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How to choose the right vacuum cleaner

13 June 2014

Justin Binks, director of SEBO UK, outlines the key factors to consider when choosing the most appropriate vacuum cleaner for your requirements

Cleaning regimes for commercial environments involve many challenges; one of the biggest areas of concern is the floor. Cleaning the floor in a commercial space has to be completed quickly, efficiently and on a regular basis. The frequency of cleaning and the methods used will depend on factors such as the type of flooring, the level of traffic across it and the ease of access under and around furniture. Importantly, as well as maintaining the aesthetics of the flooring, foot-borne soiling, dust and other deposits that might cause allergies or illnesses must be removed.

Flooring in commercial premises is often a combination of both hard and textile. To tackle these surfaces, the key tools in the floor cleaning armory are upright vacuum cleaners, cylinder vacuum cleaners and floor polishers. Choosing the most appropriate machine, and preferably one that can accommodate a variety of surfaces, is crucial as this will have an impact on the ease and quality of the clean, the time it takes, the comfort of the user and, ultimately, the labour costs involved. 


Upright vacuum cleaners

Upright vacuum cleaners are available in a variety of brush widths – 30cm is generally regarded as offering the best all-round efficiency for smaller areas, and 36cm to 46cm for medium to large sized areas where high productivity with minimum effort is offered. As the rotating brush roller gives highly effective pick up, uprights can be used in a systematic way with overlapping one pass sweeps, saving considerably on time related costs. A major benefit of good quality uprights is their powerful performance, manoeuvrability and controllability as they tend to be light to use and are easily pushed along – choosing a vacuum cleaner that is no more than 9kg in weight is highly beneficial for operatives.

Machines with strong suction and driven brushes are the most effective models for carpets as they groom and lift the pile and remove dirt effectively. Good quality upright vacuum cleaners have different height settings to allow adjustment to different pile heights and constructions as well as auto shut-off. An electronic guidance for brush height on certain models ensures optimum cleaning results and longer brush life. 

Onboard hose and telescopic tube systems add to the overall cleaning flexibility of some upright machines, as do flexible suction necks which allow a far greater degree of manoeuvrability; ideal for smaller areas and getting around furniture.

Technology has allowed for many advances in the design of uprights including health and safety benefits, such as multiple-layer bags to seal in dust and dirt, multi-stage filtration and low noise. The multi-layer bags not only aid filtration; they also save considerable time in emptying, making machines that use them more economical than bagless vacuum cleaners. Low noise is particularly pertinent in situations where cleaning staff have to work with residents in situ, such as nursing homes and hospitals.


Cylinder vacuum machines

The alternative to an upright is the cylinder or ‘tub’ vacuum machine. These are simple to use, are ideal where hard flooring predominates and have the advantage of reaching every part of a floor, excelling when it comes to cleaning stairs and under beds. The best professional cylinders are superbly engineered offering exceptional performance combined with advanced ergonomic design, large capacity and quiet, economic operation. 

Machines with a low centre of gravity are extremely stable and those with a separate handle on the suction tube offer superior control and fatigue-free use, making cleaning fast and easy. On better machines, a lightweight telescopic tube, which can be adjusted for the most comfortable height, is sometimes combined with multi-floor cleaning heads to enable both hard floors and carpet to be cleaned. In addition, on-board crevice and upholstery nozzles provide tremendous cleaning flexibility. Cylinders can be fitted with turbo or electrically driven brushes. However, not all are effective or durable enough for commercial environments.

In terms of reach, good cylinders have an extensive range and offer electronic power control to ensure the optimum suction setting and minimum power consumption together with high levels of filtration. Sealable, large capacity bags save time and minimise spills.  


Floor polishers

Whether solid wood, marble, vinyl, linoleum or granite, hard floors are prone to dullness and scratches over time. This is where floor polishers prove their worth. 

Ultra High Speed (UHS) polishers which spin at more than 1000rpm (rotations per minute), are arguably the easiest to use and dramatically accelerate the cleaning process whilst achieving an exceptional shine. Thanks to recent improvements in technology, it is now possible to vacuum and polish hard floors using one compact unit that can be easily manoeuvered by a single person. Before investing in these machines, it is important to make informed decisions with regards both to value and functionality. 

The first point to consider is the floor area in question. For very large areas such as a shopping mall, a ride-on model with its own power source is an expensive but essential option. Large areas, such as high capacity halls, sports halls and major auditoriums, may require a fairly substantial walk-behind model with a minimum polishing disk width of 45cm. Smaller spaces – for example, hotel receptions, shops, offices, nursing homes, many schools and medical facilities – are perfectly suited to a compact UHS polisher which can cope with awkward spaces and narrow corridors. 

The second point to consider is ease of use. It is impossible for a heavy machine to be supported only by the polishing pad. Many polishers use an adjustable jockey wheel or similar which takes the weight off the polishing pad. However, this often compromises manoeuvrability. When using these machines with the latest diamond pads, water has to be applied to the floor to reduce friction and control dust which can not only cause a health and safety hazard but also needs to be removed. 

Investing in a two-in-one model, that will vacuum as it goes and does not require water, saves on labour costs, literally halving cleaning time. Operating without water means that health and safety considerations, such as slippage, are eliminated, so areas to be cleaned do not have to be sealed off for extended periods. As the vacuum is attached to the polisher head via a simple one-button push and slide action, the cleaner can be used independently from the polisher so is ideal in situations where there is both textile and hard flooring.

The choice of polishing pad is a critical factor. Conventional pads, that require the addition of a chemical polish, provide a high gloss shine by creating a new surface coating. However, this can be a lengthy multi-stage process even when just maintaining the floor, let alone stripping off an old surface. Those looking to achieve a serious shine with minimum effort should opt for the latest diamond impregnated pads that rely solely on the mechanical action of the spinning polishing pad and do not require any additional chemicals to achieve top quality results. Used in conjunction with UHS polishers, these produce high-shine surfaces with minimal effort because the micro-diamonds embedded in the pads bring a high gloss by polishing out imperfections in the floor, without using chemicals and avoiding the risk of slipping.

Whether selecting a floor polisher, upright vacuum cleaner or cylinder vacuum cleaner, it is worth remembering that they are important investments. Choosing the right one is essential if flooring of any type is to be kept looking good and consistently clean. Commercial cleaning is a regular task that must be conducted to the highest standards. Using high quality, reliable and long lasting equipment that is designed with ergonomics in mind can dramatically help facilitate and speed up the cleaning process.