With ever shrinking budgets in today’s jan/san marketplace, end user customers are relying on equipment more than ever to offset the lack of manpower and clean more with less.

And when it comes to a facility’s floor-care program, automation can be best achieved via the use of automatic scrubbers. Not only do these floor machines help decrease worker fatigue, but they also go a long way in improving productivity. Floors that once took all night to clean with a mop and a bucket are now cleaned in an hour’s time without any strenuous activity.

However, with many end user customers still unsure of what autoscrubber is right for their facility, jan/san distributors are helping them realize that footing a few thousand dollars to buy a new machine is money well spent.

Size Matters

When selling floor-care equipment, distributors need to make sure that they equip their end user customers with the right size autoscrubber for their facility. Too large a machine may be cumbersome to use in crowded spaces, but too small a machine may still be an inefficient use of time.

To determine what machine is best suited for the application, distributors must determine the square footage to be cleaned as well as the density of an end user’s facility. Depending on how cluttered the cleaning space is, the need may be greater for smaller equipment to maneuver around objects. When cleaning compact areas such as office buildings and classrooms, end user customers require small machines.

For larger spaces such as warehouses, malls and airports, a machine with a larger cleaning path will increase productivity and save on labor costs. Some large machines can clean up to 40,000-plus square feet in an hour, thus allowing employees to concentrate on other tasks.

If areas are open and have few fixtures to dodge, distributors recommend end users purchase ride-on equipment. With ride-on machines, productivity increases even further. These machines also tend to feature larger tank capacities than walk-behind units, which allow for longer run times. One drawback, however, is that ride-on equipment can be larger than its walk-behind counterparts, so adequate storage space in a facility must be available.

Walk Or Ride?

Today’s ride-on automatic scrubbers are more compact and are becoming a popular choice among end users, even more so than their lower priced walk-behind counterparts.

“If we bring in a 32-inch walk-behind and a 32-inch rider, nine times out of 10, the customer chooses the rider,” says Rick Schott, president of Factory Cleaning Equipment Inc., Batavia, Ill.

But riders haven’t always been the popular choice. Prior to size reduction, rider scrubbers were large and lacked maneuverability, making them best suited for industrial applications. But as scrubber manufacturers have focused on slimming down the machines over the last couple of years, these smaller riders are now capable of traveling down supermarket aisles, fitting through doorways and cleaning tight spaces. And, end users with high square footage numbers are choosing the riders over the walk-behinds because they help decrease fatigue.

Leon Fields, sales manager at Valley Janitor Supply Co., Hamilton, Ohio, says he recently outfitted a school in his area with a large rider scrubber after examining the facility’s floor-care program. With a main hallway as large as three football fields in length, Fields says a large walk-behind would have been painful on the operator.

“When you start looking at buildings like that, even if you do use a large walk-behind, it’s still going to wear that person out going up and down that hall,” says Fields. “It’s better for the health of the custodial staff and it gets the job done quicker.”

Today’s riders have also become more maneuverable than their walk-behind counterparts.

“They’re front wheel steer, front wheel drive, and you can literally take them into a corner, turn, and come back out,” says Schott. “A walk-behind steers from the rear wheels, so when you get into tight corners, you kind of get trapped.”

Distributors say ride-on scrubbers also help improve safety, especially in warehouse applications.

“People like having the operator within the machine rather than walking behind it,” says Schott. “When you’re coming down a narrow aisle with rack on both sides of you, when you get to the end of the aisle, you’re sitting on the nose of the rider. You can look and see who is coming and that prevents from running into someone. While with a walk-behind, you have to stick the machine out there first. And people are always worried about people who are going to come around the corner with a forklift and run into the operator. That usually helps justify the extra $3,500 or $4,000 to go to a rider.”

Despite its advantages, a rider’s higher price tag guarantees that walk-behinds still have a place in the market. End users often suffer from sticker shock when they see the price increase from a walk-behind to a rider. Thus, they then find that walk-behind machines fit more in their budgets. However, distributors must emphasize that the increase in worker productivity with a rider can more than offset the cost of the machine.

But walk-behinds themselves have also evolved quite a bit, mostly with the introduction of traction drive.

“Now you don’t have to pull them or push them, they’ll do it themselves,” says Fields. “You just push a button and go. A lot of custodial staff are woman and some of them aren’t very big and when you got a 32-inch autoscrubber and try to push that around, you want a good traction drive on it so it makes it easier for the worker.”


Autoscrubber selection should also depend on the type of flooring in the facility. If the flooring is covered with a finish, distributors point end users towards machines with disc pads. But if the flooring is a hard surface, they recommend end users use a machine that is outfitted with a cylindrical brush.

“If you’re in an industrial environment or have a ceramic tile with grout lines and that’s what the majority of the facility is, you would be better off going with a cylindrical because it gets down into the grout lines better, says Fields. “You get a little more aggressive with the brush.”

Fields says the majority of office complexes and schools his company services typically are fitted for pad drivers. However, not every facility is the same. In fact, Fields says he’s seen many occurrences where a facility has had an inefficient or incorrect scrubber for their floor-care program.

“If you misuse the machine you can actually do damage to the floor and do damage to the machine,” says Fields. “Even if they’re versed on it and they’ve used them before, we always go over the specifics of the machines and the unique features of that machine. Never take anything for granted because you have autoscrubbers today that are manual, that are auto lift on the heads and the squeegees, you have autoscrubbers that you hit one button, the head goes down and the squeegee goes down. Each machine is a little bit different.”

Recent advancements have also enabled scrubber decks to be interchangeable.

“A lot of times its interchangeable but it’s the same scrubber,” says Rick Filip, co-owner of R.D. Filip Janitor Supply Co., Inc., Kokomo, Ind. “So if you got the types of surfaces that it calls for then you can swap them out and use the same scrubber.”

Filip says manufacturers have gone as far as making scrub heads a click on, click off feature on scrubbers.

“Nowadays you don’t have to get down on the floor and get all dirty to put them on,” he says.


An important step distributors should take in selling an autoscrubber is to examine their customers’ floor program from top to bottom and understand what they are trying to accomplish.

“We try to spec it so that they get the job done in the allotted time they need to get it done,” says Schott. “The first question is how often are they going to clean and how much time is that person going to have to get the job done? And then we spec the width from there, but of course it’s got to fit too. And the next question is always, what is the tightest area that you need to get into?”

The best way to ensure customers understand what they’re purchasing, distributors say, is through on-site product demonstrations. Distributors must take into consideration that these machines will be used by employees of varied backgrounds. So, it is a must that distributors help verse all employees on how to properly operate the machine.

“If somebody’s interested in a machine, we insist on a demo before we’ll even sell it to them,” says Schott. “Because we have to get it in there and make sure it’s going to fit, and everybody likes it and the person who’s going to run it isn’t intimidated by it. What we don’t want is someone to run a new machine for two days and call us and say it isn’t for us. That gets expensive.”