As the old saying goes: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” End-users’ top tool qualities continue to be that they are safe, easy to use, effective, durable, dependable and save them time and money.

No matter how sleek its design or high-tech its materials, if this category of tool can’t do those important things, it serves no purpose for the cleaning professional.

Sanitary Maintenance spoke with broom, brush and mop manufacturers to get the scoop on what’s new — and what may never change — in their product offerings.

Money Matters
Like any other product, end users are always searching for the best possible hand tool at the most competitive price. As maintenance managers know, the highest cost of cleaning is the person holding the handle, both in labor costs and worker’s compensation claims. Therefore, finding tools that improve efficiency and provide enhanced ergonomics top the list of user concerns.

For at least a decade, ergonomics has been a driving force for product innovation. Users are beginning to demand tools that fit comfortably in their hands and that are easy to use. Although some buyers are resistant to paying a premium for ergonomically designed products, many are willing to spend a bit more, hoping the payoff will be a reduction in costly injuries.

To make brooms, brushes and mops more user friendly, manufacturers have paid much attention to handle styles.

For example, there are now brooms with handles that allow users to sweep in an upright position rather than bending over uncomfortably and harming their backs. There are also handles that can be attached to handheld grout brushes so they can be used in an upright position instead of on hands and knees.

Microfiber Marches On
In a profession where repetitive motion and heavy lifting are always problematic, lightweight microfiber products are often a welcome solution. In a relatively short time, microfiber has become widely available in all types of cleaning tools and applications.

The tightly woven, synthetic fiber is most pervasive in mops. While traditional cut-end mops still make up a large portion of mop demand, there is a growing trend toward using high-quality looped-end and microfiber products. The popularity of microfiber has much to do with its functionality — the fiber can be used wet or dry, and with conventional, flat and dust mops.

In addition to being lighter than a traditional fiber, microfiber reduces water and chemical usage. Microfiber also addresses another pressing concern, particularly for food and healthcare facilities: cross contamination.

A microfiber pad can be used once, replaced with a fresh pad, and — if the cleaning solution remains untouched by a dirty pad — no cross contamination will occur. The pads can be laundered and used literally hundreds of times.

Color-coding of microfiber tools also reduces the risk of cross contamination by ensuring certain colored tools are only used in specific areas.

It’s difficult to predict microfiber’s staying power. People are discovering that while the product is helpful in many situations, it is certainly not a panacea. While microfiber is good for routine cleaning, it may not be the best choice for heavily soiled floors.

Synthetics Gaining In Popularity
Microfiber is further proof of end users’ growing acceptance of non-natural fibers and other synthetic materials for all types of hand tools. Although there will always be users who prefer the old cotton and wood standbys that continue to command a large share of the market, synthetic products are narrowing the gap.

Depending on the application, synthetic fibers and bristle blocks can be lighter weight, more durable, better performing, and more chemically resistant. Nylon bristles and plastic bristle blocks have been widely accepted by the marketplace. Microfiber mops are becoming the standard in healthcare and synthetic block brooms are often preferred for sweeping wet environments.

As is common with petroleum-based products, plastic tools are more expensive than renewable resources such as wood and cotton. While the upfront costs are higher, some users believe synthetic products save money over time. If cared for properly, a natural product will outlast a synthetic, but most people don’t have the knowledge or patience required. For many users, synthetics are easier to maintain and therefore last longer.

The Right Use

Over the last decade, there have been more “specialty” products designed and manufactured. For example, there are specialty mops for regular maintenance, for heavily soiled floors, and for rough-surface floors. With all of these specialized tools, plus all the standard selections, there are endless broom, brush, and mop options for end users.

Hand tools are often viewed as one-size-fits-all products, but it is important that distributors help customers find the right tool for each specific application.

In a larger building, such as a mall or a manufacturing plant, an automated floor scrubber may be the most cost-effective option. In a food service building, an angle broom with a solid head may be a better choice than one with a shroud that can collect dirt and debris and become unsanitary.

A product that can perform multiple tasks, such as a mop with quick-change heads, may best serve a small office complex, both from a financial and practical standpoint.

Green Machines
While “green cleaning” may not be number-one among users’ concerns, it is a trend gaining traction throughout the industry. In accordance with the green “mantra” that less product be consumed, users are looking for products that reduce the amount of liquids that go down the drain.

Tools that are produced without a negative impact on the environment are also desirable. Microfiber is a fine example of a “green” product as it uses fewer chemicals and less water and can be laundered many times before being replaced.

For many, “environmentally preferable” remains a big plus, but it is typically not the deciding factor when choosing products.

Sell Smart
While manufacturers continue to innovate and introduce new hand tools to the marketplace, it is the distributors who must put these products through their paces.

Partnering with manufacturers can teach distributors about trends and new products. Manufacturers can provide their distributors with training and educational tools. When distributors fully understand the product that they offer, they can share that information with customers.

Information is what sets the distributor apart from a big-box retailer in the customer’s eyes. A user cannot walk into a home improvement store and get a proper demonstration regarding cleaning product use, so anything a distributor can do to educate users on new methods and products is a value-added service.

‘Show And Tell’
Start the selling process by conducting a facility audit, in which you identify problems and recommend products to solve them. This is also the time to teach them about the benefits of one type of mop or broom versus another. When your catalog features 30 different brushes, explain what the user gets from one that they may not get from the other.

Discussing products inevitably leads to a discussion of price. Many times the most effective solution for a particular problem will be a bit more expensive than a less-effective option. Discuss the long-term benefits and cost savings of the better option.

For example, use a cost-per-use or cost-per-square-foot approach to sell higher-cost options. The largest cost in maintaining a floor is labor so help the user understand the labor-savings of a high-quality product.

Finally, remember that one demonstration is worth a thousand words. The best way to sell new features is to compare them side-by-side with outdated products.

Find an open area of hard flooring and dump a small pail of dirt. Clean up the area with the users’ old product and then do the same thing again with the new product.

All of the computers, answering machines, Internet connections, flyers and even samples can’t take the place of good old “show and tell.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SM.

Contributing Manufacturers
The following companies contributed to this article:

• ACS Industries Inc. (800) 222-2800;

• ABCO Products (888) 694-2226;

• Carolina Mop (800) 845-9725;

•  Continental Commercial Products (800) 325-1051;

• Culicover & Shapiro
(631) 918-4560

• ETC of Henderson Inc. (800) 334-6651;

• Geerpres Inc. (231) 773-3211;

• Filmop (888) 741-0707;

• Golden Star (800) 821-2792;

• Jones Yarn (800) 238-8334;

• The Libman Co. (800) 646-6262;

• Malish (800) 321-7044;

• O’Dell Corp. (800) 342-2843;

• Rubbermaid Commercial Products
(800) 347-9800;

• Super Cool Products (877) 878-4748;

• TXF Products (800) 441-7894;

• Zephyr Manufacturing Co. (800) 821-7197;

— B.M.