Although you may not have bought that floor care machine or high-powered vacuum with a personal check, you should still treat it as if you did. In fact, consider your cleaning equipment to be as valuable as the car you drive. If you engage in regular maintenance, fewer expensive-to-fix problems are likely to occur. You wouldn’t quit getting oil changes for two years, would you? Or never once replace the car’s tires?

Looking at your floor care machines the same way will help extend their life and ultimately protect your investment. Cleaning is a deadline-oriented, methodical business and having a machine out for repair – whether it’s for two weeks or two months – leaves cleaners without a method to get the job done.

There are several preventative maintenance “best practice” recommendations that can be followed to minimize breakdowns and add to the life-cycle performance of a machine. These tips apply to most products, regardless of specific maintenance requirements from manufacturers (since they can vary from product to product).

• First, carefully study the owner’s manual following the purchase. Familiarize yourself with the machine and make sure operators understand how it should be used – as well as how to troubleshoot problem areas. With the purchase of these types of machines, most manufacturers and distributors offer custom training, a useful service that is often available at no charge.

• Another option facility managers can take advantage of is a fee-based, extended maintenance plan available from many manufacturers. This means a maintenance person will come out once a month to evaluate equipment performance. If departments are short-staffed or lacking
maintenance expertise, a formal extended agreement with the manufacturer might be the right move.

• Daily maintenance helps prolong floor machine life and can ensure lower-cost repair bills. If a problem is detected early on during routine cleaning, it may take less time and money to fix it. Simply taking a few minutes before and after using the machine to do a few simple “checklist” tasks can make all the difference.

One building service contractor swears by the old adage that first impressions make all the difference, even when it comes to floor care machines. Pay attention to how the exterior of the machine looks. Is there a thin layer of dust on it? Any noticeable stains or cracks? Routinely wiping down the floor machines used to clean public areas – such as a foyer or cafeteria – for five minutes before and after use can help maintain the right public image.

Vacuum maintenance
Since the vacuum cleaner is said to be the most abused piece of equipment in a cleaners closet – each hard knock into a wall or door can shake up internal parts – daily maintenance can be the key to keeping it running smoothly. Possibly the most important step in maintaining vacuums is also the most overlooked: emptying the bag. Doing this on a regular basis will help prevent clogs and keep the vacuum running smoothly and more effectively.

Try to intuitively anticipate machine problems as they occur. A good knowledge of basic vacuum equipment components helps. Also, tune into the “sounds” large vacuums make when in operation.

If there is a recovery tank, it is important to empty that out as often as possible. Failure to do so could result in detergent embedding in the walls of the tank, eventually growing mold. A musty smell might be a clue that this is already happening. To prevent mold, flush out the tank regularly and allow it to dry before, you operate the machine again.

Vacuum operators should also pay attention to the beater bar. This needs cleaning regularly, by hand, especially if the machine is used to clean an environment where paper clips and carpet threads are sucked up regularly. The lack of attention to the beater bar can cause a strain on the belt drive, or worse, damage the belt. This task takes only minutes and can be completed by removing debris collected on the bar.

Should a belt fail, you may be able to change it yourself, but only if the vacuum cleaner is small. Working on larger machines can be similar to changing the belt on a car, says one industry expert. A telltale sign that the belts are problematic is a burning smell, often triggered by a slipping belt. It is best to have a distributor or manufacturer handle these types of maintenance tasks.

Not all maintenance requires downtime. When placing an electrical cord into an outlet, check for frays or exposed wires. These kinds of defects can occur when the operator aggressively pulls the plug out of the socket or runs over cords with the machine. Training employees on this type of simple maintenance will help extend the life of the cord and reduce maintenance that could have been easily avoided.

Maintaining floor care machines
Hard-floor care machines, such as auto scrubbers and buffers, can often be a bit more time consuming when it comes to maintenance. Because of their size and complexity, these machines often require additional attention on a regular basis.

The cylindrical and parallel brushes on auto scrubbers can be a magnet for tiny objects and should be checked regularly. If items are caught in the brushes, removing debris will minimize further maintenance.

Squeegees can also be an area of concern. In addition to debris, such as lint and hair, rips and small tears can render squeegees ineffective. Dirty and uneven squeegees will result in streaks and other unsightly lines on what should be a clean floor.

Operators should also pay attention to auto scrubbers, which require an acid-cell battery. Extending the run life of these batteries is as simple as adding distilled water while charging. However, watch the water levels because if it gets too full, acid will leak onto the carpets, causing stains that will need heavy-duty cleaning to remove.

Gel batteries have a lower run life (about half the time as an acid-cell battery) and are more expensive, but require less maintenance.

Other areas on an auto scrubber that need constant attention are the joints. If they are not lubricated regularly, the machine will not run smoothly. This is a task maintenance operators should be able to perform on their own, but check with the distributor or manufacturer – or even read the owner’s manual – to determine what type of lubricant is needed.

Replacing parts
The question on when parts should be replaced can get tricky because the answer depends on two factors: How many hours was the product used? And on what type of floor surface? Add to that the way the operator treats the machine – gentle or rough – and it’s impossible to give a consistent answer.

One building service contractor suggests that knowing when to replace brushes can be as simple as making a mark on the brush. When the brush wears down to that level, it’s time for it to be replaced.

The brushes on a vacuum cleaner should be changed every six months to a year. Same goes for the belts, although this will depend on whether it’s an exposed belt or an enclosed belt. Also, if a vacuum cleaner is used to clean an office area, there won’t be a lot of wear and tear, as opposed to a buildings entryway where salt and debris from the outdoors is tracked in.

Replacing engines (or motors) on any floor care machine can be a complicated process and should never be done by the operator. If engine problems arise, users should shut the equipment down and contact the manufacturer.

A good buffer will provide 10 to 15 years of service, and auto scrubbers seven to 10 years of service, provided they are properly maintained. Pay attention to the periods of time when machines are idle. If water is left inside the tank, or the product is stored in an environment with high levels of moisture in the air, rusting may occur. Users can often find proper equipment storage guidelines in their owner’s manual.

It is always a good idea to check with the manufacturer or distributor about specific replacement schedules for both the machine and its parts. Most have a toll-free number or an area on the Web site – look for the word “service” – with instructions that will walk you through the steps on how to have the product serviced.

Also, most, if not all, floor care machines come with manufacturer warranties. What is covered under warranty varies for each product, but it’s always a good idea to inquire before purchasing. In addition to the warranty, a service plan can usually also be purchased. As with anything else, there are manufacturer guidelines on necessary maintenance for floor care machines, but simple, daily maintenance routines can help keep machines running smoothly and extend their life.

Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis.