A poll conducted by AlturaSolutions Communications in April 2012 asked cleaning professionals whether, given a choice, they would opt for a battery-powered machine or one that had to be plugged into an electrical outlet in order to operate.
Fully 88 percent said they would select the battery-powered machine.
These cleaning professionals reported that using equipment that does not need to be plugged into a wall outlet has many benefits.
First is the safety factor: Having no power cord stretching across a walkway eliminates a tripping hazard.
In addition, workers do not have to plug and unplug the equipment as they work, enhancing their productivity.
And, some battery-powered floor machines, especially older models, are heavier due to the battery installed in the machine.
While this can make maneuvering the machine an issue, the added weight can add more contact pressure with the floor, which can help when performing many different floor care tasks.
Most cleaning experts believe that more and more equipment, including floor machines, vacuum cleaners and possibly portable carpet extractors, will be battery-operated in years to come.
Rechargeable battery technology is undoubtedly improving.
These batteries are becoming more cost competitive, are safer and — possibly most important — have longer run times, further improving worker productivity.
However, cleaning professionals should know that there are several types of batteries installed in professional cleaning equipment.
Each has different features and benefits, their costs can vary and instructions for maintaining them can vary as well.
Batteries known as deep-cycle, flooded or lead-acid varieties are the oldest types of batteries used in professional cleaning equipment.
These are similar to the type of battery used in automobiles.
The charge from within the battery comes from an electrolyte that is approximately 65 percent water and 35 percent sulfuric acid.
These are typically the most economical batteries to select; however, they must be properly installed in the equipment to prevent any discharge of the electrolyte, and maintaining them requires more care.
Gel batteries were developed about 30 years ago and, as the name implies, the sulfuric acid in the battery is in the form of a gel.
These batteries are totally sealed and do not need to be refilled with water, as is required for the deep-cycle battery just discussed.
This makes them safer to work with.
A third and newer option is called an absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery.
With this type of battery, the electrolyte is absorbed into a glass mat.
While AGMs are the most expensive, they store well, hold up better to vibrations, are known to hold their charge longer than the other types of batteries and offer greater maneuverability.
This is because there is less of a safety concern moving the equipment or storing it at different angles.
Issues With Battery-powered Equipment
While using battery-powered cleaning equipment does have a number of benefits, there are some issues to contend with as well.
The biggest concern, according to the aforementioned survey, is that the run time can be short.
In some situations, cleaning professionals report they need to calculate how much work they can perform before the battery needs to be recharged.
If a floor care task requires four hours of time, for example, but the floor machine's battery lasts only about two hours, they may have to select which area can best be cleaned in one visit and which can be cleaned in a second visit — or after a recharge.
Related to this, many cleaning professionals find the frequent need to recharge the machine a detriment.
Obviously, this can slow down worker productivity considerably.
And, a third concern is that battery-powered machines can cost more.
The good news is that all three of these concerns are being addressed.
Some of the recently introduced battery-powered machines have a longer run time, which means they do not have to be recharged as frequently, and they are becoming more cost effective.
Several manufacturers are investing heavily in trying to develop rechargeable batteries that last even longer than those we have today.
Because of this, we can expect all of these issues to be less problematic in years to come.
Sometimes overlooked is the fact that rechargeable batteries, no matter which type is installed, do need to be properly maintained.
For instance, in most cases, the battery should not be fully discharged before needing a charge.
Some manufacturers even have a "low battery cutoff system," which turns the machine off before the battery is completely discharged.
Other maintenance concerns to be aware of include:
- Do not store the battery in unusually cold or unusually hot areas
- If the battery requires water in order to operate, check water levels frequently
- Make sure cables and connections are clean and tight
- Recharge the battery when not in use
- Some batteries, such as deep-cycle batteries, should not be left in the equipment for prolonged periods of time and, if the machine will not be used for a week or longer, remove the battery and store it safely
- When servicing batteries, always wear safety glasses.
As mentioned earlier, battery-powered machines with rechargeable power sources offer a number of benefits.
And, in the poll, the overwhelming majority of the respondents said they believe battery-powered cleaning equipment is the wave of the future.
This is the view of many manufacturers as well and why some of the battery-powered machines available today are far more advanced than those on the market a few years back, with more technological advancements expected around the corner.
Daniel Frimml is technical service coordinator at Tornado Industries Inc., manufacturers of professional cleaning equipment. He may be reached thru his company's website at www.TornadoVac.com.