Autoscrubbers are part of most large housekeeping department programs, and while the initial cost of equipment might be expensive, the savings in labor hours can recoup budget dollars. Added machine features can go a long way in improving productivity, safety and employee morale: floors are drier, reducing the risk of slips and falls; jobs get done quicker; and employees feel less fatigued and are more productive. Not surprisingly, manufacturers are always looking to add new features and help maintenance professionals get even more from their investment.

For example, Phil Shealy, assistant director of facilities management at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is responsible for three million square feet of campus facilities. He has used a fleet of various-size walk-behind autoscrubbers for years, and very soon he’ll add three new machines to his arsenal. The purchasing decision was triggered by management’s desire to ramp campus cleaning practices up to a level of green that would match requirements for gold or silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for new buildings. Shealy comments that not only will the new machines be ideal for various types of floors, they are also very maneuverable, easy to use and quiet.

“We’ll use these autoscrubbers in large areas, hallways with vinyl flooring, painted concrete floors where we have to scrub or periodically on gym floors and big classrooms when we’re stripping.” Shealy continues that the autoscrubbers can also be used for sweeping, but his department plans to continue dust mopping manually prior to cleaning.

Like Shealy, even though his ride-on autoscrubber has a mechanism to attach a sweeper, Michael Rodriguez, administrative director for building services for South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y., says they typically don’t utilize the feature.

“We dust mop before we run the machine,” he says. “Otherwise we’d have to sweep, remove the tools and then scrub.”

Even though he doesn’t always use the sweeper feature, Rodriguez touts numerous features to his ride-on machine.

“It’s like a vehicle: easier, much faster and the footprint is bigger,” he says. “The ride-on is 28-inches, and the walk-behinds are 24-inches. They go up to 36-inches, but those are harder to maneuver and I wanted it smaller for corridors. The ride-on also has high-capacity tanks that hold 30 gallons in the clean solution tank, and 30 in the recovery tank. Walk-behind holds vary, but mine are 18 gallons on the larger walk-behinds and 14 on the smaller units.”

Experts indicate that removing sand, gravel, snow, salt and calcium chloride can also be easier with an autoscrubber.

“With scrubbers you’re able to lay down water, scrub, and pick up at the same time,” says Rodriguez. “You’re not mopping, which reapplies soil. There’s no changing buckets and you’re able to cover more square footage.”

Added Benefits to Autoscrubbers

Newer autoscrubbers provide multiple features to make cleaning easier and more efficient for cleaning crews. Custodial supervisors must first address the needs within the facility, then determine what autoscrubber features will best address those needs.

When it comes to the size of an autoscrubber, storage can be a challenge. Smaller facilities occasionally share units between their buildings, because the storage just isn’t available. Experts comment, though, that newer buildings have rooms appropriately sized for the storage of large equipment such as autoscrubbers.

“Our stand-ons aren’t nearly as bulky as the walk-behinds or ride-ons, but their cleaning paths are the same,” Shealy says. “We can store two stand-ons where we’d traditionally put one normal walk-behind or ride-on; it’s a third of the length.”

In addition to storage, these machines can be very versatile to meet the specific needs of the facility.

“Our autoscrubber can turn around on itself allowing for maneuverability,” Shealy says. “The visibility is great too. You can see how close you are to the wall, because you’re right over the top of the cleaning brushes. You simply turn a key, and press a button. There’s a steering mechanism, accelerator and break — it’s like driving a small golf cart.”

H. James Hall, CEH, director of environmental services at Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital in Queens Village, N.Y., agrees that his variety of different-sized stand-ons are more maneuverable than his ride-on autoscrubber.

Rodriguez argues, though, that the 170,000 square foot building addition of lobbies, conference areas, landings and other large/open areas provided the impetus needed to acquire a new 28-inch ride-on autoscrubber.

“By increasing size and velocity we added a piece to aid productivity,” he explains. “Now we take the walk-behinds to patient areas to increase appearance and provide a better floor program, enhance the floor finish, buff... We took it to another level. The guys gain productive hours and can spend more time in patient rooms. It’s a domino effect.”

Regardless of the size, Hall gives high marks to an auto-feed feature that applies just the right amount of chemical and pad pressure.

“The last thing you want is too much pressure — you’ll remove wax, but you just want to remove dirt,” he says. “And it helps with slip resistance, as the squeegee behind picks up water and leftover chemical.”

Hall comments that battery-powered scrubbers are also the way to go. “We get more accomplished in a shorter amount of time. We don’t have to look for the nearest plug or extension cords.”

After working with his distributor, Shealy also specified the use of batteries — specifically gel — in his new machines.

“Of course they’re pricey,” he says. “But I’m told they’ll be trouble-free. The manufacturers say they have double the lifespan of a normal battery.”

Future Of Autoscrubbers

There is much speculation surrounding the future of autoscrubbers, but end users are anxiously awaiting their added benefits.

Rodriguez has considered ride-ons that use ultraviolet light to enhance the floor finish and kill germs, a feature that is sure to increase productivity. Also on the horizon are robotic machines, and those that scrub, collect and buff in one pass.

“All-in-one — everybody would love that,” Rodriguez says. “But I don’t know many people who use those machines, and I don’t want to take a chance on something I don’t know enough about.”

Maintaining Machines

Because the cost of these machines is high, it is in custodial manager’s best interest to properly maintain them.

Rodriguez has specific employees trained on the use and care of the autoscrubbers. That staff carries out the daily maintenance of the machines. They dump both the clean and soiled water compartments, rinse the interiors, wipe the exterior, change the pads, add filtered water to the batteries and plug the batteries into the charging unit.

“If the batteries are dry, you will fuse them and they will die out,” he warns. “Batteries are pretty expensive: $200 to $400 per battery. They need to be taken care of.”

In addition to these daily steps, experts recommend inviting a contractor in monthly to check the components of each machine and provide any maintenance above and beyond what is currently being done.

The bottom line is that autoscrubbers get floor care jobs done in a fraction of the time, which essentially gives housekeeping heads a leg up on their labor budgets, and increased flexibility in how they complete cleaning tasks.

“It’s a big manpower savings,” says Shealy. “Like a lot of facilities, we’re short on money and there is talk of a tentative hiring freeze later this year. I have to get as much productivity from people as possible.”

Rodriguez’ housekeeping supervisor Garland Ward adds, “Autoscrubbers bring you into the future of floor care because it’s less labor intensive. If I use an autoscrubber, I can send someone to another job. There are plenty of other jobs here that staff can work on.”

Rodriguez concurs. “It was either, ‘Get me three more guys, or get me a ride-on.’ I can get more done. If your agenda is to do 12 things that day — you can do 12 things.”

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