Scrubber-extractors and vacuum-sweepers can save end users both time and money, but combination machines are not appropriate for every facility or operation. There are questions jan/san distributors can ask to help ensure customers receive the right equipment for the job.

1. What type of facility are janitors cleaning? Nursing homes, health care facilities, schools, office buildings and manufacturing plants have different needs.

For example, a manufacturing facility may be able to get by with a vacuum-sweeper that operates more loudly and misses fine particles, while a hospital needs a quiet machine with a HEPA filter that is designed to pick up smaller particles. A school may not be able to use a combo machine because the machine is too large to maneuver through a jam-packed classroom.

2. What is the square footage and what is the size of actual cleanable space? Knowing the square footage of cleanable space is key. If a customer says he has 20,000 square feet of office space, but it's divided into 100 separate offices, his equipment needs will be different than if he had 20,000 square feet of open space to clean.

These machines will be more productive when used in a reasonably sized area, says Kevin Carlson, equipment specialist for Mission Janitorial & Abrasive Supplies, San Diego.

"These machines are very nimble and maneuverable and cover a lot of ground in a short period of time," he says. "But they are not going to be appropriate in a small office setting."

3. How are janitors cleaning these areas now? It's possible that their methods are outdated and distributors can make a case for the equipment in terms of boosting productivity and improving cleaning quality.

4. How often are janitors cleaning and what is the area being cleaned at one time? A 28-inch scrubber that cleans 20,000 square feet an hour with a battery that needs charging after three hours would not be appropriate in a facility larger than 60,000 square feet, if the operation hopes to clean every surface in a single shift. In this case, the client would need to buy multiple machines or a unit with a wider cleaning swath, says Dave Bahcall, vice president of Dallas-based Complete Supply Inc.

"I match the machine to the square footage they have," adds Dave Faunce, equipment specialist for Lansing Sanitary Supply of Lansing, Mich. "If someone has 20,000 square feet worth of hard floor, I'm going to match them to a unit that can do that task in one or two hours; the same with carpet."

5. What do customers' carpet and hard surface care programs look like? If the carpet care program differs vastly from the hard surface floor care program, or the programs run simultaneously, then it's better to separate the tasks in lieu of a combo unit.

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