Size Matters

by Katie Lee

Selecting floor care equipment based on your floor’s needs.

By Doug Berjer

A couple of years back, a Harris Interactive poll surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults, asking them what would negatively impact their perception of a store. High on the list was restrooms. More than 90% indicated that soiled or unkempt restrooms would mar their view of a store.

But, surprisingly, also high on the list were the store’s floors. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed indicated that dirty floors would definitely be a factor that would cause them to question whether they wanted to shop at a store.

Many in the retail and professional cleaning industries believe that floor appearance is even more important than this survey indicates. In fact, most cleaning experts believe that because floors are the first thing visitors notice when entering a facility, they set a lasting first impression of the entire facility. For this reason, retailers are taking more care in cleaning and maintaining their floors.

Floor care is actually not that difficult, but it can be very labor intensive and it requires proper training. How much labor and training is very dependent on the floor care equipment selected. Retailers have a variety of options at their disposal, from walk-behind systems to ride-ons, where the cleaning professional actually rides on the machine, similar to driving a golf cart. However, knowing which type of machine will work best in your retail facility can be a bit of a quandary.

BR 400 in use2Know Your Dirt

Before going further, retail store managers must know what kind of soiling their floors typically receive. Selecting the right equipment and the right-sized equipment depends on accurately determining this information. For instance:

• The amount and size of the dirt and debris particles. A store on the second floor of a shopping center will likely have less debris and much smaller debris than that of a store that is located on a first floor or busy thoroughfare.

• The type of soiling. If the store is directly off a parking lot, it may suffer from oily soiling, especially during warmer months of the year.

• The type of floor surface. This information is very important. The ways in which a concrete or cement floor are maintained are often far different from the ways in which a VCT or stone floor are maintained.

• The number of people involved in maintaining the floor. As mentioned earlier, floor care is very labor intensive. If there are few custodial workers available to maintain the floors, it is even more important that you have the right-sized, the right type of, and the most efficient equipment possible.

• Knowing your “clean point.” We do not all share the same views as to what is and is not clean. But retail store owners must have a pretty good idea as to how they want their floors to look. This will determine how much time and how big an investment they will make in floor care maintenance.

This last point is quite important. Many cleaning professionals refer to this as the “cost of ownership” of a floor, and it can help determine exactly what type of floor they install. If a floor is a high-maintenance floor — such as some stone floors, for instance — but the retailer has a small budget for floor care cleaning and maintenance, the two are simply not compatible, and the retailer will need to make another choice.

Walk or Ride? Sweep or Scrub?

Most mega-stores usually select ride-on floor cleaning systems. While these machines cost more than walk-behind floor machines, they can pay for themselves fairly quickly — in as short as a few months — in labor savings because they allow one worker to get a large floor area cleaned quickly.

Some floor machines are known as sweepers. They may be either walk-behind or ride-on, but what they do is essentially the same. They vacuum up debris but do not actually clean the floors using cleaning solution and water. In many cases, and with certain floors, this may be all that is needed most of the time. Some walk-behind sweepers are battery powered and can clean as much as 26,000 square feet per hour, which helps reduce labor costs significantly.

When it comes to actually cleaning the floors to remove soils, marks and grit that cannot be removed with vacuuming alone, an automatic scrubber is necessary. A scrubber cleans, scrubs and dries floors as it is moved over the floor surface. A ride-on machine with a 26-inch cleaning path often works perfectly in a retail facility. The machine should also have a 27-gallon solution tank and a 27-gallon recovery tank so that the worker does not have to stop, fill and empty the machine frequently.

In a smaller retail store, a walk-behind machine might work best. A system with an 18-inch or 20-inch cleaning path will likely fit the bill in small to moderately large retail facilities. 

Equipment Sizing

Choosing the right sized equipment is very important.  For instance, while “smart” cars that seat two people comfortably are a smart purchase in terms of their gas mileage and price point, if you have a family of six, the smart car will never make it as the family car. While not as extreme as the smart car example, selecting a floor machine that is too small for your retail store can be very problematic as well. A smaller machine may be less expensive to purchase, but it will take the operator much longer to clean the floor; thus, costs will increase.

And just the opposite can be a problem as well. A machine that is too large may be difficult to maneuver around the store’s floors. Not only is an oversize machine more expensive, in some cases it requires that store displays be removed in order for the machine to make it down walkways. That adds time, and time costs money.

Selecting the right-sized machine may require the help and assistance of a janitorial distributor well versed on floor care needs. A rule of thumb often used is that the smallest-sized equipment should be selected so that a floor can be cleaned in no more than 2 to 3 hours, excluding dump and refill cycles.

While this rule will work in some settings, it will not work in all. In some cases, for instance, two or more operators are needed to clean a large retail store’s floors. This is when an astute distributor can prove invaluable in determining what kind of floor care equipment to select.


There are many things retail store owners should consider in selecting a floor machine. When it comes to an automatic scrubber, which will likely be the machine of choice in most retail facilities, these are three of the most important features:

• Ease of use. How easy the machine is to use is especially important if there will be multiple users of the machine. Can the machine be used with minimal training? Are controls readily accessible?

• Operator visibility. Can different-sized users easily see over and around the machine? For safety reasons as well as cleaning performance, the operator must have a clear view of the area being cleaned.

•Water chemical use. Some more advanced floor machines use cylindrical brushes instead of rotary pads. These machines tend to be much easier to use and operate, but one of their key benefits is that they may use as much as 30% less water and cleaning solution than a traditional machine. This is not only a cost savings but more sustainable as well.

• Filtration. If using a sweeper, it is important to select a system that has high air filtration to help prevent dust from being released from the machine’s exhaust.

•Battery life and type of battery. Some batteries will perform longer between charges than others and some are more environmentally responsible than others.  Be sure and look into these issues before making a product selection.

Selecting the right machine to care for your floors is a very important decision. Floors say a lot more about your store than you may realize. In today’s competitive retail climate, anything that can give you the edge — even if it is your floors — should be considered thoughtfully.

— Doug Berjer has a long history in the professional cleaning industry including the cleaning and maintenance of retail stores.  He is product manager for Tornado Industries, manufacturers of professional floor care and other cleaning equipment. Berjer may be reached at [email protected].

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