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Sweepers, Vacuums, and Sweeper/Vacuums: What's the Difference?

Written by  Richard "Bo" Bodo

sweeper no sweepingThe green trend in the cleaning industry has certainly led to a sweeping array of changes for building maintenance professionals. While many of these changes are good for the environment, building occupants and the bottom line, a disturbing trend has emerged: replacing vacuums with sweepers on carpeted surfaces.

The genesis of the shift is well-intentioned. A sweeper, as compared to a vacuum, allows for daytime cleaning, a main tenet of the green cleaning movement. They are also cordless, eliminating trip and fall hazards, and much quieter than vacuums. Further aggravating the situation is the emergence of sweeper/vacuums. On the surface, they seem to remove the objection to replacing a traditional vacuum with a sweeper.

In order to begin untangling the web of misunderstandings and determine which product to use, let’s look at what you are trying to remove from the carpet in the first place: dry soils.

Every person that walks into your facility brings with them a small amount of soil on their shoes that must be removed quickly and effectively before it damages your flooring. Carpeting’s textured surface traps and holds this soil for removal. While in your carpet, the sand polishes the fibers like 120-grit sandpaper, dulling the finish and reducing its longevity.

The net result of not removing the dry soil from your carpet is prematurely “uglied out” carpet that must be replaced. According to the most recent EPA estimates, we in America dispose of 4.7 billion pounds of carpet every year. Granted, some of that carpet is legitimately worn out, but certainly not all of it. Because virtually all carpet is synthetic, it takes 1,000 years in a landfill to degrade.

So for years, we have used the most effective dry soil removers: upright, wide area, backpack and canister vacuums. These products do, however, present a challenge in light of today’s green push centering on daytime cleaning, and the trip-and-fall hazard associated with corded machinery. Additionally, the noise these units generate, while generally under 70 dBA, makes them less ideal for daytime cleaning.

Enter the sweeper. With its quiet operation and battery power, the sweeper seems to be the answer to the daytime vacuuming conundrum. Building managers who were mandated to incorporate a daytime cleaning program rejoiced and utilized these units instead of vacuums. Not only could they clean during the day, but productivity went through the roof!

Then came the sweeper/vacuum. Building managers who had clung to their uprights and wide-area vacuums began to give in and use this “hybrid” machine. So what is wrong with this shift to sweeper/vacuums?

To answer that you must understand that a vacuum uses suction to create airflow. The airflow that it creates allows it to remove heavy, dry soils that have sifted into the carpet pile from shoes. Soils do not stay on the surface of the carpet; as soon as the soil is entangled in the carpet fibers it begins a downward trek to the sub-floor. Vacuuming is the most effective way to remove this soil before it causes permanent damage.

A sweeper uses a broom (not a brush) to remove dry soils from a surface. That means that a sweeper will not effectively remove dry soils that have become entangled in the fibers.

So what about the sweeper/vacuum? Well, it has the word “vacuum” in the name, which is where most people get into trouble, but it is simply a sweeper that has a vacuum to contain fine debris in the hopper — that’s all. The vacuum does not generate airflow in the carpet to remove embedded dry soils, so no true vacuuming is being accomplished.

With that said, you can use a sweeper to augment your vacuuming program because it does allow you to clean during the day and accomplish some of your green goals. For example, vacuuming medium-traffic areas three days a week and sweeping two days a week would lower your costs by allowing you to remove vacuuming on 40 percent of the nights you may clean.

However, when you boil it all down to the most effective product for removing dry soil from your carpet to prolong its life, that is a vacuum.

Richard "Bo" Bodo is the director of training at Windsor Industries and an IICRC master textile cleaner. An internationally published writer, Bo has more than 11 years of industry experience with a background in both chemicals and equipment. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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