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Assessing the True Cost of Cleaning Equipment

Written by  Dawn Shoemaker

When selecting professional cleaning devices, it is vital for building service contractors to not only consider the upfront cost of purchasing such equipment, but also to be aware of all of the additional costs involved with owning the device over its lifetime. This is referred to as the “total cost of ownership” (TCO), and it includes a variety of factors that go far above and beyond the initial purchase price. This is especially true for more costly and sophisticated pieces of cleaning equipment, such as automatic scrubbers.

Knowing the TCO of a product is very important for several reasons, but at the top of the list is the goal of selecting the right machine for your needs, while at the same time selecting one that will prove the least costly to own over a period of years. When it comes to professional cleaning equipment, the typical amount of time under consideration is five or more years.

We can see how this works when we look at the TCOs of automobiles. A 2012 study by Consumer Reports found that a four-cylinder Mazda was priced about $2,000 less than a comparable Toyota Camry. However, over a five-year period, the TCO of the Mazda was over $2,000 more than the Camry, making the Mazda the same—if not costlier—to own over time. In this case, TCO was calculated based on depreciation, fuel costs, interest on financing, insurance, sales tax, as well as average maintenance and repair costs.

Unfortunately, there are very few studies that address TCO issues when it comes to selecting automatic scrubbers or other large and costly cleaning machines. While there are studies that indicate the cost savings of using an automatic scrubber versus the costs of manual floor-cleaning methods, these studies do not address the cost to actually own, operate, and service such machines.

An In-House Study
While there are few, if any, comprehensive studies that address detailed TCO issues related to floor-care equipment, there has been some research into this area. One such case involves the manufacturer of spray and vac machines and other floor care systems, which conducted its own in-house study in 2014. The company asked its distributors and BSCs in the U.S. and Europe to analyze the average costs of ownership of different types of automatic scrubbers over a period of one year. The study uncovered some interesting findings:

• A walk-behind, 32-inch automatic scrubber typically costs $12,000 to $14,000 to purchase, $1,300 annually to maintain, and can clean almost 15,000 square feet per hour.

• A 27-inch walk-behind scrubber typically costs $10,000 to $13,000 to purchase, $1,100 to maintain, and can clean 12,500 square feet per hour.

• A 20-inch walk-behind machine costs $4,000 to $7,000 to purchase, $800 to maintain, and can clean 9,700 square feet per hour.

All square-footage cleaning rates listed above are based on ISSA Cleaning Times. For more on this, see the sidebar “Why Square Footage Was Included.

"A product’s TCO is often referred to as its “hidden costs,” which show up in the months and years following the product’s initial purchase."

The study also looked into alternative floor-cleaning systems. Some of these systems are new floor-care technologies introduced in just the last few years, while others are decades old—traditional mops and bucket cleaning—but still commonly used today.

Example of a TCO Analysis

For instance, an electric (corded) autovac system costs about $700 to purchase and $285 to maintain annually and can clean 16,000 square feet per hour. A comparable but battery-powered autovac is approximately $2,000 to purchase, costs $585 to maintain each year, and can clean more than 20,000 square feet per hour. Mopping a floor using a 16-inch microfiber flat mop with a bucket costs about $35 plus $200 in annual laundry costs, but cleans only about 9,000 square feet, making it the least expensive floor-care system to purchase, but most costly in terms of time and related labor costs. For more on this, see the sidebar “Example of a TCO Analysis.”

What This All Means
Whether you’re talking about a car or some type of janitorial equipment, a product’s TCO is often referred to as its “hidden costs,” which show up in the months and years following the product’s initial purchase. And there is a good reason these costs are hidden. While shopping in a showroom, at a jan/san distributorship, or online, most purchasers are so focused on the machine and what it can do, they often fail to even consider what it will eventually cost to own, use, and service the product over time.

However, ignoring TCO can result in very unfortunate consequences. TCO is something contractors must budget for. It is not uncommon for contractors to purchase an elaborate automatic scrubber, extractor, or similar cleaning system only to find they do not have the resources to adequately maintain the machine once purchased. In worstcase scenarios, repairs may need to be put on hold until funds are available, which can lead to an expensive domino effect—if the scrubber needs servicing, cleaning workers may need to turn to mop-and-bucket cleaning, which is much slower and comes with increased labor costs.

Along with getting the TCO before selecting cleaning equipment, another consideration is the long-term return on the investment as well as the long-term needs of the organization. Does the machine actually improve worker productivity? Does it result in enhanced customer satisfaction? Is it more environmentally responsible when compared to other equipment used for the same purposes? These assessments can be more subjective in nature than simply looking at all the numbers that make up the TCO, but these indirect benefits should also be considered, as they will likely have a significant payoff over time.

Dawn Shoemaker is a freelance writer for the professional cleaning and building industries.

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