Might of the Machines

Here's a recipe for a night of drudgery. Take one long, dirty hallway, one overworked custodian, one bucket and one mop. Put them together for several hours.

"Mopping is a killer on man-hours," says Jim Jenney, assistant supervisor of the custodial department for the Salem-Kaizer School District, Salem, Ore.

That's why Jenney and others responsible for school maintenance have embraced the automatic scrubber. Besides cleaning hard-surface floors, the "auto"-scrubbers suck up the liquid left behind. That eliminates the need for follow-up mopping.

"Auto-scrubbers have really been a labor-saving device," says Jenney. "It saves us from having to swing the mop. You can walk behind one of these babies and do the work in about one-tenth the time."

And you can use the machines even when your floors do not need the deep cleaning a scrubber can provide.

"You can adjust the pads and brushes and use them for auto-mopping," says Jenney.

Whether you are cleaning hard-surface floors or carpets, targeting a tiny stain, or methodically scrubbing thousands of square feet in a school building, you will find a piece of cleaning equipment to help you do the job.

There are 12-inch upright vacuums and 40-inch ride-on machines. There are backpack vacuum cleaners and wet-dry machines. There are spot extractors for isolated carpet stains, walk-behind machines for bigger jobs and truck-mounted machines with 100-foot hoses for large assignments.

There is an array of auto-scrubbers, bonnet machines and burnishers with varying size and power to clean and buff hard surfaces. Some machines are powered by electric cords, others by batteries and some by propane.

Different jobs, different machines In a district the size of Salem-Kaizer, with 34,000 students and 4.3 million square feet of space, maintenance workers have a wide variety of machines to choose from, says Jenney.

Carpet surfaces have become increasingly popular in the last 10 years, says Jenney. The district's surfaces are split about evenly between carpets and hard surfaces.

The district is large enough that it makes sense for Salem-Kaizer to have a truck-mounted extractor with a dedicated crew that travels from school to school for heavy-duty carpet cleaning.

"It's only worth it if you have a lot of carpet and can keep a crew busy," says Jenney. "We try to use the big equipment when school is out-in-service days, summer or winter breaks. When school is in session, we use the smaller pieces of equipment in the classrooms."

Salem-Kaizer also uses a 30-inch ride-on vacuum cleaner to suck up dirt from long hallways and other large spaces.

The Dubuque, Iowa, School District, with about 9,800 students, isn't large enough to justify a truck-mounted machine. Jim Brimmer, the district's assistant manager of buildings and grounds, says Dubuque has about 15 walk-behind extractors that it ships from building to building as the need arises.

Buying advice Many schools are not large enough or do not have the volume of carpet to justify the purchase of larger vacuum cleaners. But even the smallest district will probably need at least some basic machines.

"We use 12-inch uprights for our daily cleaning," says Brimmer.

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) recommends purchasing vacuum cleaners that are durable, which often cost more.

"Less-expensive vacuum cleaners may continue to operate, but cleaning efficiency may deteriorate over time, and equipment maintenance costs are high," says CRI in a brochure, Floor Covering Maintenance for School Facilities.

CRI says schools should take note of a vacuum cleaner's air-filtration capabilities. A machine with extremely powerful suction will not do the job if dust and other matter can pass through the vacuum bag and become airborne.

"Select a vacuum that offers high-efficiency filtration," says CRI. "A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) or near-HEPA rating should be specified. Vacuum bags should be disposable and should be replaced whenever the bag becomes half-full. Allowing the vacuum bag to become more than half-full greatly reduces airflow and soil-removal efficiency."

Whether you are using heavy-duty vacuum cleaners and extractors, or simpler machines, you can make great strides keeping your schools clean by using some very low-tech materials: entry mats.

"You catch the dirt before it gets into your building," says Brimmer.

Like the surfaces they clean, vacuums, extractors and scrubbers will wear out eventually. When replacing them, maintenance officials need to show that the new machines will enhance the overall climate of buildings and the campus.

Officials should be prepared to explain:

-Why and when new equipment is needed, and how it will benefit facilities.

-How important the equipment is to the upkeep of the facility and how that affects the productivity of staff and students.

An equipment plan should call for replacing vacuums every three to seven years, extractors every six to 10 years, and scrubbers every eight to 10 years.

Inform your staff about the replacement schedule, so that when they do not receive new equipment one year, they know they will get some in the future.

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