Match floor care equipment to the cleaning task at hand

A clean work environment promotes worker safety, productivity and product quality. In addition, the cleanliness of your plant, warehouse or machine shop conveys a quality image that carries over into higher employee morale and positive reactions from visiting customers and vendors. In short, keeping a clean workplace adds real value to virtually any enterprise.


A clean work environment promotes worker safety, productivity and product quality. In addition, the cleanliness of your plant, warehouse or machine shop conveys a quality image that carries over into higher employee morale and positive reactions from visiting customers and vendors. In short, keeping a clean workplace adds real value to virtually any enterprise.

Because 90% of cleaning cost is labor, floor cleaning equipment selection should focus on providing high productivity as well as the best cleaning performance.

Most facilities require a combination of floor care equipment — from brooms to vacuum cleaners to walk-behind scrubbers or ride-on sweepers. Getting the right mix of equipment means assessing your specific cleaning needs. Some of the factors that affect this decision include:

  • The size of dirt and debris particles generated

  • The amount of dirt and debris generated

  • The character of the dirt (fibrous, oily, dusty, wet)

  • The type of surface (tile, bare concrete, coated concrete, outdoor, etc.)

  • The number of personnel involved in cleaning activities

  • The definition of what constitutes "clean" for your facility.

    • On this last point, "clean" can mean anything from getting rid of chunks of dirt on the floor to creating a shiny, scuff-free surface. The cleanliness goal is a factor in equipment choices. For example, if clean means getting rid of forklift tire marks and other stains in addition to dust and debris, then the cleaning process must include scrubbing as well as sweeping.

      Sweep or scrub?

      After assessing the size and amount of dirt and debris to be removed, the primary decision to be made is "sweep or scrub." This decision is not always straightforward. If the material to be cleaned is mostly fine dust, a sweeper might be the ideal tool to remove it. Actually, the best way to handle dust is to "add water," which eliminates the dust problem. This means a scrubber may actually be the better equipment choice.

      Sweepers are ideal for bulky debris such as wood chips, metal shavings, paper and fibrous materials. Scrubbers are suitable for light, dusty debris on all types of hard floors — especially dirty or oily surfaces. In many instances, you may need to sweep first and then scrub. This requires either two separate machines, or one combination machine.

      Where only one person is responsible for the cleaning, a combination sweeper and scrubber is often a good choice, because with two machines, one would often sit idle. Due to their dual function, combination machines sometimes have limited hopper and tank capacities, which can reduce productivity over time. More time spent dumping hoppers and refilling solution tanks on combination machines can mean less active cleaning time.

      Walk or ride?

      When you consider that 90% of the cost of cleaning is labor, the additional cost of a ride-on machine can likely be recouped from labor savings in about three months. Ride-on sweepers and scrubbers offer productivity gains as high as 64% over walk-behind machines. In addition, ride-on equipment is easier on personnel, allowing them to do more with less fatigue. Today's ride-on machines are compact enough to get into narrow spaces, and many are nimble enough to turn within their own length. By making more passes in a given time and significantly reducing worker fatigue, ride-ons provide a big productivity boost for a modest investment.

      Equipment sizing

      Whether walk-behind or ride-along, the general rule is to purchase the smallest piece of equipment so you can complete sweeping or scrubbing (exclusive of dump and refill cycles) in no more than two to three hours. For most companies, the cleaning person is also responsible for other jobs in the plant, and it's generally not economical to have them spending more than half a day on cleaning. Look for machines with larger capacity hoppers or solution tanks to minimize unproductive dump and refill activities.

      If you need to scrub a 9-foot wide aisle, a 48-inch wide machine and the 50-inch wide machine both require three passes to complete the cleaning. This is a case in which a larger and more expensive machine offers no gain in productivity.

      Some situations may require a ride-on sweeper or scrubber for large open areas and a smaller walk-behind sweeper or scrubber for narrow aisles or to get around and between individual work stations. By matching the size of the machine to your exact needs, capital investments are minimized and productivity is maximized.

      Type of floor surface

      Most sweepers and scrubbers are intended to work on any hard floor surface, but for best results, the style of brushes, brooms or squeegees you select should be matched to your specific surface and the dirt or debris to be removed. For example, some brooms are designed to sweep up fine dust from smooth floors. Wire-reinforced brooms do a more aggressive job of cleaning and are ideal for bulkier debris on unsealed concrete floors. There are even grit-impregnated brooms and brushes for heavy-duty cleaning on rough surfaces.

      Scrubbers used on smooth, sealed surfaces are usually equipped with soft gum rubber squeegees that do an excellent job of getting up the excess water so the floor can dry quickly. However, used on rough floors, a gum rubber squeegee will wear too quickly, so synthetic squeegee blades should be specified. The synthetic blades are not as flexible as gum rubber, but they last longer and resist degradation in greasy and oily environments.

      Other features

      In addition to these basic considerations, there are several other features to be considered.

      Ease of use — A key feature to look for in floor cleaning equipment is ease of use, especially if the equipment is going to be used by more than one operator. Are the controls easy to understand? Can the equipment be used with minimal training? Is the equipment designed to enable operators to handle minor equipment problems? For instance, a sweeper with a main broom that can be easily removed without tools will allow operators to disentangle the tape, cords, packing material, etc., that can get wrapped around the broom and reduce its sweeping ability. Unless these materials can be easily and quickly removed, cleaning productivity will suffer.

      Water usage/tank capacity — Choose scrubbers that offer reduced water/detergent use and large solution tank capacities in proportion to their size. These features will not only lower operating costs and help the environment by reducing the volume of your waste stream, they will also improve your cleaning productivity.

      Operator visibility — Another consideration, for both safety and cleaning performance reasons, is whether the equipment gives the operator a clear view of the area to be cleaned. While many sweepers have hoppers that can be raised 60 inches to dump directly into a dumpster, it is important to have a sweeper that allows the operator a clear view of the dumping without having to lean his/her head outside of the machine.

      Whenever the operator has to lean outside of the machine, there is a danger of striking his head on a nearby rack or piece of equipment. Units with offset hoppers that allow the operator to sit straight and look forward during both dumping and sweeping operations offer a safety advantage.

      More Info:

      Dave Ditty is the Training Manager for Advance and has been with the company since 1988. He has worked in various areas, including Customer Service Management, Field Sales, Sales Management, Product Development and Sales Training. For further information, please contact Jane Smith Ph: 763-745-3844; e-mail: .

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