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September 19, 2010
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In large-scale commercial cleaning, a vacuum covers thousands of square feet of all flooring types each shift—making a sizeable impact on flooring surfaces and overall productivity. How do different vacuum options compare in providing the best results? Which vacuums protect your floors best while providing the most efficient particulate capture and increased productivity? To assess real-world costs over both the short and long term, take a close look at how design and operation, efficiency and maneuverability, and long-term maintenance add up.

Improving productivity and particulate capture improves your bottom line.

Start with the basic numbers on productivity. Look at the facilities you clean, the floor types they include, and how efficiently you want to clean them. Extending the life of your floors is an important consideration to factor in, as is choosing a durable vacuum with an extended life. The machine you use should support your cleaning goals and help you achieve them as quickly and thoroughly as possible to increase productivity and your desired results.

An upright vacuum works best for cleaning medium- to high-pile carpet when using a high-efficiency backpack isn''t practical. According to the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), a single-motor upright vacuum can clean a 10,000 sq. ft. facility in 3.5 hours. High-powered dual-motor models—which dedicate one motor to the suction, and one to the beater bar—can speed up that time by 30 minutes.

Canisters work well on medium- to low-pile carpet and hard surfaces. A tank canister cleans a 10,000 sq. ft. space in 4 hours, and a speed canister—basically a backpack vacuum on wheels—covers the same ground in 1.5 hours. Canister vacuums can have filter capacities up to four times the size of standard uprights—maximizing cleaning ability with minimum downtime. Choose a speed canister that is built with mobility and durability in mind, and is designed to roll smoothly and easily behind the operator. Look for lightweight canisters with three wheels that distribute the weight of the machine evenly. The front wheel must have a swiveling caster for easy maneuverability.

Backpacks work best for medium- to low-pile carpet and all hard floor surfaces, with the ability to clean a 10,000 sq. ft. facility in only one hour when used in a cleaning system. The design is economical and ergonomic—fast, efficient and comfortable for the worker to use. Studies show that, when combined with an effective cleaning program, quality backpacks can increase productivity by up to 70 percent. The added benefit of the suction-only design of backpack vacuums helps prolong the life of carpets and flooring surfaces, and the ergonomic design eliminates user strain—so both the worker and floor receives less wear and tear.

IBS Services Group, a commercial cleaning operation based in Long Island City and Manhattan, cleans from 2.5 to 3 million square feet in a typical day for a diverse client base, including the American Cancer Society, Morgan Library & Museum, Hermes of Paris and Chanel. IBS switched to backpack vacuums after they came onto the commercial cleaning scene in the late 1980s.

"We''ve achieved really excellent results," says Owen O''Mahony, IBS vice president. "I wouldn''t even make a comparison. From a productivity standpoint, I''d say we cover 7,000 to 8,000 sq. ft. an hour on average. Once people are trained properly, they can vacuum up to 12,000 to 13,000 sq. ft. an hour."

The equation for satisfaction

The benefits of a backpack vacuum are hard to beat, but some situations may call for a speed canister or dual-motor upright. Look for high-efficiency, durable models that move with ease, have a wide range of easy-to-reach accessories, come with long cords for uninterrupted work, and feature superior filtration systems that capture microscopic pollutants and don''t re-release them back into the air.

Dust capture, overall effectiveness, and floor appearance add up over time. Why go over the same area twice, or skip detail cleaning and leave a client dissatisfied with the end result?

To better capture dust, look for a high-powered motor that achieves enough suction to uproot deep-seated particles, and a filtration system that traps and collects even microscopic dust. One vacuum manufacturer features a Four Level® Filtration system that contains 99.9% of particles measuring 1 micron and larger. This includes mold, pet dander, pollen, heavy industrial dust, and other microscopic particles. HEPA filters and models boost that capture rate to even higher levels, up to .3 microns.

For a customer, visible dust can be as big an irritant as microscopic particles. So versatility, maneuverability and easy-to-use accessory tools are also essential for an efficient deep clean.

Select backpack and canister vacuums feature on-belt or on-board tool docks that allow an operator to quickly switch from floor to detail cleaning in a few steps. Backpacks with easy-to-reach attachments work especially well in cleaning hard-to-reach areas like under furniture, in stairwells, ceilings, corners and long baseboards. Choose a backpack with a telescopic wand that easily extends and retracts and has a wider range of attachments for all your cleaning needs.

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) now maintains a Green Label program to rate vacuums based on three independent laboratory tests for soil removal, dust containment, and carpet fiber retention. CRI is transitioning to its Seal of Approval program that will reward high-performing machines with gold, silver or bronze ratings.

Invest in long-lasting results

In the commercial cleaning world, throwaway vacuums are a common problem. Operations spend several hundred dollars on a vacuum, just to encounter problem after problem, until it''s beyond repair. Then the cycle starts again.

Think of a vacuum purchase as a long-term investment in a cleaning program or business. Routine maintenance is a smart way to protect your investment, but when you need to go beyond the basics to keep your vacuum running, repair becomes a costly problem, especially when you factor in downtime. The ideal vacuum should tackle even the most difficult challenges with ease, and stay consistent day after day. A multi-year warranty will also guard against unexpected problems.

Mesa Public Schools, the largest unified school district in Arizona in terms of student enrollment, made the switch to high-performance backpack vacuums after long using dust mops and uprights to cover a wide range of floor types. When tracking productivity, they found the backpacks cut the time it took to clean floors by 20 to 35 percent. They also noticed another notable side benefit—a remarkable decrease in repair and downtime. The filters are checked every night by the staff, and regularly replaced, but the maintenance has ended there.

"We haven''t had to repair one in six years. We haven''t even had to repair a motor," says Chuck Simonette, director of custodial services. Mesa Public Schools now owns over 200 backpacks.

IBS Services Group shares a similar story.

"We bought one of the original backpack vacuums in production over 20 years ago," says O''Mahony. "And we still use it on a daily basis. Sometimes, clients will ask us to use an upright vacuum with a beater bar because they think it will work better. I''ve never seen those vacuums last more than a year. You spend $200 or $250 dollars on a vacuum just to junk it a year later. We''ve never junked one of our backpack vacuums."

Next time you need to buy a vacuum, add up all the costs, and find the perfect fit to power through jobs, go the distance, and improve your bottom line.

Cleaning for Health and Productivity

ProTeam®, the Vacuum Company, offers a free brochure that goes over cost analyses, efficiency studies, and other aspects of selecting a productive vacuum for different environments. Download the Cleaning for Health and Productivity brochure at

Bob Cummings has over 25 years of experience in the cleaning industry ranging from product supply side to the delivery of daily cleaning services for millions of square feet in facilities of all types. Currently he is using his vast experience in assisting cleaning professionals with cleaning system implementation to maximize efficiency and improve cleaning operations while reducing labor and supply costs. He can be reached at or 951-746-6021.

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