How to choose a floor scrubber

So, you want to spend less time cleaning the floors and more time living your life! You've heard floor scrubbers are the way to go, but with so many options available, how do you know which one to buy? Here's our step-by-step guide on choosing the right floor scrubber for you:

1. What sort of floors do you need to clean?

Broadly, there are two common types of floor scrubbing machines. The one you choose depends on the types of floors you want to clean.

  • Rotary brush/disc autoscrubbers: These are the most commonly used autoscrubbers and have between one and three flat, round brushes or pad drivers which look something like the image below. Where they have more than one brush these are generally positioned side by side or in an offset pattern to give greater cleaning width.

    Rotary brush or disc scrubbers are very versatile. They can be used to clean vinyl, concrete, terrazzo, ceramic or porcelain tiles, rubber, granite, marble, sandstone, bluestone, homogenous floors, anti-slip floors and more.

    If your floor is reasonably smooth and flat, a rotary brush autoscrubber is the floor cleaning machine for you.

    rotary brush autoscrubber

    Replacement brushes for a rotary brush autoscrubber.
  • Cylindrical brush scrubbers: The rolling action of the brushes in cylindrical (also called roller brush) scrubbers make them more effective for reaching into the recesses of textured floors. This makes them perfect for cleaning non-slip floors and other floors with a highly textured surface.

    cylindrical brush scrubber

    Replacement brushes for a cylindrical brush scrubber.

If you need to clean smooth and textured floors, we’d suggest having a demonstration of both types of machines to see what works best for you.

2. What size floor scrubber do I need?

Have a look around the floor area you'd like to clean. Find the narrowest doorway or passage you need to be able to fit through with your floor scrubber. This will tell you the maximum width of the floor cleaning machine you can buy.

The floor squeegee on many autoscrubbers will be the widest part of the machine. While this can be removed, you don’t want to have to do it every time you need to get through a doorway or into a lift.

Next, consider how many obstacles you have to clean around and how open your space is. Are you cleaning a school gymnasium with a clear floor? Hospital wards with long floors and little obstructions? Do you need to clean a cafeteria with chairs and tables blocking your path? Would you love to be able to clean the toilet areas as well? And what is the total square meters of floor area you need to clean anyway?

These are all factors to consider when choosing the right size floor cleaning machine.

i-mop

Once you have clarity it really comes down to this:

Buy the floor scrubber with the widest possible scrubbing width that you can afford, ensuring it is still manoeuvrable enough to clean your smaller areas.

A wider floor cleaning machine will take less time to clean your floor, which means you'll pay less in labour costs. Spending a few more dollars upfront to get a 62cm wide machine vs say a 46 or 50cm machine will likely save you money every time you clean.

Here is how to work out the labour operating cost of a floor cleaning machine:

  1. Take the operating width (a) of your intended autoscrubber. For a 40cm scrubber, use a value of 0.4, for a 60cm scrubber use 0.6 and so on.
  2. Work out a realistic cleaning speed (b), this could be say 2 or 3km/h. More manoeuvrable scrubbers like the i-mop will allow a faster overall cleaning speed. Determine the value in meters, so for 2km/h would be 2000, for 3 km/h would be 3000 etc)
  3. (a) x (b) gives your theoretical cleaning performance (TCP) in square meters per hour.
  4. Divide your total floor area (square meters) by your TCP. This will tell you how many hours it will take to clean your floor.
  5. Multiply the floor cleaning time by how many times per year you will clean your floor to get your annual floor cleaning time
  6. Multiply this annual time by your cost of labour to get an annual labour operating cost
  7. Look at this cost over 5 years to get a true perspective.

Let’s look at two different machine scenarios and the labour costs over 5 years, based on the following situation criteria:

  • Cleaning a 1200 sqm floor
  • Cleaning 5 days per week
  • Working on a labour cost of $30/hour

Scenario 1 - 50cm walk behind floor scrubber with a realistic average operating speed of 2 km/h:

  • 0.5m (scrub width) x 2000 (metres/hour) = 1000 sqm/hour TCP
  • 1200 (sqm floor area) / 1000 (TCP) = 1.25 hours to clean the floor
  • 1.25 (hours) x 260 (days cleaned/year) = 325 hours annual cleaning time
  • 325 (hours) x $30/hour = $9,750 annual labour operating cost

Scenario 2 - Using a larger 62cm scrubber that is more manouverable (for faster cleaning) such as the i-mop xxl, with a 3km/h minimum cleaning speed:

  • 0.62m (scrub width) x 3000 (metres/hour) = 1860 sqm/hour TCP
  • 1200 (sqm floor area) / 1860 (TCP) = 0.65 hours to clean the floor
  • 0.65 (hours) x 260 (days cleaned/year) = 169 hours annual cleaning time
  • 169 (hours) x $30/hour = $5,070 annual labour operating cost

In this scenario comparison, the larger & more manoeuvrable 62cm floor scrubber would save $23,400 in cleaning labour over 5 years!

The levers you have to play with are a) the scrubber operating width, and b) how manoeuvrable the machine is.

Don’t look at what the brochure says. Do your research; checkout videos online and if possible actually try the machine for yourself to really understand the manoeuvrability and speed of a machine.

Choosing a scrubber that is more manoeuvrable and allows faster floor cleaning can make a huge difference to your annual labour cost.

i-mop xl

3. How easy is it to maintain?

A floor scrubber that is easy to look after will mean less breakdowns and a lower total cost of ownership.

Scrubbing brushes or pads: Floor scrubbers will normally use brushes or pads to clean the floor. These should be easily accessible to operators for removal and re-attachment as they are critical daily maintenance components. Check out how easily you can access the underside of the floor scrubber area.

Floor squeegee: If the machine has a floor squeegee, this will need regular maintenance too. Floor squeegees on autoscrubbers should be cleaned at the end of each shift, and in some cases removed completely. Check how easy it is to remove the squeegee. Does it require unscrewing of knobs or bolts? Or can it be pulled off and on easily without tools?

Brushes: If the machine has brushes, is there a wear indicator to show operators when it is time to replace the brushes? Some brands of floor cleaning machines have wear indicators built into the brushes, making it easy to know when to get a new set.

Vacuum hose: The vacuum hose is one of the parts of a commercial autoscrubber that will require regular checking. If this is easy to remove it will help to ensure these simple daily checks are completed.

maintenance

4. Battery or Electric Floor Scrubber – which is best?

With some floor cleaning machines you have the option of battery or electric (cable powered) models. There are pros and cons to consider with both.

The great advantage of battery-powered floor scrubbers is the mobility and freedom of movement. You don’t have cords trailing along behind you when you clean, which can be a safety hazard as well as hampering cleaning productivity.

The downside of battery autoscrubbers is the initial cost – they are more expensive than electric or corded floor scrubbers. (Note: Your operating costs may be higher with electric autoscrubbers due to the higher labour cost through having to change powerpoints while cleaning)

If you have a small area that you can clean without having to change electrical sockets (ie no more than 15-20m from an electrical socket – most brands of electric autoscrubber have a cable length in this range), an electric scrubber may be suitable.

If you have larger areas to clean such as long passages and/or furniture and corners to clean around, you would definitely be better off with a battery scrubber. Electric floor scrubbing machines will be a real pain to work with in these scenarios.

The bottom line? If you can afford it, choose a battery machine.

5. Battery technology – what batteries should my floor scrubber have?

If you're considering purchasing a battery-powered autoscrubber to clean your floors, check out what sort of batteries it has. Here are the common ones:

  • Lead acid or wet cell batteries are typically the least expensive type of battery for floor scrubbers. Disadvantages: Most types of lead acid batteries require regular maintenance of the cells to prevent damage to the batteries. They also can have a memory caused by only partially discharging the batteries before they are recharged. This can drastically shorten the operating life of the battery and the runtime of your floor scrubber. Lead acid batteries are relatively bulky and heavy.

  • Gel or AGM batteries are generally viewed as superior to lead acid batteries for floor scrubbers as they are maintenance free, spill free, and leak proof. They are however still relatively bulky and heavy, increasing the weight of your floor scrubber and making it harder to manoeuvre.

  • Lithium ion batteries (also abbreviated to (Li-ion) are generally viewed as the ultimate battery for commercial floor scrubbers. Li-ion batteries are memory free meaning you can discharge a small percentage of a battery and recharge without impacting the overall life of your battery. They are completely spill and maintenance free and do not need to be kept horizontal, allowing them to be used in different shape battery packs and enabling more ergonomic machine design. Li-ion batteries have a higher power to weight ratio (ie lighter weight while generating equivalent power output) than lead acid or gel batteries.

    The downside of li-ion batteries is they are expensive to produce. For this reason li-ion batteries are not an available option for many brands of floor scrubbers.

battery

6. How much runtime do I need?

Make sure the floor scrubber you are choosing has enough runtime to clean your entire area without recharging.

You should make sure you work out the true Theoretical Cleaning Performance (or TCP) of a machine to determine whether you will be able to clean it on a single charge.

Most brochures will list cleaning performance that is based on cleaning at 4 or 5km/h in a straight line. The reality is you can rarely achieve this unless you are cleaning massive warehouses with large open areas. In most environments you have obstacles to avoid, and depending on the manoeuvrability of the scrubber, your true operating speed will be less.

Some floor scrubbers have interchangeable fast charging li-ion batteries (like a battery drill) and extra batteries available for purchase. This means you can have one set of batteries charging while you use another set to clean, swapping them over once the batteries are drained. This is a smart choice as you then have 24/7 runtime capacity if required.

7. How portable is the machine?

Consider how easy it is to transport the machine around, and where you may need to go with it. If you are buying a scrubber for a warehouse floor, this won’t be a big deal. Other scenarios to think about are:

  • Would you ever want to take your machine upstairs?
  • Would you ever want to put it in your car?
  • Do you need to transport the machine across uneven ground outside?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, have a good look at how the floor scrubber you are considering will suit your requirement. A large bulky scrubber of 50 – 100kg will be confined to one level unless you have a lift in the building. Whereas a vertically designed scrubber such as the i-mop can be less than 20kg and have inbuilt carry handles allowing it to be safely carried upstairs.

Uneven ground outside can be a pitfall for walk-behind scrubbers as well. If they don’t have large wheels or if they have solid wheels, look a bit further. A unit with pneumatic wheels will be much more comfortable and safe on these surfaces, and potentially prevent damage to the machine.

If you're looking at a vertically designed scrubber, is there any transport or trolley system available that can enable travel over rough ground?

portable

8. How easy is it to use?

The K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid!) principle applies to floor scrubbers too.

Simple controls on a floor cleaning machine will mean less risk of operators misusing or damaging the machine. Complicated electronic controls or screens with lots of buttons may look fancy, but are harder to figure out.

Check out the operator interface on the machine – is there text to read, or just easy to understand images? Most people can understand pictures, meaning a scrubber with images to illustrate operating modes will be easier to use.

Don’t get us wrong, there are some great features and screen designs out there. Ultimately though, the simpler the interface, the more you'll save in maintenance and training costs in the long run.

i-mop in use

9. Where will you store your floor scrubber?

Some floor scrubbers are bulky and will require a larger storage area. If you have limited space, a scrubber such as the i-mop which is “vertically designed” with a much smaller footprint would be a smart option.

If you don’t have an obvious spot to store your autoscrubber securely, does the equipment supplier have any options for safe machine storage? As an example, something like the i-store storage cabinet or i-stand lockable stands for the i-mop may be useful. Your preferred floor scrubber may have an option like this.

storage

10. Are there any environmental benefits?

Almost any floor scrubbing machine will use less water than traditional mopping, so if you’re currently mopping and are changing to a scrubber, that will be a step in the right direction!

However not all floor scrubbers are environmentally equal. If these aspects are important to you, pay attention to any environmental data. Is there a model that uses less water? Some scrubbers have special brush designs to minimise water and chemical usage.

Does the manufacturer run any additional environmental programs for their products? Some manufacturers have some great environmental initiatives that they support based off sales of their machines, which can complement your CSR programs. An example of this is the i-team Global association with Made Blue, where for every i-mop sold, 18 litres of water per day is contributed via the Made Blue foundation.

Made Blue is just one example and there are other great initiatives run by various manufacturers.

greener