A typical building presents its housekeeping staff with some pretty interesting floor cleaning challenges. There may be wide-open spaces with hard and soft flooring of various heights. Often there are areas that require maneuverability around furniture or permanent fixtures. Resident and visitor safety is another consideration. And of course, everyone is trying to be as green as possible.

With all those factors to consider, identifying the best floor cleaning equipment to purchase can be challenging.

“We really have to work with our customers to determine what their challenges are,” says Dan Ott, co-owner of Facility Supply Systems in West Chicago. “We walk the property with the customer and provide the best solution for them. It has a lot to do with production and production rates.”

Ott reports that he still sees a lot of brooms, dust mops and 12-inch upright vacuums with cloth bags. “Cost savings” is the usual reason, but how cost efficient are they?

“Labor costs are too expensive to waste a guy behind a 12-inch upright,” says Ott.

Employee fatigue and repetitive motion injuries can reduce efficiency even more. And these old-fashioned methods aren’t very green, between the dust released into the air and the water and chemicals required.

For departments ready to move up to the next generation of floor cleaning equipment, the choices are wider than ever.

Benefits of Floor Sweepers

Despite the advantages of the new vacuum systems, there are occasions when custodial workers clearly prefer a sweeper.

“When we have a customer with a building area so large it would take too much time to use a 12-inch vacuum cleaner, I recommend they look at floor sweepers,” says Theresa Farmer, sustainability consultant with Kelsan, Inc. in Knoxvile, Tenn. “It will cover a larger area in a shorter amount of time.”

Time savings is only part of the equation; ergonomics and preventing injury is equally important.

For instance, the repetitive motion of vacuuming over a large surface area can lead to shoulder and arm injuries.

Safety is also a consideration in schools or nursing homes where workers don’t want an electric cord running down a hallway. In these situations, maintenance-free gel batteries offer greater time savings and freedom of movement.

“It comes down to whether you need the added filtration from vacuum versus the productivity of a sweeper,” says Bill McGarvey, director of training and sustainability for Philip Rosenau Company in Warminsterm, Penn. “Certainly if sustainability is the direction they’re moving, vacuums are the best choice for better cleaning and indoor air quality.”

Distributors and end-users alike are looking forward to new innovations entering the marketplace. Equipment with wider configurations, higher-performance and multi-surface applications that also have HEPA filtration will meet the needs of many facilities.

Ott, for instance, has found a lot of success with combination sweeper vacuums.

“The price point is between a traditional battery-operated sweeper and a corded, electric wide-area vacuum,” he says. Ideal applications are large lobby areas, residence hallways and casinos. “The easier we make it for their people to do a good job, the better job they’re going to do.”

Protecting The Investment

To keep sweepers at peak efficiency and help them last a long time, daily maintenance is recommended. Kevin Ervin, sales manager for Dee Janitorial Supply Inc. in Chicago, emphasizes keeping belts and fans changed and emptying and cleaning the sweeper bucket daily. Workers should also check the battery daily and make sure to plug it in to charge. Finally, check the brushes and the undercarriage for excess debris.

A consistent program is essential to keeping surfaces looking better, longer.  The same goes for cleaning and maintaining equipment.

“By cleaning smart, you can still maintain a high level of appearance and extend the life of the floors,” says Ott.

Maureen Connors Badding is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis.