Vacuuming is often thought of only being limited to carpeted floors. However, recent studies have proved that vacuuming is also an effective cleaning method on hard surface floors.

Aside from improved indoor air quality and cleaner appearances, jan/san distributors say the use of vacuums results in less fatigue for cleaning personnel, reduced labor costs through faster cleaning time and lower rates of cleaning frequency.

Vacuuming: A Better Method?

Distributors seem to agree that vacuuming hard floors can be a better method than dust mopping. Vacuuming cleans better but also improves indoor air quality because the unit isn’t kicking up dirt, which can happen with a dust mop, says Steve Hanson, owner of Brainerd Lakes Cleaning & Supply in Brainerd, Minn.

Vacuuming also helps protect finished floors. Removing the sand and other grit cuts down on the amount of stripping and recoating needed for those floors.

“Sand is probably the worst enemy to a wood floor,” Hanson says. “By using a backpack, you’re picking it up and not sliding it across the floor causing more scratches and damages.”

Vacuuming is also very effective on stone and ceramic floors as dirt tends to collect in the ridges and grout lines of textured floors. For ceramic tile, Hanson recommends vacuuming in a diagonal direction for maximum effect.

For wood and wood-laminate floors, vacuuming can be very beneficial in the removal and capturing of soil, says Hanson.

But proper technique is also needed for vacuuming to be effective, says Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc., Boise, Idaho. The wand must make contact with the floor, and the filtering system must be kept clean and empty for maximum suction. In addition, the operator should be walking forward. Walking backward — a common occurrence — causes dust to be blown up into the air by the vacuum’s exhaust. Finally, cleaning personnel should also make sure the vacuum has sufficient air flow and lift to actually remove the dust.


When it comes to selecting a vacuum cleaner, durability is important, but distributors also say the proper level of filtration is critical, too. Some places — such as cleanrooms — may require HEPA or ULPA level filtration. For office spaces, a vacuum that collects 99.9 percent of the particles is sufficient, says Hanson.

Adequate suction and lift are also important, Rathey says. The narrower orifice on backpack and canister models gives them greater suction over upright models, which is why they are preferred for hard-surface floors. Uprights with beater brushes are ideally suited for carpeted floors. A suction-only tool lifts dirt better off a hard surface better than an upright running with the brush turned off, Rathey says.

It’s also recommend that end users purchase wands and other tools necessary for the tasks. A 20-inch hard-floor tool on a backpack or canister model is effective for most applications, says Rathey. For heavier particulate, a 14-inch tool will be more effective as it generates greater suction.

Making sure that the backpack models fit the user and are worn properly is also critical. The shoulder straps are designed to keep the unit upright with its weight concentrated on the user’s hips, not shoulders, says Bill McGarvey, training manager at Philip Rosenau Co., Inc. in Warminster, Pa. Today’s units weigh about 10 pounds, McGarvey adds, so the user should not be uncomfortable. Older units weighed more, but back problems and fatigue often were caused by the unit not being carried properly.

A typical backpack model uses both cloth and paper bags for filtration. Hanson says that some customers try to save money by not using the paper bag.

“They’re cutting cost but adding to the indoor air quality problem along with the additional wear and tear on the equipment,” he says.

Still A Need For Mopping

Mops are still popular because they are such a convenient tool, Rathey says. There’s nothing to plug in, and the concept is easy to grasp. In addition, the cleaner may be working in a large area where a cord may be impractical, says McGarvey. The electrical cord can be a tripping hazard as well, and the noise from a vacuum is disruptive in some environments.

In places that have heavy concentrations of soil and other dirt, the traditional mop and bucket may be the best route to go, McGarvey says, adding that the new microfiber mops on the market today are a vast improvement over traditional dust mops. Rathey adds that vacuuming removes soil better, but the equipment can be more cumbersome and less convenient in some cases, so there’s a trade off.

Distributors need to explain to end users that cleaning floors is a set of integrated processes, says Rathey. It’s not simply one component, say a vacuum cleaner, operating in isolation.

“Those components have to be used in real buildings with real workers who have to have real training or the process breaks down,” says Rathey.

Plus, there are times when it’s easier or more convenient to dust mop. Vacuuming will always have a place in removing the most soil, but it depends on access.

If cleaning personnel can’t get to the soil with their tool, it doesn’t matter how good the tool is. So at times, it may be easier and be more practical to use a microfiber mop than a vacuum cleaner.

Mopping a floor may go rather quickly, but also may require two or three mop buckets to achieve the cleanliness required. Vacuuming that same floor may take longer, but may require only one bucket of mopping to obtain the desired level of cleanliness. End users shouldn’t look at just a particular process, but how that process integrates into the overall system, says Rathey.

“If your dust-mopped floor is not as clean as it would’ve been had you vacuumed it and the wet mopping process takes twice as long, are you really saving time by dust mopping over vacuuming?” asks Rathey. “You have to look at how things integrate.”

As with any tool, the mop head must be maintained.

“Dust mops are dust collectors,” Rathey says. “If you allow that dust mop to soil, it becomes a disseminator of dust.”

A vacuum cleaner must be maintained as well, Rathey adds. When its filters are loaded, suction and performance are reduced. And if its filtration system is compromised, it will be blowing dust along with its exhaust stream. A cleaner may stir up more dust than they remove, he says.

“You have to make sure that the tool is operating within its prescribed parameters to be at its best,” Rathey says. “That still takes human intelligence; someone to understand what they are doing.”

Meeting Customers’ Needs

Whether to use traditional mopping, vacuuming, or a combination of both depends on an individual customer’s needs. Distributors should strive to improve effectiveness of the cleaning process as well as overall worker productivity.

“We as distributors can make our recommendations, but at the end of the day, we must meet their needs the best way we can and stay within their budget,” says McGarvey.

A backpack vacuum costs more than a dust mop, but is the more appropriate tool in some cases. Other situations — such as those with heavy soil loads — may call for a dust mop. Distributors must fully understand what’s going on in the facility and what the customer is trying to accomplish in order to make the proper recommendations, McGarvey says.

Whether end users choose dust mopping or vacuuming for a particular project — or, perhaps a combination of both — make sure their system works within their budget and any logistical constraints.

Thomas R. Fuszard is a business writer based in New Berlin, Wis.