A Buyers Guide for Floor Cleaning Equipment

Published : 02/08/2019 14:51:33
Categories : Harrison Hire & Sales Posts

Where to start?

Choosing the best machinery to clean your floors isn’t a five minute job so it’s worth doing some research before making your decision. Whilst budget is unsurprisingly one of the biggest considerations, making the wrong choice can waste money and give poor results. “Cleaning equipment” is such a broad term covering everything from a duster to a ride-on scrubber dryer. We’re just focusing on floor care machinery in this article, so if you are looking to buy some machinery for your workplace then what should you search for? Most people turn to the internet but as there are so many products this could take a while unless you are an experienced user or buyer. The intention of this guide is to help you decide what type of product suits your specific needs.

Firstly, is your application industrial or commercial? Ask two people the difference between these two terms and you’re more than likely to get two answers. We consider that “commercial” equipment is intended for lighter duties than industrial equipment, but it is manufactured for regular use in a business or workplace environment. This means that a commercial cleaning machine is generally better made than a domestic product, and so should last longer. It may also have a larger capacity, and will probably have a commercial warranty too.

Some might say that industrial cleaning equipment is machinery used in dirtier conditions than commercial equipment but that isn’t always the case. The word “industry” conjures up images of factories and mines, but in reality there are now many high tech industries that use specialist equipment, for example, vacuums for clean rooms in the pharmaceutical industry.

The good old saying “buy cheap, buy twice” is very true. If your cleaning equipment is being used once a week by a careful operative then you may be able to get away with choosing the cheapest product on the market. However, from our industry experience we know that some organisations have a high turnover of staff, and that their machines suffer from misuse and abuse; an extreme example is where one company we supplied had an operative who tried to use their scrubber dryer on a flight of stairs! In these instances we would advise our customers to choose more endurable equipment, although even the toughest machinery will fail if treated roughly. 

Let us start by looking at scrubbing and buffing machinery.

Is there a place for Rotary Single Disc Machines?

For many years highly polished floors were seen as the pinnacle of cleanliness in many public buildings. You might recall returning to school as a child and sliding along a highly polished hall floor? This was probably the work of a high speed burnisher or buffer. These machines still are used in hospitals and schools. They have a single disc and are operated by constantly moving the machine from side to side with either a pad or brush fitted (more about brushes and pads below).  A little spray is often misted onto the floor along the way to help give a glossy finish. In our experience they require technique rather than strength; wrestling with them gets you nowhere! There are also low speed scrubbers intended for stripping layers of polish and dirt, and twin-speed machines which are dual purpose. Although they still have their supporters, over the years the popularity of these has declined, as companies often look to save money on wages. Whilst high gloss floors look great, scrubbing then buffing is a two stage process that takes longer. Another factor is that glossy floors can also be slippery, giving rise to health and safety concerns. Finally, a burnisher may not be suitable for some flooring types. Below, we take a look at the alternatives….

Viper Single Disc Machine

Benefits of a Scrubber Dryer

Scrubber dryers are growing in popularity and are rapidly evolving. The rise in online shopping means that more vast warehouses and distribution centres are built, and these all require maintenance. Food and beverage companies are amongst the biggest users as they are required to meet stringent health and safety guidelines; they buy over a third of scrubber dryers sold. In the competitive world of facility management, contracts are won by providing great cleaning at the best price; again, scrubber dryers play a large part in fast and effective cleaning. The manufacturing industry, transport, government, education, healthcare, retail, hospitality and the pharmaceutical industry are also key users of floor care.

 By combining scrubbing and drying in a single action (with some machines offering a pre-sweep facility too), this generation of floor care machinery saves time and so keeps the wages bill under control. They come in walk behind (or pedestrian) and ride-on versions. A few years ago scrubber dryers were typically powered by a 240v supply. This meant having to stop and unplug the equipment which takes up a lot of time. Also, cables often get damaged which renders the equipment unusable or even dangerous. Some manufacturers still offer cabled machines, particularly on smaller equipment but they are not as common as they once were. The move to battery operated machines allows the operator to work without interruption until either the waste water tank is full, or the battery runs out of charge. This is also a consideration if you want to clean for longer periods. The good news is that the cleaning supplier industry is utilising evolving battery technology very well. Manufacturers are exploring battery use and developing them at a fast pace. We have seen a move from batteries that needed regular topping up to prevent them from being damaged (wet batteries) to maintenance-free gel batteries (that are more expensive to buy) and more recently to Lithium Ion batteries which are both light weight and high-powered. There are also dry batteries which might be used in certain environments. At present manufacturers like Karcher are using Lithium Ion technology to power small scrubber dryers such as the BR 35/12 C. In the future there is every possibility that larger scrubber dryers will be making use of this technology. Scrubber dryers come in walk behind (pedestrian) versions, and ride-on versions that are great for warehouses, airports, exhibition halls or other large areas. This type of equipment offers faster AND superior cleaning because they put down a water and chemical soloution, scrub the floor, then squeegee and vacuum the dirty water up into a waste water tank in a single pass. Because the floor is left almost dry, the area doesn’t have to be sectioned off for as long and cleaning can be more easily carried out during normal operational hours (the alternative being building occupants walk across a wet floor, dirty it again and risk slipping).

 

Karcher BR 35/12 Compact Scrubber Dryer

 

Mop vs Machine

If you have a relatively small area to clean then you might be tempted to clean your floor by hand, but have you ever considered how much dirt and bacteria is trapped in a mop head? A clean bucket of water is contaminated with dirt on the first wringing out of your mop. Inevitably you’ll transfer some of that dirt back onto the floor. Compact, upright walk-behind machines (that resemble domestic vacuums at first glance), such as the Nilfisk SC100, have a scrub width of 310mm upwards. Manoeuvrability is important in tight spaces so these machine are perfect for cleaning and around tables and other obstacles which makes them popular with café owners, small shops, petrol stations, hotels and more to deep clean an area, or carry out routine daily cleaning.

Nilfisk SC100 used in a cafe

There are a number of slightly larger scrubber dryers on the market too. As a company we tend to see these being used in small food production areas, garages with MOT stations, care homes, commercial kitchens, retail outlets, cafés and restaurants – in fact anywhere where hygiene and appearance are importance. With scrubbing widths of around 350mm they are still compact enough to move easily around obstacles but usually have larger solution and waste water tanks and so are better for larger areas. The user can cover a larger area, up to around 1500 square metres (or 16,000 square feet) an hour without having to stop and refill the fresh water tank when compared to the upright smaller models. Note that throughout the cleaning industry manufacturers will quote theoretical or actual productivity rates, and sometimes both. The rates vary to take into account the operator has to slow down to get close to the edge of walls or counters that he or she would face in a realistic working environment.

 

Larger Scrubber Dryers – Ride on, Step-On or Walk-Behind?

The main consideration when specifying floor care equipment is the size of your building. As we’ve mentioned before, manufacturers quote rates of productivity in square metres per hour. If you have a vast warehouse that is full of closely packed shelves then a ride-one scrubber dryer with a scrubbing width of 500mm and a squeegee blade that is even wider, the operator will struggle to access them. Also, larger machines are more expensive – if the operator isn’t able to cover an aisle in one pass, and has to return overlapping an area that has already been cleaned then it is a false economy.

Other considerations are:

  • Simplicity of controls – simpler controls mean less training time and less opportunity for damage caused by operator error.
  • Does the scrubber dryer need to fit in a lift? Check dimensions and maximum weights once loaded with water and batteries.
  • Do you need a pre-sweep function? Scrubber dryers that are expected to pick up packing materials are almost certain to spend much of their life being repaired. No machine can cope with packing straps but there are “Combination machines” that will sweep of debris before scrubbing.
  • Are tools required to carry out basic maintenance tasks?
  • Additional features add to the cost of purchasing but might make the machine more efficient. Examples include chemical dosage systems that save chemical on maintenance cleaning but can be increased for intensive cleaning in high traffic areas.
  • Turning circle – Do you have adequate room to manoeuvre the scrubber dryer around racking and other obstacles. If the area is too tight for a ride-on, a step-on machine might be a good alternative.
  • Time available for cleaning. If you have unlimited time to clean then you might be content with a smaller machine but in reality many operators don’t have that luxury.
  • Staffing costs - a larger machine might cost more but is likely to be faster and cover more. With employment costs increasing cost efficiency savings can be made.
  • Staff preferences – some users prefer ride on machines, but the available budget often overrides this!
  • Flooring type – for example, a heavy ride-on machines may cause damage to sprung gym floors.

  

Should I choose a Cylindrical or Rotary Machine?

Cylindrical brushes are great for hard to clean surfaces, especially safety floors or those with pitted surfaces. Large scrubber dryers with cylindrical brushes offer more contact pressure on the floor surface so can do a better job, however, brushes wear out quicker so bear this in mind if you need to keep your running costs low. Some cylindrical machines also use pads.

The other option is a rotary machine which uses either brushes, or a pad holder (driver) which is used with pads. Pads are generally used on smoother surfaces as they have a larger surface area, whereas brushes are better for surfaces with more undulations.

There are a range of brushes and pads available for different cleaning actions and different surfaces types. For example, white pads are for polishing, diamond pads are for stripping, red pads for standard cleaning, green are a little more abrasive, and black for use on very resistant surfaces such as concrete. There are a similar number of options for brushes. Please note, whether you opt for a cylindrical or rotary machine take professional advice regarding the best pads or brushes for your floor surface as the wrong choice can cause expensive damage.

 

Sweepers

Dust isn’t just unpleasant, it can cause health problems too. If you need to collect dangerous dust such asbestos or silica then a specialist rated vacuum is essential. The same applies to potentially explosive dust such as flour, aluminium, starch, chocolate powder – ATEX vacuums are available for these applications. For other applications a sweeper is the best option as it collects dust in a hopper. Sweeping with a broom isn’t recommended as it throws dust up into the environment and some will settle back onto the surface you’ve just cleaned. We’ve already mentioned that no sweeper or scrubber dryer is likely to cope with packing straps or pallet wrap so collecting these by hand is recommended. Also, anything that can cause damage to your equipment (e.g. pallet splinters) should be picked up. Having said that there are outdoor sweepers that can collect litter. Look for a model that cleans right up to the edges of walls, machinery and so on– if the brooms don’t reach these areas then the operator will potentially spend a lot of time using a broom still, which defeats the purpose of using a sweeper.

Karcher KM70/20 Sweeper

Sweepers range in size and complexity. Small manual sweepers have simple filtration systems and are perfect for keeping garage forecourts, small factories or car parks tidy and free from paper, leaves, nails and screws. Features such as a folding handle make them easier to store.

Larger battery-operated pedestrian sweepers have built in vacuum system for cleaning larger areas such as shopping precincts. Ride-on sweepers have more features such as filter cleaning systems to keep filters unblocked and tipping hoppers for ease of emptying that can be used in car parks or industrial settings. Battery, LPG, petrol and diesel versions are all available. Battery run equipment is useful indoors, particularly in food production areas where engine omissions are prohibited, but would be ineffective at coping with ramps in a car park and have a finite usage time on one charge. Consider whether you have a power supply to charge the sweeper close to the location you plan to store it too. A larger hopper means that the operator can cover a bigger area before needing to stop and empty the hopper. Additional features will add to the cost of purchasing but might make the machine more efficient. Examples include extra sweeping brooms to increase the width of the pass of up to 2 metres – this will in turn reduce operating times. There are also cabs to protect the user from the elements on larger ride on sweepers. Misting systems are useful to keep control of dust – they distribute a fine spray of water in front of the sweeper to dampen it down.

Nilfisk SW8000

Lease Hire or Buy?

There’s no denying that paying for large cleaning machinery upfront will make a dent in your budget so for many organisations, particularly contract cleaners and facility management companies who invoice for their services on a monthly basis, paying for their equipment over a period of several years is often the best business decision. The question is what is the best method of financing such items?

For bigger businesses that pay Corporation tax, lease hire is usually the most tax efficient method of acquiring cleaning equipment. If you are a profitable business then you can claim tax relief on the entire payments made over the term of your agreement. You can also claim tax relief if you are a Sole trader or a Partnerships; please take your accountant’s advice on what rates these will be. As well as being tax efficient, leasing improves cash flow and there’s no requirement to hand over a lump sum of cash at the start. This means VAT is also spread in instalments, and existing credit lines are left open.  Unlike outright or hire purchase, lease hire is very tax efficient as the machinery doesn't appear on the balance sheet as an asset. A typical lease hire agreement runs from 3 and 5 years and may include servicing – read more about this below. Whilst some equipment suppliers offer purchase options at the end of lease hire agreements, most of our customers prefer to replace their equipment to ensure continued reliability and to keep their equipment up to date. For customers who prefer to buy, lease purchase options are available.

 

Looking After Your Investment

To get the best from your equipment it needs to be serviced at regular intervals so that it keeps working well and avoids more serious (and costly) breakdowns further down the line. It isn’t just dentists that encourage regular check-ups and regular cleaning!  Many lease hire agreements include servicing and often a warranty for the full period to avoid unexpected and expensive repair bills. Lease purchase agreements don’t always include maintenance. If you take out this type of agreement it is important to look after your investment for the duration so it worth considering how you will pay for servicing and or unexpected repair bills. The duration and intensity of usage will determine the frequency of servicing. Typically a light user will get their equipment serviced once a year, an average user twice yearly, and a heavy user every quarter or more frequently.

Training operators to perform daily maintenance tasks is vital. Dirty water tanks should be emptied and filters checked for debris. Check that wheels, squeegee blades and brushes are kept clean too. Pieces of twine, hair, thread and so on can stop castors from rotating and even damage them.

Brushes, pads and squeegee blades need to be replaced when they are worn otherwise performance will be affected and the standard of cleaning will deteriorate. Avoid getting debris into fresh water tanks. Check hoses and any containers used to add detergent are clean, as grit can block pipelines and nozzles. Inspect vacuum hoses regularly for signs of wear too.

Battery failure is one of our frequent call outs. To maximise the life of your batteries it is good practice to allow them to discharge properly before putting them back on charge. Most machines have a reserve so that when the red lights come on to indicate the need to charge your equipment you can return it to the storage area. Every battery has a maximum life, or number of “charging cycles” before it starts to fail. If you “top up” charge a battery before it has run down this still counts as one cycle so doing this will mean you’ll need to replace your batteries sooner.

Finally, using good quality chemical is also worthwhile. Cheaper detergents have less chelating agent to keep production costs down; this leads to blockages as a residue sometimes builds up in the system.

Chemical

The Future

A number of manufacturers are working on robotics. By mapping the facilities using smart technology via a mobile, low cost optics and sensors, autonomous equipment will clean the area. This reduces staff costs, although someone will need to set the machinery up and clean it afterwards! These systems are close to coming to the market so keep an eye out.

A second trend is toward more ecologically friendly machines and chemicals that are less polluting to the environment – many are bio-degradable.. Manufacturers are producing more concentrated cleaning detergents that save on transport costs, reducing volume and packaging. Ensuring your operatives dilute the chemical correctly avoids waste. Too much detergent can have a negative impact on cleaning performance so check the instructions on the packaging before use.

There are already a number of manufacturers (such as Nilfisk’s Eco-Flex, Karcher’s eco!efficiency, Hako Aqua Control to name a few) that offer products or systems to minimise water, chemical and fuel usage in a bid to make their product greener. At present there are car and truck wash systems that use reclaimed water to wash vehicles whilst keeping clean water for rinsing only. Future developments include using grey, recycled or engineered water for floor care cleaning too.

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