Carpet and floor care are among the most time consuming of all tasks a custodial team must tackle, and speeding up the process is a priority for managers focused on cutting costs. Among the tools promising impressive productivity gains are ride-on, battery-powered vacuums and sweepers.

Oversized automated equipment can cover a lot of square footage in a short amount of time, and many newer designs are more maneuverable than one might expect. These machines can also remove various types of debris from most surfaces. It’s no surprise, then, that sales in this category are on the rise.

“Productivity will only increase as we mechanize the cleaning function even more,” says Keith Schneringer, director of channel marketing and sustainability at Waxie Sanitary Supply in San Diego. “Although some segments of the industry will always be fine with a 12-inch upright vacuum, as time goes on, more people will take a look at these larger machines with fresh eyes and their popularity will continue to grow.”

The Basics

Choosing a ride-on sweeper or vacuum starts with an audit. Is the location a good candidate for an oversized machine?

Ride-ons are best for single-level buildings or those with freight elevators for transport, those with wide open areas and long hallways, and those with ample storage space for when the machines aren’t in use. Ideal facilities include convention centers, hotels, hospitals, airports, casinos and large universities.

Typically, the equipment makes less sense in environments broken up by many small rooms, those with tight hallways, multiple floors and no service elevator, or those lacking storage (office buildings, nursing homes, etc.). However, manufacturers are constantly upgrading ride-on technology to make it a workable solution for new markets.

Most importantly, the machines are gradually becoming more compact and agile. Many manufacturers offer smaller-profile, walk-behind models that can get into tighter areas and often fit in standard elevators for transport. Some models also offer a tight turn radius that makes them more maneuverable than ever.

“Like anything, equipment gets better as time goes on and as manufacturers learn what customers are looking for. It’s an evolutionary process,” says Schneringer.

Although options are growing, ride-ons won’t ever completely replace the upright or backpack vacuum, say distributors. The machines are, however, becoming as integral a part of floor and carpet care programs as walk-off mats and extractors.

“These rider vacuums are surprisingly agile, but they don’t compare with a backpack vacuum,” says Schneringer. “Even a big, large, square area is going to have a need for an upright or backpack vacuum for when you just want to do a small spot without rolling out the big behemoth.”

Before buying a ride-on vacuum or sweeper, it’s also important to determine which machine best suits the facility’s needs. While both clear away debris from floors, they use different methods that greatly affect how and where they can be used. For example, vacuums use suction to lift and remove debris, while a sweeper simply brushes the debris aside or into a bin.

Generally, vacuums should be reserved for carpets or hard-surface floors that have only dust and fine debris. Rocks, broken glass and other large debris could potentially damage the machine or scratch the floors.

Sweepers with adjustable brush heights can be used on carpet or hard-surface floors to pick up anything from nails and glass to cement and gravel. There are also models designed for both indoor and outdoor use — although it’s important to clean brushes and filters before moving from exterior to interior spaces.

What does that mean for the facility? If the area is large enough to accommodate a ride-on machine and is carpeted, or is a hard-surface indoor flooring that receives only normal wear and tear, a vacuum is likely the best option. If the areas in question are hard surface, outdoors, in a warehouse or in another area with large debris, distributors recommend a sweeper. But for some facilities, a combination of both makes sense in the cleaning arsenal.

“Sometimes it’s a good idea to even dedicate one sweeper for inside use and another for outside, so you don’t transfer outdoor dirt into your cleaner areas,” Schneringer says.

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