  • Credit availability — Leasing allows BSCs to save their bank borrowing capacity for other needs or emergencies.
  • Conserve working capital — Distribute payments over time and preserve working capital.
  • Remove outdated technology — BSCs can take advantage of new technology with leasing. Simply trade in obsolete equipment at terms end for the latest most productive equipment available.
  • Flexible terms — BSCs can choose the monthly payment amount and terms that makes sense for their organizational budget. Either pay out the lease quickly or extend it.
  • No down payment needed — Enjoy 100 percent financing and include software, freight and expendables.
  • Tax advantages — Monthly lease payments can be deducted in the current period and do not have to be amortized. Consult IRS section 179 since changes can occur annually.