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How to Choose the Right Floor Cleaning Machine for Your Facility

2/10/23

When it comes to your facility flooring, proper maintenance is the key to longevity. In high-traffic areas like lobbies, entrances and hallways, dirty floors can look unsightly, unprofessional and cause health and safety hazards such as an increased risk of slips, trips or falls. Hard flooring surfaces can quickly appear worn out due to scruffs, scrapes, spills and dirt, while carpet stains easily and can trap dirt, allergens and odors.  

Routine floor cleaning and maintenance with the proper tools can help extend the life of your flooring. This guide explores some of the most common types of commercial floor cleaning machines and their uses, from sweepers and scrubbers to commercial vacuums.

Sweepers

Carpet and floor sweepers are the lightest-duty performers in the floor cleaning hierarchy. They’re designed for low-pile carpets and bare floors. Sweepers feature different cleaning brush mechanisms made of materials like nylon, rubber and fiberglass to help loosen dirt from flooring. All are cordless; some are manual, while others are battery-powered. There are three main types of sweepers available:

  • Stick sweepers: Lightweight and maneuverable, these sweepers are mostly manual and operate quietly. A swiveling handle connects to the base, allowing the sweeper to get beneath furniture and other objects. Their cleaning width is less than a foot, so they are best designed to cover small areas quickly and easily.
  • Walk-behind sweepers: A step up from stick sweepers, these utilize double- or triple-brush sweeping mechanisms in a cleaning width of up to 38 inches. The debris they pick up is dumped into a hopper that holds between 8 and 20 gallons before it needs to be detached and emptied. The largest walk-behind sweepers can clean up to 40,000 square feet per hour.
  • Ride-on sweepers: An operator sits or stands on a battery-powered ride-on sweeper and has a 360-degree view, using a steering wheel or other mechanism to maneuver the machine over the area to be cleaned. These typically have larger hoppers than walk-behind sweepers and can clean larger spaces per hour.

Scrubbers

Floor scrubbers help remove dirt and stains that have built up on hard flooring surfaces like tile, concrete and marble. While most floor scrubbers are battery-powered, some corded models are available. Floor scrubbers use brushes or a scrubbing pad and have a solution and recovery tank system that helps scrub and dry surfaces in one pass. The size of the solution and recovery tank – which ranges from less than one gallon to over 35 gallons – determines the surface area you can clean. Most models utilize a combination of water and cleaning chemicals, while some models utilize a technology that doesn't require chemicals. 

There are two main types of industrial scrubbers:  

  • Walk-behind scrubbers: These are small to mid-size scrubbers with cleaning widths ranging from 9 to 32 inches. Their easily maneuverable design makes them ideal for cleaning small areas like bathroom stalls. While the size of some walk-behinds makes them ideal for cleaning tight spaces, others can be as wide as 32 inches, making these models a good option for open areas like hallways or grocery store aisles. 
  • Rider/stand-up scrubbers: Larger motorized scrubbers allow workers to stand or sit while cleaning large areas, helping to speed up cleaning and reduce fatigue. With a combination of disc or cylindrical scrub brushes and a squeegee vacuum system, they can wash, clean, disinfect or sanitize over 35,000 square feet, leaving it dry after one pass. 
  • Compact, micro and battery-powered walk-behind and robotic rider scrubbers are also available. 

Floor scrubbers feature a variety of scrub decks that use either brushes or pads designed to tackle different cleaning tasks, including: 

  • Disc: Uses two pads or brushes with speeds around 150 to 300 RPM for light-duty cleaning and polishing. 
  • Cylindrical: Uses single or dual brushes with speeds around 600 to 2,000 RPM for heavy-duty cleaning.
  • Orbital: Use rectangular scrub heads that rapidly move back and forth with brush speeds over 2,000 RPM for dry buffing, scrubbing, deep cleaning and removing floor finishes.

Burnishers

Burnishers use friction to create a high-gloss shine after buffing and can be used on indoor and outdoor flooring.  A floor burnisher differs from a buffer in its speed, motion and the floor maintenance procedures it is designed to tackle. Burnishers can move forward and backward, unlike the side-to-side motion of buffing. Burnishers feature a motor and a large, round pad driver attached to a handle. They use round abrasive pads to clean, buff and polish floors and concrete. Their brushes feature various speeds from 175 to over 2,000 RPM. Pads are replaceable and interchangeable for different tasks, ranging in size from 16 to over 20 inches. Burnishers also have different noise control options for regular maintenance during business hours without disturbing occupants.   

Burnishers are designed to achieve different results based on the motor size, power source, brush speed and pad size. They are available in a variety of types, sizes and power system configurations, including:  

  • High-speed 
  • Pad-assist 
  • Dust-control 
  • Ride-on 
  • Self-propelled 
  • Electric, corded and rechargeable battery  

Carpet Extractors

Carpet extractors and attachments use pressure, water and suction to help deep clean carpeting and remove stains and spills. Also called carpet cleaners, these machines spray water or cleaner to help loosen up dirt, debris and help remove water after leaks or flooding. They are available in battery-powered or electric corded models. Some extractors use different attachments and accessories like a hose and wand to remove carpet stains, while others are self-contained and designed to clean large areas. Self-contained models feature a brush underneath the machine to scrub carpeting without a hose and wand. Most carpet extractors feature two- or three-stage motors, while smaller models have single-stage motors. Carpet extractors generally have a PSI between 20 to 500, which determines the force of the extractor spray. Some models also feature heaters to control the temperature of the water and cleaning solution. Tank sizes range from less than one gallon to over 30 gallons.  

There are several types of carpet extractors, including:  

  • Walk-behind carpet extractors: Available in various cleaning path widths, solution tank sizes and recovery tank capacities, these machines are designed to tackle a variety of cleaning tasks. 
  • Portable carpet extractor/spotter: Commercial-grade portable carpet cleaners feature compact designs with large, easy-roll wheels and removable solution and recovery tanks. Using different tools and accessories, these models are frequently used to clean spots on carpets, stairs, upholstery, drapes, and more.  
  • Rider carpet extractor: Ride-on carpet extractors with rollers and deep cleaning brushes are used to clean and dry carpets in 30 minutes or less, allowing users to clean larger areas in less time. 
  • Canister extractor: These units are designed to remove dirt and water without changing or damaging carpet texture. Canister extractors have 3-stage vacuum motors to help reduce downtime by quickly drying carpeting. For more heavy-duty cleaning, canister extractors with heat can help remove dirt, debris and set-in stains.  

Vacuums

Commercial vacuums and accessories are designed with enhanced performance and durability to clean surfaces in different industrial settings. Corded, cordless or pneumatic-powered vacuums are available depending on your cleaning needs. 

There are several types of commercial vacuums available, including:  

  • Wet/dry shop vacuums: Designed with strong suction for picking up dust, dirt, debris and liquid spills, these vacuums are used for cleaning materials from floors and surfaces that could damage traditional vacuums. Wet/dry vacuums have a filter to help prevent recirculation of dust and contaminants when cleaning up liquid spills. These vacuums are commonly used in workshops, garages and construction sites. 
  • Upright vacuums: Their cleaning heads and rotating brushes generate suction and help loosen and remove dirt and debris on hard floors and thick carpets. Upright vacuums are frequently used for cleaning high-traffic areas like hallways, office spaces, classrooms and healthcare facilities. Many upright vacuums have a dust-collection bag, canister or clear chamber for easy disposal. 
  • Critical-area vacuums: Specially made for picking up hazardous materials and fine dust particles, critical-area vacuums are designed to collect debris that could damage traditional vacuums and are used in areas where standard vacuums could cause hazards, damage or contamination. Each variety of critical-area vacuums is designed for a specific environment. 
  • Other types include backpack, canister and handheld vacuums.   

Important Considerations

When deciding which commercial floor cleaning machine is the best for your facility, there is no one-size-fits-all machine. Ultimately, it comes down to your cleaning needs, the building’s characteristics and staff. These are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Budget
  • Frequency of cleaning
  • Type of flooring
  • Required cleaning products
  • Power source
  • Size
  • Storage 

Size and power source are important factors when choosing a floor cleaning machine. Industrial floor cleaning equipment can be corded, electric, battery-powered or hybrid-powered, containing a battery backup. Different power options have operational cost considerations.  

Many industrial floor cleaning machines have a defined cleaning path which includes their total width and turning radius. A wider cleaning path often reduces the number of passes an operator makes, helping to lower labor costs and reduce worker fatigue. When deciding between a ride-on vs. walk-behind machine, it’s important to consider your facility layout to help determine any potential obstacles that may impact cleaning. If a machine is too wide for your aisles or can’t turn around at the end of the hallway, it may not be the best option for your facility.

Selecting the Right Type of Floor Cleaning Machine

Type Usage Style Power Source Application

Sweeper

Indoor & Outdoor

Ride-On & Walk-Behind

Battery-Powered, Manual

Clean and remove dirt and debris

Scrubber

Indoor

Ride-On & Walk-Behind

Corded, Battery-Powered

Scrub dirt and grime on hard flooring using water and cleaning solution

Burnisher

Indoor & Outdoor

Ride-On & Walk-Behind

Corded, Cordless, Pneumatic

Creates gloss-like shine after buffing on hard flooring surfaces

Carpet Extractor

Indoor

Wet/Dry, Upright, Critical Area, Backpack, Canister & Handheld

Uses water and pressure to suction and remove stains from carpet, upholstery and more

Vacuum

Indoor & Outdoor

Removes dirt, debris and other materials from carpeted surfaces. Wet/dry models can also clean up liquid spills

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.