Is a backpack vacuum the right tool to help increase staff productivity and efficiencies? The answer can be “yes,” depending on how custodial managers train employees and maintain equipment.

Cory Bohlman, service manager at Bruco, Inc., in Billings, Montana, has sold a multitude of backpack vacuums, but says, “Over the last few years, ergonomics and indoor air quality have impacted the design of both the vacuum itself and the carrying harness.”

Rex Morrison, president of Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools, agrees that technological advancements have improved the equipment over time.

“Today’s backpack suction vacuuming technology is 50 to 90 percent faster,” he says. “The backpack vacuum is one of the most useful tools with regard to cleaning.”

Most commercial backpack vacuums come with several tools and attachments to make it easier for staff to clean difficult-to-reach areas such as vents, blinds, behind computer tables, bookcases, etc. Then, there are the hotspots where dust normally gathers, including around the corners and edges of the floor. A backpack enables staff to clean edges and corners without bending.

Morrison adds that backpack vacuums help clean more area in a shorter period of time. And because the units are easier to maneuver, staff can clean an entire area in just a few minutes.

Battery vs. Corded Options

What are the most significant advances made by backpack vacuum manufactures during recent years? Some would say it’s the addition and improvements to the battery pack.

“Battery-powered backpacks have sort of been the Holy Grail of the vacuum industry,” says Brent Williams of The Cleanest Image.

Allen Rathey, president of The Healthy Facilities Institute, agrees, adding, “Battery-powered backpack vacuums have pushed productivity to new heights.” 

He says that the new lithium batteries are getting smaller, lighter and last longer between charges than legacy products. Plus, these cordless options are nice so staff don’t have to worry about twisted and knotted cords, or catching cords on obstacles during vacuuming.

These benefits don’t mean corded options are obsolete, though. Experts comment that there are still some downsides to the battery backpacks.

“In my professional opinion, the jury is still out on the battery-powered backpack vacuums as a solution over the traditional 50 foot cords,” says Ben Walker, business development director of ManageMen, Inc. “There are questions about battery life and many of the productivity claims that I’ve seen haven’t taken into account that cord winding is built into the time it takes to vacuum an area. That being said, they have provided a very nice solution for operations that demand day cleaning; large places with few outlets and vacuuming long flights of stairwells.”

Williams agrees, in part.

“Although run times have improved greatly, there is a limit,” he says. “Often, multiple battery packs are needed to complete a regular shift, which can add to the costs and productivity (the time it takes to retrieve and replace batteries).”

That said, manufacturers continue to improve on battery runtime, size and weight, all of which contribute to the growing emphasis on ergonomics.

“By placing the weight of the battery closer to the user’s center of gravity in the middle of the back, there’s less fatigue,” says Williams. This can save departments labor dollars and prevent worker injuries.

next page of this article:
Improving Ergonomics For Backpack Vacuums