Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Caring for the Cleaning Machine

Vacuuming staircase landing


Sometimes I wish the administrators of colleges and universities — along with their cleaning crews — would purchase professional cleaning equipment such as vacuum cleaners and floor machines with cash… no credit cards, no purchase orders, no checks. Perhaps if they paid with cash, they would have a better understanding of what these machines actually cost and hopefully treat their equipment a bit more carefully.

Administrators and custodial workers are all aware of cleaning equipment that has essentially been abused. Even when these machines are not abused, they often do not receive the preventive maintenance required to keep cleaning systems such as vacuum cleaners and floor machines lasting their expected lifespan.

And just what are those expected lifespans?

A commercial upright vacuum cleaner is designed to last at least three to five years; with abuse or lacking preventive care, the machine may last less than two years.

Low-speed floor machines (buffers) are very hardy and should last 10 years or more, depending on how well they are maintained; automatic scrubbers are much more complicated and delicate machines. With care and maintenance, automatic scrubbers should last five to 10 years.

With this in mind, let’s review some ways to keep vacuum cleaners and autoscrubbers — the two most frequently selected cleaning machines used in colleges and universities — working their best, lasting as long as possible, and keeping repair costs in check.

Buy New, Used or Rent?

Before discussing the care of these machines, we should address whether campus administrators or cleaning contractors should select a new or used or rent a cleaning machine. With the exception of large automatic scrubbers and carpet extractors used for short periods of time, most cleaning equipment is purchased, not rented. So the question comes down to this: Is purchasing a used or rebuilt vacuum cleaner or floor machine a good option?

vacuuming aisle in theatre


THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB. When investing in vacuum cleaners and other floor machines, it is important to purchase the best units for the areas of campus in which they will be routinely used. A floor tool that transitions from carpeting to hard flooring is a must to eliminate time loss from switching tools. An upholstery tool and a dust brush address detail cleaning on furniture, blinds and architectural details. A crevice tool is one of the most essential tools for hard-to-reach or tight areas where your technician might otherwise need to move furniture or appliances to reach. In addition to instructing you on the proper care of the equipment you purchase, the manufacturer can also advise you on the best equipment options for your facilities.

If a contract cleaner has been hired to clean the college/university than this really is not an issue if they are members of a janitorial-related group purchasing organization (GPO). A GPO member typically can receive enough of a cost discount from the manufacturer that it does not warrant purchasing a used machine.

However, if the service is in-house or your contractor is not a member of a GPO, the big thing to consider when purchasing rebuilt cleaning equipment is “cost of ownership.” When repair and replacement costs are figured in, along with downtime for service, it usually is less costly to select a brand new vacuum cleaner or floor machine — even if you must pay full price — from the start.

Caring for Vacuum Cleaners

With this in mind, some of the key ways to increase the lifespan of vacuum cleaners, minimize repairs and keep them working their best include the following:

  • No banging or bumping. Avoid banging or bumping the machine into walls and furniture. This can damage the base of the machine, negatively impacting wheels, connections, components and seals. A vacuum cleaner “bra” can protect furniture and save on costly repairs to furniture and walls.
  • Check the rotating brush. The rotating brush is designed to sweep dust and dirt into the vacuum airflow suction. If the rotator brush is no longer spinning or not spinning properly, suction will be impaired. Remove the brush and clean it. Inspect the belt to make sure it is not broken or frayed and remove any debris collected in the suction area, which might be impacting airflow and the brush.
  • Change filters. One of the best ways to make sure vacuum cleaner filters are changed at least twice per year is to time them to occur with changes in daylight savings time. Many filters do not even need to be changed; they just need to be cleaned. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as to how to clean them, allow them to thoroughly dry, and re-insert.
  • Bag inspection. Surprisingly, one of the most overlooked things is the need to empty/change the filter bag. Some cleaning workers do not change the filter bag as frequently as needed. The more soil the bag collects, the more suction power will be reduced. Change the bag when it is half full, or sooner. This will also help protect a cloth bag from developing tears or frayed areas, which could release dust into the air.
  • Check the hoses. With an upright vacuum, the hoses will be enclosed in the machine. Regularly turn the machine upside down, open the base, remove the rotating brush and inspect the openings that lead into the body of the machine. Very often if debris is lodged in the hose, it will be found at these openings. Also, check the connections of the hose. If pushing or pulling the hose causes it to move, there may be a loose connection that can impair the machine’s performance and prove harmful to the motor.
  • Stay intuitive. When it comes to the vacuum’s motor, the best thing cleaning professionals can do to keep the machine running its best is to pay attention to the sounds of the motor. Very often, the sound of the motor will change if problems are developing. Also, be alert to smells that occur when the motor is running — this could be the result of a badly worn belt or brushes that are stuck or jammed. While the user can repair most of the items we have discussed so far, as soon as there may be an indication of motor problems, the vacuum should be inspected by a repairperson.

Caring for Floor Machines

Unlike vacuum cleaners, in which repair and maintenance are typically quick and easy, floor systems like autoscrubbers may take more time and be more complicated. And because these machines are much larger and heavier, simply flipping them over — as we can with a vacuum cleaner — is almost impossible to do.



WHAT’S AN AUTOSCRUBBER? An autoscrubber, which is short for automatic scrubber, is designed to release cleaning solution onto the floor, scrub the cleaning solution into the floor, and then vacuum it up all while the operator is either pushing the machine or riding on top of it. For larger floor areas, this is an easier, far more effective and certainly much faster way to clean floors.

However, there are things we can do to keep them functioning properly, reduce repair costs and extend their lifespan. For instance, the brushes on an autoscrubber can be a magnet for small debris. Not only can this impact the operation of the machine, it could also damage floors. If debris is noted, remove it and inspect all nearby areas to ensure all debris has been removed.

The back squeegee on a floor machine is very important. Its job is to collect moisture so that the autoscrubber can vacuum it up. Once again, check for debris collecting on the squeegee. Remove if found because it can make the squeegee uneven, causing streaks, and can impair removal of moisture. If the squeegee is developing rips or tears, it must be replaced.

Most autoscrubbers are now battery-operated. If a traditional “acid” battery is present, distilled water will need to be added to the battery. Be careful of the water levels. If the battery is overfilled, acid can leak onto the floor and may cause damage. Newer autoscrubbers have “gel” batteries; these do not require adding water. In fact, gel batteries are essentially maintenance-free. Provide adequate ventilation and never smoke around recharging batteries.

The autoscrubber may also require that joints and connections be lubricated on a regular basis. However, check with the owner’s manual as to which joints can be lubricated, using what type of oil.

Final Thought

cleaning the floors


One of the most important “parts” of a vacuum cleaner or autoscrubber is the manual that comes with it. So often, the owner’s manual gets tossed out with the machine’s packaging material… or is just never reviewed. This is a mistake, because it contains important information as to how to operate the system properly, address repairs and perform preventive maintenance on the machine as and when necessary.

When purchasing a new cleaning machine, campus administrators and cleaning professionals should take the 20 minutes necessary to read the manual and study the troubleshooting guide. The troubleshooting guide is important because this lists possible problem areas the manufacturer is aware of. It eliminates guessing what’s wrong with the machine and, because the manufacturer is aware of the issues, typically lists quick and easy ways to correct problems.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .