Upright vacuums are often considered the more traditional vacuum. These feature a beater bar, which agitates dirt to be sucked up into the machine, and a tank (or bag) where the dirt collects. Backpack vacuums are canister machines that are worn on the user’s back, as the name indicates. These have been known to increase productivity, allowing workers to cover as much as five times the area of an upright vacuum. They are also easier to use when vacuuming vents, blinds and other high surfaces.

“You get more space vacuumed using a backpack in the same amount of time over using an upright,” says Schneringer. “But depending on who is doing the work, people sometimes don’t have a comfort level with a backpack.”

Backpack vacuums have grown in popularity for the mobility they offer and productivity advantages. However, they aren’t always the clear choice for comfort. First of all, it is important to ensure that the manufacturer has considered ergonomics in designing the backpack vacuum and that the fit is correct for each individual who will be wearing it. A poor fit will cause safety issues or pain for the workers.

“If you are putting 15 lbs. on your back, you want to make sure the manufacturer took the time to add a good support system to the equipment,” says Waddell.

Fortunately for workers, manufacturers have spent a lot of time and attention on ergonomic improvements for backpack vacuums. Advancements in harnessing, weight and accessories are happening regularly. Upright vacuums have seen their fair share of improvement, too. Suction, filtration, weight, cord lengths and size variations make these machines a valuable addition to the cleaning arsenal. Where they can really be an asset is in spaces where vacuuming is not continuous.

For example, Waddell recommends uprights when zone cleaning. In these situations, there are many different cleaning tasks being performed in a small space. It’s easier to get an upright going than to put on a backpack vacuum over and over again. This would mean that for a hotel setting or in a school where classrooms are cleaned one at a time by a single custodian, an upright vacuum could still have efficiency benefits over a backpack vacuum.

Questions managers should consider when choosing between backpack and upright vacuums include:

  • How much space does staff need to vacuum?
  • Are zone cleaning processes in place?
  • How many obstacles are there in the space that needs vacuuming?

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