Hard Facts

Choosing the right cleaning equipment for hard-surface floors is an important part of the overall floor-care process. This is because the factors of reliability, ease of use and effectiveness of operation need to be considered in order to provide the worker with the best possible tools. Specific equipment is designed to perform specific jobs.

Some manufacturers try to market machines, which actually are designed for one purpose, as a panacea for many cleaning processes. Kits that convert walk-behind carpet extractors into auto scrubbers to clean hard-surface floors are a good example of this tendency. While this may work, it is not as good as having an auto scrubber. This practice appeals to the sense of multiple use, but the results are often mediocre. Therefore, when selecting equipment, understand all of its intended uses, and ask the following questions:

-Will it do the job it needs to do in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost?

-Will workers use it for the required task or will it just gather dust in the custodial closet because they hate to operate the unit?

-How many types of jobs will it perform if used properly?

-What is the machine's track record in use, repair and downtime?

-If it is a new piece of equipment never purchased by the district, will it save time and money?

Wring it out While seemingly simple, mop buckets and wringers are the most important pieces of equipment in the custodial arsenal. Unless there is a specific reason why metal buckets and wringers are desired, always buy composite material mop buckets and wringers. They will not rust and will last longer if taken care of properly.

Choose the right size buckets for the job; big enough but not oversized. Wringers should fit the most common mop size used in the school. Never buy side-press wringers, only select down-press wringers.

Vacuum it up Wet vacuums also are known as wet/dry vacuums, because a bag can be installed inside the tank for dry pick up. These machines are excellent for picking up wet solutions from stripping and scrubbing operations, wet slop from winter track in or from floods created by broken pipes, roof leaks or natural disasters. While all wet vacuums do pick up wet substances, how efficiently and how easily they work is another matter. Do not buy home-based units from department stores with plastic wands. Instead buy large-capacity commercial brands with stainless-steel wands and heads.

Make sure the unit has an automatic float shut off in case the tank gets too full during operation. This keeps the solution from damaging the vacuum motor. Also, make sure the machine is easy to empty; a worker should not have to pick up the entire machine to dump it. Look for tip tanks or pump-out vacuums. These machines also are available with rear- and front-mount squeegees for operation as a single-unit machine.

Hit the floor When it comes to standard floor machines, purchase ones with good maintenance track records, as well as readily available parts. Select heavy-use equipment, not something made for home or small commercial building use. Be sure to select the right size unit for the area that is being cleaned.

The handle height adjustment should be variable, allowing for different heights of operators. The supports on the handle should be very strong. It is usually better to have adjusting devices that allow tightening by screw than by lever, which allows finer settings and less slippage in the handle.

High -speed cleaning High-speed floor machines come in three basic configurations: standard electric, battery-powered and propane-powered. All are used to create a gloss on hard-surface floors, however, each has its own strengths and drawbacks.

-Electric high-speed burnishers operate on standard 110 AC wall current. Machines range in speed from 1,000 to 3,000 RPMs. While electric is the most dependable in terms of long-time operation, they generally do not apply enough pressure to the floor to create the heat that makes the mirror-like floor surfaces. Some electric machines work well in creating the floor gloss, others do not. Brand names are not necessarily the best machines; many national companies that produce excellent equipment in other areas, do not make good high-speed electrics.

One important aspect is the pad holder. The pad restraining device should be easy to remove so the pad can be removed without much effort. Otherwise, workers tend not to change pads and the process will melt dirt into the finish. These machines are the least expensive.

-Battery-powered high-speed burnishers have the advantage of being independent of the wall plug, which saves time. The downside is that it will need to be plugged into the wall when not in use, usually for at least eight hours for a full battery charge. While production time is higher, actual effective run time on one charge is usually not more than four hours, often only between two and three. While an employee can cover more square footage in the time the machine is operating, he or she cannot produce more over a longer period.

These machines also are not portable. If the facility has stairs and no elevator, plan on using them only on the ground floor. Look for simple controls; do not buy machines with lots of extras. Batteries should be well insulated from the rest of the machine to prevent possible leakage on floor surfaces. Chargers should be easy to hook up. Look for ease of maneuverability because these machines are heavy and if they do not move easily, workers will use them sparingly.

-Propane-powered burnishers traditionally have been used heavily in commercial buildings, such as warehouses and grocery stores. The propane power results in long run times when compared to battery-operated. Of the three types of machines, these units generally produce the best results on the floor. They operate in the area of 3,000 RPMs. The pressure applied to a finished floor is great because the entire weight of the machine is on the pad.

One drawback is that they require more maintenance, due to a larger number of of moving parts than the other machines. Proper lubrication is important; engine oil must be changed on schedule or damage can occur. There also are safety concerns. Propane-powered burnishers release pollutants into the building, and some question the safety of having bottled propane inside a school. They also are noisy, and even though burnishers should not be used in hallways during class, the propane machines sound like someone is riding a motorcycle down the corridor. Obviously, these machines are made to be used during off-occupancy hours.

Fully automatic The automatic scrubber, while originally invented in the 1930s, did not become a regular feature in buildings until the early 1960s. The original machines were a mating of a floor machine with a wet vacuum mounted behind it to pick up used solution. Today, they are more complicated and very efficient. These machines come in various sizes from small 8-gallon machines to large 30-gallon machines, and even larger ride-on scrubbers used in warehouses.

Typically, most schools purchase the smaller machines for use in small corridors and classrooms, and machines in the 20- to 30-gallon capacity for large hallways, cafeterias and athletic areas. Small machines come in electric and battery-operated.

Recently, the tendency has been toward using more electric machines in this size because of lower initial cost, longer running time per use and portability. Some schools have bought these machines to replace larger automatics as they wear out, believing that these machines are more suited to smaller spaces, while still being able to clean larger areas. However, buildings with large and small spaces should have both types of machines.

Larger automatic scrubbers, while sometimes available in electric models, usually come in battery-powered configurations. Time saved by being able to avoid the cord while cleaning, and plugging and unplugging the machines is worth the shorter run time in the large areas where these machines are used. The choice of buying large or small should be determined by the machine's main use, as well as if it is going to be used in a multi-story building without an elevator.

Other than size, the things to look for are similar between the two. Stay away from machines with too many extras; complicated controls and operating parts only cause problems. The machine should be easy to fill with solution and easy to empty. Be sure that the machine can be emptied into the drain facilities in the buildings. As with the battery-powered high-speed burnisher, make sure the batteries are well insulated from the rest of the machine to avoid any acid spills in case of a malfunction.

If purchasing a large machine for use in a multi-story building with an elevator, make sure it fits on the elevator. Another factor is whether you will be using brushes or pads. In many cases, brushes are more efficient than pads, so buy a machine that allows you to install either brushes or pads with the minimum of conversion.

When buying any kind of equipment, the biggest concern should be if the cleaning personnel will use it. Spending thousands of dollars on machines that get little use because they do not perform as promised or workers find them hard to use, is a waste of money.

When choosing carpet equipment, follow the same basic rules as for choosing hard-surface equipment. There are two basic categories of carpet care equipment-vacuums and extractors.

Vacuums come in all types with the upright vacuum being the most common. Uprights come in a one-motor version (a machine that uses one motor to drive the suction and the agitation) and the two-motor version (one motor for suction and one for agitation). Generally, the two-motor upright is more effective.

Other types of vacuums include tank vacuums and backpack vacuums. In recent years great strides have been made in backpack vacuum technology, making them lighter, more powerful and more comfortable to wear, as well as more productive than upright vacuums. Most upright vacuums, even with the best operator using them in congested circumstances such as a classroom, can achieve only 2,500 square feet per hour of cleaning. Good backpacks in the same area can achieve 7,000 square feet per hour, sometimes more. In today's legal environment, look at ergonomic and indoor air quality factors when choosing a vacuum.

Extractors come in three forms. Wet extraction or steam cleaning, dry extraction and foam extraction. Wet extraction machines range from small wand-led extractors to self-contained walk-behind machines to large truck-mounted units. The bulk of extraction is done with wet extraction. Most modern wet-extraction systems, when used properly, have a 2- to 4-hour dry time.

Dry extraction uses a special machine that pushes a dry cleaning compound consisting of cellulose particles impregnated with cleaning solvents into the carpet, which is later vacuumed out by a standard vacuum. There is no drying time with this system, which is used in many 24-hour facilities that have no downtime.

Dry foam extraction uses a special extractor that has a foam generator in it. This foam is injected into the carpet and some is removed immediately by the machine. Residual is later vacuumed out with a standard vacuum cleaner after the carpet has dried. Drying takes less than two hours, and often less than one.

If something gets spilled on a carpeted surface, the longer it takes to clean it up the more chance it has of creating a stain. Therefore, the primary rule that custodians should follow when spills occur is to clean them up as soon as possible. But as everyone knows, this is not always possible. Generally, most spills will not turn into stains and can be cleaned up easily, even after a considerable amount of time.

Water-based materials can be cleaned up with a diluted mixture of carpet cleaning shampoo and water. Oil-based spills can be cleaned up with a good solvent-based carpet spotter. There are times when the strength of a spilled material will require special steps to remove it. Once a spot has reached the stain stage, it is literally impossible to remove.

Here are some common remedies for spots that are impossible to remove with standard spot-removal techniques:

-Crayons-Paint or tar remover. or some type of volatile solvent.

-Urine-Neutral detergent solution and acetic acid.

-Water-based glue-Hot water.

-Permanent ink-Acetic acid and sodium hypochlorite solution.

-Nail Polish-Amyl acetate.

-Rust-Hydrofluoric acid.

-Coffee-Acetic acid, then wash with a neutral detergent.

-Rubber Cement-Paint and tar remover, and volatile solvent.

-Blood-Rub in a paste of corn starch, let it dry and brush it off.

-Wax and gum-Ice or freezing agents.

-Chocolate-Hot neutral detergent solution and acetic acid.

-Mustard-Volatile solvent.

-Ketchup-Neutral detergent solution or a weak ammoniated solution.

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