Vacuums can play much larger roles in building service contractors’ cleaning programs. Beyond carpet, a vacuum can do an effective job at capturing dust from hard floors. They also can be used in place of microfiber cloths and wands and lambs wool dusters to dust vertical surfaces.

Cleaning hard floors with a dust mop will not be as efficient as using a backpack vacuum. In open areas, particles slip under the dust-mop and remain on the floor, and small particles become airborne in the flow of air over the top of the dust mop, remain in the air for hours, and settle back onto the floor, unless inhaled by an opportunistic passer-by. Corners and edges are missed (dirt piles up in the corners, day by day). Areas around and under furniture are bypassed entirely.

A rule of thumb in the industry holds that, when damp-mopping, janitors should expect to change the mop water twice as often if they’ve dust-mopped, rather than vacuumed, beforehand. Simply put, mop water stays cleaner, longer, with prior vacuuming.

The above holds true for VCT flooring. Imagine the additional effect of texture and grout lines in rough stone and ceramic floors. Most all dirt stays on the floor, and in the grout lines, to be turned to mud when the damp-mop hits.

It’s hard to argue that the janitor with his dust-mop is simply trying to keep costs down for his client. Although a decent backpack vacuum (with hard-floor nozzle) costs a good deal more than the dust mop, its greater efficiency in use repays the purchase price of the vacuum in saved labor costs over the months to come. Further, the more dust particles removed from the building the first night by vacuuming the floor, the fewer particles need to be vacuumed, mopped or dusted off surfaces the next shift; saving time and labor costs, both nights.

In addition, vacuuming removes much more of the fine grit that, when worked in by foot traffic, abrades the surface of floor finish, requiring burnishing and eventually refinishing.

Finally, a HEPA filter on the vacuum, followed by damp-mopping with a microfiber mop (to remove any particles missed by the vacuum) gives one both clean, unstreaked floors and improved indoor air quality.

Vacuum, don’t high-dust
It may seem a minor point, but many areas of high dusting that, when neglected, accumulate a lot of dust — vents, high sills, tops of high pictures — spread a lot of dust around the office when they finally are dusted, especially when using either a feather duster or lamb’s wool tool. Neither of these products capture dust.

Most backpack vacuums come equipped with a small brush that fits on the end of the wand; the brush generally removes more dust than the feather duster would, and the vacuum and filter capture it. If janitors add a HEPA filter to the vacuum they’ll remove virtually all the high dust from the building, rather than simply redistributing it.

In addition to the traditional focus on carpeting, vacuuming hard floors and vertical surfaces can help capture and contain dust, which will improve a facility’s indoor air quality.

Bob Croft is President of CBN Building Maintenance, a 34-year-old commercial janitorial service in Phoenix. Bob began development of CBN’s system of “Cleaning for Health, Safety and Security” in 1995. He holds the CBSE designation from Building Service Contractors Association International. He’s a member of the American Indoor Air Quality Council, a volunteer arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau, and serves on the City of Phoenix Environmental Quality Commission.

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Vacuuming Can Improve Indoor Air Quality