Carpet extractors come in a variety of sizes, from compact hand-helds to walk-behinds to large ride-ons. And size matters. When choosing an extractor, building service contractors need to consider turn radius, technician fatigue, storage and a host of other concerns. Matching the right machine — or more commonly, the right combination of machines — to the job is crucial. One size rarely fits all.

“As expensive as equipment is, labor is far more expensive,” says Kent Pollard, president of First Choice Cleaning, Zeeland, Mich. “To be profitable you have to have the right equipment.”

Not surprisingly, most contractors have a variety of extraction machines they can mix and match to each project.

“They’re all good at what they do, but no one company has mastered it, in our perspective,” says Ed Moschler, vice president of Southern Building Maintenance Co., Inc. (SBM) in Greensboro, N.C. Moschler estimates SBM uses at least eight different types of extraction machines to service more than 500 accounts.

Need for Speed
Brian Hoover, account manager for Knoxville, Tenn.-based SSC Service Solutions Corp., cares for a large retail mall with a carpet area of 60,000 square feet. For such large spaces he relies on ride-on machines that are able to make wider sweeps in order to clean in a short amount of time.

“The rider gets three to six more inches per pass and ends up saving time,” says Hoover.

A large machine can clean quickly, but facilities with wide-open spaces have confined areas, too. BSCs will need smaller machines in addition to larger models in order to clean around obstacles such as office furniture.

Two smaller machines, with the ability to clean both large and small spaces, can sometimes be a better investment compared to buying one large machine.

Relying primarily on smaller machines such as hand-helds and walk-behinds is daily reality for Moschler, who caters mostly to office buildings.

“It’s a sea of cubicles and cluttered offices,” says Moschler. “You need a small machine.”

One drawback to small machines is that the smaller the machine, the more often the tank needs to be refilled. A workaround for that is machines that recycle their own water.

“Changing water slows you down, so the recycled water is nice for that,” says Moschler.

If time is a concern, BSCs should consider rechargeable battery units over traditional electric machines, says Hoover. With battery-operated machines, operators don’t have to stop working to search for a new outlet and plug in the machine again.

“That’s a substantial amount of time saved,” he says. “It cuts time by at least 25 percent.”

Portability and storage
Size is a critical factor to consider if BSCs need to transport equipment from one account to the next. The smaller the machine, the easier it is to move in and out of vans, closets, or up and down staircases. Small machines also require less space for storage.

“You’d be amazed how little space there is for us to store equipment in commercial buildings,” says Pollard. “If there is no adequate storage area we have to bring our equipment in and take it out. You also need a vehicle to transport, and to factor in wear and tear on equipment and the time it takes to move it. We evaluate every job, and factor in transporting equipment [in our billing].”

Transporting walk-behinds and ride-ons also presents a variety of logistical challenges, such as finding parking in urban areas to unload equipment, which can be inconvenient and costly.

“In some facilities, if we’re cleaning there several times per month, we store both sizes,” says Pollard. “Moving it in and out of vehicles and up and down ramps, [the machine] gets punished.”

To avoid the storage issue, a common extractor option is a truck mount. However, like small and large portable extractors, truck mounts have their pros and cons.

Truck mount extractors are very powerful with good heat and water conditioning, allowing operators to clean carpets with fewer passes than a portable extractor, says Dan Draper, president and CEO of Nationwide Janitorial Service, South Bend, Ind.

“One pass with the truck mount may clean as well as three passes with a portable,” he says.

But truck mounts are limited by their hose length and they may not run long enough to reach all areas in an office building. Security can also be an issue for contractors running a hose from a truck mount extractor into a building. In these instances a portable extractor will be more useful.

“There have been times we’ve assigned someone to physically guard the door to ensure no unauthorized people come in,” says Draper, referring to banks, insurance companies and medical facilities.

When choosing the right extractor, BSCs need to keep in mind the limitations of their staff. Cleaning carpets is a physical job. Using a walk-behind extractor for a substantial amount of time could cause worker fatigue. Ride-on equipment allows the operator to clean longer and more space without getting tired. However, even ride-on equipment can be problematic for workers with bad knees or backs.

BSCs also need to consider how well their staff will be able to handle the machines. Large equipment requires concentration and attention on the part of the operator. Ride-on machines especially have the potential to damage client property or harm an unwary technician.

“The person needs to be one of your more detail-oriented employees,” says Hoover. “If they’re ho-humming around, the possibility of damage is much greater.”

Small machines tend to be easier for operators to control, a benefit for new workers who may have never used this type of equipment before.

Large and small machines each have their own pros and cons. While no single machine will be perfect for cleaning an entire facility, assessing each situation carefully will help BSCs choose the right combination of machines without going over budget

Lauren Summerstone is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer.