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Hard Floor Care

Should We Be Vacuuming Hard Surface Floors?

April 04, 2012
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Many floor installers who remove old carpet or hard surface floor coverings and replace them with new coverings have had to add a new step to the removal/installation process.

Previously, the first task was simply to begin removing the old carpet or hard surface floor, but now they find — for health reasons — they must vacuum the floor or carpet first.

One reason is that many organizations, especially schools, have reduced floor care maintenance and delayed refinishing their floors as well as cleaning their carpets for such extended periods of time that bacteria, germs and potentially dangerous microorganisms are now present.

These contaminants can be released during the removal and installation process, and inhaling these contaminants can be a health risk.

Although this may be an extreme situation, it serves as one reason why professionals who clean and maintain commercial facilities should consider vacuuming hard surface floors instead of dust mopping them.

Instead of disturbing impurities that settle on the floors by dust mopping, an effective vacuum cleaner with a proper air filtration system can remove them more thoroughly, helping to protect the health of the cleaning worker and indoor air quality (IAQ) in the process.

Benefits Of Vacuuming

According to Daniel Frimml, technical service coordinator at Tornado Industries Inc., an effective vacuum cleaner has sufficient lift and airflow — rated in cubic feet per minute (CFM) — and both referring to the force exerted by the air moving through the machine.

"Sand and grit are the enemies of most hard surface floors," says Frimml. "They can have more than 30 cutting edges, allowing them to grind and damage floor surfaces and also remove the floor''s finish. This can happen with wood floors as well as stone, ceramic and common tile floors. Vacuuming is typically far more effective at removing sand and grit than dust mopping, helping to minimize or prevent this damage."

Removing this sand and grit instead of spreading it, as can happen with dust mopping, is also why vacuum cleaners help protect IAQ, according to Frimml. However, this is usually true only when using machines with more advanced filtering systems.

"Vacuum cleaners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can prevent as much as 99.9 percent of all particulates from escaping the machine and becoming airborne, providing the filtration necessary to protect IAQ," notes Frimml.

While HEPA filtering systems are considered the "gold standard" for vacuum cleaners used in the professional cleaning industry, there are other types of filtering systems as well.

An ultra-low penetration air (ULPA) system can trap at least 99.999 percent of dust, pollen and other airborne particulates with a size of 0.12 microns or larger, surpassing HEPA systems, which trap 99.9 percent of dust and pollen at .3 microns or larger.

In addition to these, there are also standard filtration systems as well as allergen filters, usually HEPA filters designed to trap common substances that can cause allergic reactions.

Breaking Old Habits

If we can accept the fact that vacuuming hard surface floors is a more effective and healthier way to clean floors, then why do so many cleaning professionals use a dust mop instead?

Some of it is just tradition: They have used dust mops for decades.

And, dust mopping is admittedly very cost effective as well as typically easy, convenient and fast.

A dust mop head can be as large as 48 inches, far larger than the floor attachment of most vacuum cleaner attachments used for vacuuming hard surface flooring, allowing the dust mop to clean a large floor area more quickly.

However, Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain Inc., disputes the idea that dust mopping is always faster and cheaper than vacuuming.

According to Rathey, dust mopping may require a soiled floor to be damp mopped multiple times to achieve the desired cleanliness.

However, if a vacuum is used, it is possible that only one damp mopping will be necessary.

Also, there is the plug issue: Even with a long cord, most electric vacuum cleaners still must be plugged in to operate.

This can slow down worker productivity, especially in long corridors where electrical outlets may be few and far between.

And, a long cord can become a tripping hazard as well.

Types Of Vacuum Cleaners

Typically, the two types of vacuum cleaners most commonly used to clean hard surface floors are backpacks and canisters.

Backpacks have proven their effectiveness at cleaning both carpets and hard surface floors; however, many early backpacks were heavy, would heat up as they were used and were noisy.

According to Frimml, these problems have been eliminated with today''s more advanced backpacks.

The machines are lighter, are quieter so they can be used in day cleaning situations, are more comfortable to wear and come in different sizes.

In addition, some machines have advanced filtration systems such as HEPA.

Canister vacuum cleaners remain the big "sleeper" in the American professional cleaning industry.

The preferred vacuum cleaner throughout most of Europe and Asia, canisters have made minimal inroads in the U.S. market.

However, that may be changing, according to Frimml.

"This may change because some of the newer canisters have more lift and airflow than their predecessors, making them more effective machines," asserts Frimml. "And, some are exceedingly quiet, less than 70 decibels — about the sound level of conversation — making them perfect for day cleaning situations."

With increased concerns about IAQ and the environment, Frimml suggests that vacuuming hard surface floors instead of dust mopping will likely become more common, especially as more facilities adopt green cleaning systems.

"Or, at the very least, it will be a combination of the two," adds Frimml. "For interim and fast cleaning, dust mopping may still be used. But, for more thorough, effective and ''healthy'' cleaning, the vacuum cleaner will be the tool of choice."


Richard Sanchez is a building service contractor (BSC) in Northern California. He may be reached at Info@AlturaSolutions.com.

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