It's been said that autoscrubbers are to floors what car washes are to automobiles.

However, even at the car wash attendants use hand tools to pre-scrub vehicles and towels to wipe off excess water.

It's no different with autoscrubbers. While these tools may reduce the use of brooms and mops for certain tasks, they do not eliminate the need for them altogether.

"In this business, cleaners will always need a broom and a mop," says Malik Mantro, sales manager for Armchem International Corp., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "The autoscrubber is a great tool — especially when used correctly — but in my experience nothing beats a broom and a mop."

A Place For Both

When working with a client it's important to consider their specific cleaning situation in order to steer them in the right equipment direction. In this day and age, it is likely that their cleaning situation will require both automated and hand tools, says Kevin Thompson, sales manager of Brookemeade Hardware & Supply Co., Nashville, Tenn.

"If it's a small area, cleaners are going to use a mop and broom," he explains. "If it's a large area or if a toilet overflows in a bathroom, they might pull out their autoscrubber. There will always be a need for both."

Thompson says the attraction to autoscrubbers is that custodians can often do a better job of cleaning and clean large areas quickly. Thompson is seeing autoscrubbers replace mops in 20,000-plus square-foot facilities.

"In this economy customers are looking for what they can do with less employees and still keep things clean. Autoscrubbers are helping them do that," he says. "Before a team of two or three people might have been mopping an area for three-quarters of the night. With an autoscrubber, one person is now able to do five rooms during the same amount of time."

It is a falsehood, however, to believe autoscrubbers will eliminate the need for mops and brooms altogether, says Chris Pratt, sales manager at E.A. Morse & Co. Inc., Hudson, N.Y.

"There are just some jobs they do better," he says.

For instance, a push broom can effectively and quickly sweep up debris in a warehouse, a corn broom can easily sweep a stairwell, and a microfiber flat mop can wipe up a spill in just a few seconds.

"I believe you can become over-automated," Pratt says. "Sometimes the set up and take down of an autoscrubber can be too much for a job that can be accomplished pretty quickly with a broom and dust pan."

Pratt recommends considering the space being cleaned. A school, for instance, may find autoscrubbers extremely effective in large hallways and open areas, such as cafeterias. But custodians at that same school may find a broom, dust mop and microfiber damp mop more effective for cleaning classrooms.

"A dust mop can easily weave in and out of tight spaces, such as underneath chairs and desks," says Pratt.

There are plenty of areas a broom or a mop can access better than an autoscrubber. For example, in a restroom a broom and a mop can get behind toilets, whereas an autoscrubber cannot.

Consider The Budget

Distributors should take a look at their clients' budget as well, Thompson says, noting some cleaning operations will have to do more on the labor side because they lack the funds to purchase automated equipment.

"You can pick up a mop for $6; you can buy a new autoscrubber for $2,800," says Thompson. "You can buy a lot of mops for that price."

School accounts, for example, often must work within extremely tight budgetary constraints that require the purchase of less-expensive handheld tools in lieu of automated ones.

"In some cases, it's more economical to keep mops and brooms," says Pratt. "In situations where you need to work around furniture and weave in and out, a broom or dust mop is more cost effective to use."

That being said autoscrubbers used in large expanses might trim labor costs enough to pay for themselves fairly quickly, adds Thompson. This is something distributors should impress upon clients.

"The return on investment can be anywhere from 12 to 24 months," says Thompson. "It depends on the building they are in, the demand from their customer on how they maintain that space, and so on."

The size of the organization's janitorial closet also comes in to play. When space is at a premium, the cleaning operation may simply lack enough room to house an autoscrubber.

"You need to ask if they have an area where they can store and charge their autoscrubbers," Thompson says. "The fact is that in a lot of janitorial closets, space is at such a premium that the operation may not have room for even a small autoscrubber."

Which Hand Tool To Use?

Mops and brooms are among the oldest and most familiar tools in the cleaning arsenal, but it's important for clients to know that all mops and brooms are not created equal.

"You always want to use the right product for the job," Mantro says. "Using the right broom and mop drastically changes everything."

First, there's the question of string mop vs. microfiber mop. Which is better? The answer is both, depending on the situation.

String mops hold more water than their microfiber counterparts, which also become saturated too quickly. String mops are better suited to clean up large spills and puddles.

However, microfiber, a dense material composed of minute synthetic threads, can get into small cracks and crevices to clean more thoroughly than a cotton mop.

"The great thing about microfiber is that it will grab dirt molecules and hang onto them," says Mantro. "It has a reverse negative charge that attracts dirt molecules and won't release them until the microfiber is washed."

Microfiber is also lighter-weight than cotton, thus serving to reduce custodial fatigue when mopping.

And while microfiber mop heads may cost more upfront than cotton ones, their cost per use may actually be less because they can be laundered many times — up to 600 times depending on the brand, says Mantro.

However, buyers need to be made aware that all microfiber is not created equal. Lower quality mop heads may need replacing more often, says Mantro.

"Some microfiber heads say they can be laundered ‘X-amount' of times, but in reality they can't be laundered at all," he says. "Cleaning operations want to make sure they get a product that can be laundered 500 to 600 times because that's how often you'll need to wash a mop head during the lifetime of that mop."

A broom is not just a broom, either, adds Pratt, who notes that E.A. Morse & Co., still sells quite a few lower-end corn brooms.

"We still have a big demand for corn brooms," he says. "A lot of customers still like them and have a use for them. They like their durable wooden handles and their functionality."

But even with corn brooms, there can be a difference, he says. Handles may break and bristles may fall out of less expensive corn brooms. He says he tries to educate customers by explaining that cheaper products may wind up being more expensive in the long run if they must be replaced more often.

Mantro also advises clients on the ergonomics of the hand tools they are considering, as many manufacturers offer brooms and mops with ergonomic designs that make them easier to use. Wider handles with rubberized grips make it easier for custodians to grip the broom or mop, while flexible handles allow for angle cleaning and longer handles work better for taller workers.

All of these factors should be considered as distributors work to accommodate their clients' application. While Pratt admits his company has seen mop and broom purchases decline with the advent of the autoscrubber, he quickly adds, "There are many, many applications where custodians still need a traditional mop and broom."

And for those applications, it is important that custodians have the right tools for the job.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.