The keynote speaker at the 2007 ISSA/INTERCLEAN North America trade show in Orlando was former congressman Newt Gingrich.
Although he discussed a number of issues, the big takeaway for many people was his comment about how fast things will be changing in years to come.
Essentially, he said that we are moving from an era when major changes occurred every few years to a new era in which we can expect changes impacting people all over the globe to occur every few months.
Change appears to be happening in the professional cleaning industry as well.
However, it may not be the type of change or as fast as Gingrich was referring to.
During most of the past decade, manufacturers in the industry have put more and more time and resources into tools, equipment and machines that automate the cleaning process.
The goals were to improve cleaning standards, minimize operator mistakes, speed-up the cleaning process and enhance worker productivity to help lower cleaning costs.
For the most part, these manufacturers have been successful.
Some equipment, such as automatic scrubbers and spray-and-vacuum cleaning systems, has certainly improved the speed in which surfaces may be thoroughly cleaned.
However, cleaning professionals are finding that, as effective as these new machines are, hand tools similar to the ones that have been used for decades are still needed to accomplish many cleaning tasks or do them most effectively.
As a result, some manufacturers are revisiting and even reintroducing a new generation of hand tools that help make cleaning more effective and easier than their older counterparts.
Behind The Drive For Hand Tools
While the big push for automating cleaning was to make it faster and the entire process more cost effective, there are other factors driving manufacturers to revisit traditional, professional-grade hand tools and introduce new variations to the marketplace:
At the top of the list is the need to make difficult cleaning tasks easier.
• Often, a hand tool is far easier and more effective to use than much larger cleaning equipment for tackling heavily soiled grout areas, especially if they are in hard-to-reach places.Many times, hand tools are preferable for specific cleaning tasks.
• Examples would be cleaning stairs or cleaning in and around furniture placed on hard surface floors.The economy may be playing a role as well.
• Even when cleaning contractors and managers know that selecting machines to handle certain cleaning tasks is ultimately a cost saver, the costs of those machines simply cannot be justified or are not allowed due to budget constraints; hand tools tend to be relatively inexpensive.Hand tools can also save money in many instances.
• In some cases, it can take more time, which typically increases labor costs, to set up a machine to clean a small area than it would take to just grab a broom, mop or bucket and do the job.In addition to focusing on hand tools, some JanSan equipment manufacturers have gone back to the drawing board and are now looking for ways to "accessorize" their current automated equipment.
The goal is to develop tools and attachments that can be used with current cleaning equipment, but for more specific tasks.
Examples of how equipment manufacturers are developing hand tool accessories to make their current machines perform more specific jobs are new attachments developed for spray-and-vacuum cleaning systems and carpet extractors.
Although the pressure on some of these systems is typically high enough to loosen and help remove embedded soils from grout and hard-to-reach areas, new "guns" have been introduced to increase agitation and work in problem areas.
One such gun has a rotating nozzle modeled after rapid-fire machine guns.
In this case, water and cleaning solution have replaced bullets.
The rapid firing improves agitation so significantly that initial testing indicates that this system can sometimes clean effectively without chemicals — using water only — making it environmentally responsible.
Along similar lines are grouters that not only rapidly fire water and/or cleaning agents into the grout areas of floors, but also extract at the same time.
The result is the quick removal of moisture and soils, allowing floor surfaces to dry quickly so that they can be ready for use by building occupants.
Hand tools attached to portable carpet extractors for specialized fabric cleaning projects have also been introduced.
For instance, many offices have individualized workspaces divided by fabric partitions.
These "walls" can be problematic to clean because they often have cardboard backing behind the fabric.
If too much moisture is applied and not effectively extracted, mold and mildew can develop.
Hand tools have been introduced that more effectively regulate the amount of moisture applied to fabrics, atomize the water/solution, which together speed drying times, and minimize the possibility of mold developing.
The New Same Old, Same Old
These and many other hand tool systems are being redesigned and reintroduced to do a specific job faster and more effectively.
However, the big question some manufacturers have is whether these new hand tools will be accepted by cleaning professionals.
It is interesting to note that, in the residential market, there is a much greater willingness to try new cleaning tools and products than there is in the professional market.
Some new consumer-directed systems quickly draw a lot of interest in sales.
However, just as with a fad, many of these lose their luster quickly and then disappear.
The professional cleaning industry tends to be cautious about embracing new tools and equipment.
New hand tools have to prove their effectiveness, benefits and features in order to be adopted.
However, if the evidence is compelling, most cleaning workers are willing to at least try a tool and, if satisfied, become devoted users.
Angelo Poneris is a 20-year veteran of the professional cleaning industry. He now works as a customer service representative at Valley Janitorial Supply in Hamilton, Ohio.