Vacuum systems are the clear frontrunner in the recent evolution of floor cleaning for several reasons: superior dust and dirt removal, improved indoor air quality and the ability to adapt to changing floor surfaces and heights.
“When I’m working with customers, moving to a vacuum for all surfaces is something I recommend,” says Theresa Farmer, sustainability consultant with Kelsan, Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn. “They’re using vacuums on the carpet anyway, so it makes sense to use it on a hard surface as well. It will get more of the dirt and release less dust into the air, and it’s better for the surface.”
With more building managers seeking LEED certification, indoor air quality is also a concern in a number of environments.
“Using HEPA filters is a selling point for facilities looking out for their tenants,” says Kevin Ervin, sales manager for Dee Janitorial Supply Inc. in Chicago. “HEPA-filter vacuums keep dust and allergens under control, which goes hand in hand with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and green cleaning.”
In addition to air quality, the new generation of vacuums comes in a variety of widths to make cleaning long halls or open areas more efficient. There are even ride-on models with side brooms that extend the cleaning path to as much as 36 inches. On-board hoses also allow the operator to clean small or hard-to-reach places and despite their size, many of these vacuums are designed to be quiet enough for day cleaning.
Some of the new models of walk-behind or ride-on vacuums also offer smart technology that automatically adjusts the brush height to accommodate changes in flooring, which means the operator is always moving at the optimum speed.

The Backpack Advantage

When talking about efficiency, many distributors are excited about the new generation of backpack vacuums.
“We’re big proponents of backpack vacuums because of the efficiencies they offer in properly maintaining a lot of surfaces,” says Dan Ott, co-owner of Facility Supply Systems in West Chicago. “You can get into nooks and crannies, risers or windowsills. There are even curved brushes to clean on top of a pipe run.”
Farmer has seen that efficiency first hand when a local college with auditorium-type classrooms was finding a canister to be too cumbersome.
“We fitted workers with backpack vacuums, which made their jobs so much easier. They could get into tight spaces and not have to drag that canister.”
The latest generation of backpack vacs is considerably more powerful, with suction up to 150 cubic feet per minute. The backpack models are also more than twice as fast; a typical backpack with a 14-inch tool can clean 7,407 square feet per hour, compared to 3,240 square feet cleaned by a two-motor upright.
Perhaps the biggest advancement in backpack vacs is user comfort. Distributors report that the overall weight is lighter, harnesses are easier to adjust and the unit no longer rests on the small of the operator’s back, making them hot and uncomfortable.
Other features include a hose that can swivel so it can be used in the right or left hand, and a strain release so operators don’t accidentally unplug it. Multiple tools can also be carried on the belt, allowing workers to quickly and easily transfer from hard to soft flooring.
Bill McGarvey, director of training and sustainability for Philip Rosenau Company in Warminsterm, Penn., notes that customers may perceive backpacks as being much more costly, but that isn’t the case.
“Backpack vacs don’t need a ton of maintenance,” he says. “They have fewer moving parts than other vacuums, and as long as you don’t pick up water with it, they hold up pretty well.”

Protecting Your Investment

To keep vacuuming equipment at peak efficiency and help them last a long time, daily maintenance is recommended. Ervin emphasizes keeping belts and fans changed and being gentle with the cords.
“The biggest problem we see is the cord breaking due to operator error — yanking them out of the wall socket,” he says. “It always takes its toll on the plug or the cord.”
The biggest mistake McGarvey sees in the field is not having the vacuum properly set for the carpet.
“Folks tend to crank it down all the way, and that leads to premature wear on the beater bar and brushes,” he says. “Also, workers are not emptying or changing the filter bag as frequently as they should.”
Farmer suggests that bags be replaced when they’re more than half full.
“The fuller the bag is, the less suction you’ll have.”
She also recommends checking the cords daily for damage as a safety precaution. Check and clean filters daily too.
“That’s going to save your motor,” she says. “If the bag is full and the filter is clogged up, you’re not getting your carpet clean and you’re being hard on the motor. You’ll probably end up replacing it sooner.”
Maureen Connors Badding is a freelancer based in Milwaukee, Wis.