It took some time for floor cleaning machines to evolve from simple to sophisticated. In recent years, technology and innovation have advanced and significantly improved these devices.

While advancements in floor-machine technology are notable, SM spoke with manufacturers who say improvement of machines is far from over.

Floor machine design is intended to provide several results: afford greater time efficiencies; ensure every job has a proper machine and each machine is doing the best job it can; make sure the machine benefits the environment; and save facilities money.

Increasing Efficiency
New machines increase productivity and efficiency by combining several floor cleaning functions into one machine. Depending on the machine, it can strip, scrub, polish, buff or wax a variety of surfaces; other machines can wash and dry a floor in a single pass. Several companies offer equipment that can be used on both carpet and hard floor surfaces.

One manufacturer recently introduced a floor maintenance system that sweeps, washes, polishes and burnishes — all in one pass. That same company developed an on-board detergent dispensing system, which allows an operator to use green-certified, concentrated detergents. The system meters the recommended amount on the floor so there’s no need for the operator to rely on the “glug-glug” method.

Designed into that system is a self-cleaning feature. The operator can also clean the machine’s components without any tools, because the pieces — vacuum motors, squeegees, and brushes — are easily removable by hand.

A Machine For Every Job
For some time, floor machine technology has centered on mechanization.

There has been a growing demand for riding equipment. Sweepers, dust mops, vacuums, burnishers and autoscrubbers that double as riders are at least 40 percent more productive than walk-behind machines, according to experts — and do a better job of cleaning.

While ride-on machines are great for big jobs, there is also a wide selection of small, lightweight and inexpensive walk-behind autoscrubbers that are ideal for restrooms, kitchens and other limited-space areas. Not only are these machines more productive, they remove soil with clean water, something that a mop and pail can’t do after cleaning the first room.

Recent improvements in cylindrical brush technology, which was originally developed about five years ago, have also enhanced cleaning.

Counter-rotating cylindrical brushes (rotating at 1,000 to 1,500 rpm), mounted on each end of certain machines can clean uneven floor surfaces better than a rotary buffer. Cylindrical brush machines also require less training, are easier and safer to use, and use less chemical and water.

One manufacturer that specializes in this type of floor machine has an improved brush bristle application, and is incorporating cylindrical brush technology into its scrubbers.

The company has introduced a maneuverable, 16-inch wide scrubber with larger capacity and solution recovery features that make for a longer run time. The company also offers a more ruggedly constructed scrubber designed primarily for use by building service contractors.

Another manufacturer recently introduced a new system to help standardize the brush colors used for cylindrical floor machines. The system utilizes the widely accepted color-coding scheme used by traditional pad manufacturers, and applies it to the brush types, so cleaning professionals know exactly which brush to use for certain floor care procedures. This system can improve worker productivity, overcome language barriers and facilitate training.

Passive and active vacuum systems are another recent floor machine innovation. The agitation of high-speed burnishers can send pollutants into the air, and these systems help prevent particles from entering the air.

Whereas active systems have a vacuum cleaner motor built-in to the floor machine to capture particulates, passive systems use the floor machine’s own motor to vacuum up dust and debris. Both types of systems help improve indoor air quality, and safeguard the health of the cleaning worker.

In the middle of last year, one manufacturer of surface maintenance equipment introduced a riding sweeper/scrubber with a new foam-activated scrubbing feature. In addition, the company introduced a concentrated detergent cartridge that allows users to clean up to three times longer than with conventional scrubbing.

And finally, curved floor squeegees are also relatively new to the market. Compared to straight squeegees, they tend to conform better to a variety of floor surfaces, help lift the soiled water into the wastewater tank, and offer better suction. Additionally, push/pull squeegees have been developed that allow pick-up in either forward or reverse.

Powering The Future
Alternative power sources are also increasing floor machine productivity. Propane-powered burnishers provide a high-gloss shine as fast as an operator can navigate the machine. With this increased productivity, there is no reason to let the condition of floors deteriorate to the point that restoration is required.

One propane machine manufacturer introduced an autoscrubber two years ago with features and benefits that it says go beyond the features and benefits offered by traditional battery-operated autoscrubbers.

With battery-powered machines, once the power has been drained, the autoscrubber has to be re-charged, which can take 10-12 hours. The propane-powered machine, in contrast, has almost unlimited run-time — interruptions are only necessary for the time it takes to change the propane tank.

Battery-operated floor machines, however, continue to be popular and do have advocates. Autoscrubber manufacturers are increasingly turning to “gel cells” for their battery-operated machines to maximize amp hours and minimize the need for battery maintenance. Gel cells also eliminate the fumes and emissions present when you charge an old, wet cell battery.

One manufacturer is preparing to introduce its own battery burnisher. The propane market, it says, is at about $35 million in sales each year, compared to the $100-million-per-year battery market.

The new belt-drive on some floor machines make them more powerful and more efficient than those utilizing gearboxes, according to a manufacturer specializing in belt-drives.

Traditional floor machines, operated in older buildings with an outdated electrical system, can blow a fuse or trip a circuit breaker. The belt drive, however, allows a machine to draw less current. And because of the belt, the machine’s motor is better balanced, making the machine easier to operate.

Clean Floor, Clean Air
With today’s focus on the environment, backpack vacuums with HEPA filters, wide-area hard-floor tools and dust control tools are replacing the old fashioned dust mop.

Manufacturers anticipate that within a few years, every burnisher and floor machine sold will come equipped with a positive vacuum containment system to prevent dust from becoming airborne.

End users typically express more environmental concerns and insist on better microfilters to capture air-borne microorganisms.

Manufacturers also believe that almost all vacuum cleaners will soon be available with hospital-grade filters.

While widely distributed HEPA filters are expensive, hospital-level “S-grade” filters provide the same effectiveness and high filtration at less cost, according to one manufacturer.

Another manufacturer sees emission control as an important trend for future floor machines. He believes the small engine industry will see changes in emission requirements that might lead to price increases.

Manufacturers are finding ways to use technology to provide floor machines for every type of end user.

Whether that customer is looking to create time and money efficiencies, or is searching for a machine that is both safer for people and provides benefits to indoor air quality, there is likely a machine on the market or in development.

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.

Contributing Manufacturers
The following manufacturers contributed to this article:

• Clarke: (800) 253-0367;

• Cleanfix Cleaning Systems, Inc.: (866) 422-4835;

• Eagle Power Products: (800) 486-2775;

• Electrolux Home Care Products: (309) 823-5261;

• Kent: (800) 545-4372;

• Minuteman International Inc.: (800) 323-9420;

• Nilfisk Advance Inc.: (763) 747-3698;

• ONYX Environmental Solutions: (800) 858-3533;

• Pioneer Eclipse Corp.: (800) 334-2246;

• Powr-Flite: (800) 880-2913;

• Pullman-Holt Corp.: (800) 237-7582;

• Royal Appliance: (888) 321-1134;

• Tornado Industries: 708-867-5100;

• Windsor Industries: (800) 444-7654;

— J.F.