Vacuums are a mainstay in every building service contractor’s cleaning arsenal. And vacuum manufacturers are continually updating and improving their models with the latest features that improve filtration, make the machine safer and more comfortable to users, and boost productivity.

One of the most notable advancements in vacuum technology has been filtration. A vacuum’s filtration system can play a role in improving indoor air quality (IAQ). Many cleaning professionals, particularly those cleaning green facilities, want vacuums with HEPA filters. These filters are composed of a mat of fibers, which remove at least 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and other airborne particles from the air. However, using a HEPA filter alone may not actually achieve the required filtration level because the vacuum may have leaks where dust can escape. To guarantee pure HEPA filtration, BSCs may want to look for a vacuum that features a HEPA-sealed system.

Besides capturing dust, filters can also help control the spread of harmful bacteria. Studies have demonstrated that salmonella and other microorganisms can grow in vacuum bags as a result of infrequent changing. Some filters have been developed to prevent and neutralize the growth of mold and bacteria in the bags.

No matter if a BSC uses an upright, canister or backpack vacuum, even the greatest machine will sit in the closet unused if its not comfortable for the user. Ergonomically correct equipment is designed to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. Vacuuming is a repetitive motion. An improperly designed vacuum can place stress between the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder’s rotator cuff, which can cause worker’s compensation injuries.

To help reduce injuries, vacuums should have handles set at angles and with finger grooves so users don’t need to grip them so tightly. In addition, handles should be constructed from soft materials, such as foam or rubber. For backpack vacuums, a good harness should help support the unit.

Lighter vacuums are also being designed to address the increasing number of women workers who don’t have the same strength as their male colleagues.

A recent trend in vacuum technology is a switch in power source. More vacuums are losing the cord and using batteries. A battery-powered vacuum makes it easier for workers to clean around office furniture and other obstacles. It also relieves the operator from turning around and watching where the cord is being dragged. Another benefit to cordless vacuums is increased safety. More facilities are switching to day cleaning with cleaning crews present at the same time as the building occupants. Vacuums with electric cords present a trip-and-fall hazard to tenants.

Unfortunately many BSCs still use out-of-date vacuums in their cleaning programs. It may be time to upgrade older models with ones that have some — or all — of the aforementioned features.

Excerpted from the April 2006 issue of Sanitary Maintenance and the May 2005 issue of Contracting Profits.