Cleaning machines versus mops

4th of November 2015
Cleaning machines versus mops

In these highly mechanised times, what are the arguments for using a manual mop with all its associated labour costs in place of a machine to clean your floors? Ann Laffeaty asks mop manufacturers and machine suppliers their views.

A mop and bucket were once the chief tools for cleaning hard floors. But cleaning machines have gradually begun to take over this task. There are now scrubber dryers on the market that are sufficiently compact to take over the job of a person with a mop. But how practical, affordable and versatile are they? And does manual mopping still hold any advantages over machine cleaning?

The answer is very much so according to Vileda product development manager Steve Barber. “Mops are smaller and more controllable and you can use them in corners,” he said. “They are also quiet and require limited training. And a mop can be stored easily in a small cupboard and taken out whenever it is needed to quickly remove a floor spill. In situations such as these, using a machine would be a case of over-engineering.”

He adds that in countries such as the UK where many offices are carpeted, a hard floor solution would only be required in the washrooms and kitchens in any case. And in the washroom, a machine would be too large to effectively clean around pipes and toilet bowls.

“On staircases, too, an electric machine would be too heavy,” he said. “And you can clean the ‘up’ part of the staircase with a flat mop whereas you can’t with a machine.”

He adds that manual mops are increasingly being put to other uses. “In Central Europe and the UK, people think of a mop as something to use on the floor whereas a cloth tends to be used above floor level,” he said. “But in the Nordic region items such as desks and whiteboards are now routinely being cleaned with mops.” Vileda makes a small 35 cm mop for the Nordic region for use on desks and other smaller surfaces.

Machines and manual mops complement each other according to Barber.  “Airports have both machines and mopping systems,” he points out. “They will use a machine for normal cleaning regimes - but when someone drops a can of cola they will reach for the mop.”

Mop versatility

The Vileda range includes double-sided mops for use in washrooms; the Swep system of wider mops for use in corridors, and Micro One which is a newly-launched range of single-application mops. “If you want to mop up a blood spill in an operating theatre for example, you would use this system and place the mop head in the contaminated waste container afterwards,” said Barber.

“Each site is completely different and the mopping system you choose will depend on the floor type, storage facilities, access to laundry and whether you want a spray or a bucket system. Mops really do have the versatility to match the customer’s needs.”

International sales manager of Crisp Clean Services Judy Toes says flexibility and accessibility are the main advantages of a mopping system. “Manual mops can be used to clean small or large areas right to the very edge,” she said. “They can clean stairs and walls as well as floors and be easily transported.”

Crisp Clean Services makes stainless steel mopping systems such as Ringo and Hytech plus the i-Press, a compact adjustable flat mop roller press.

“There is virtually no cleaning task that cannot be achieved with a mopping system,” says Toes. “It is simply not economical to use a machine to clean smaller areas, and impractical to use machines to clean stairs. Mopping systems can also be easily transported to an area for an unplanned cleaning task.”

While she feels that machines are more efficient for cleaning large open areas and surfaces such as stone floors, Toes believes that mopping systems have been becoming more efficient in recent years.

“They now come in many forms with single-bucket, double-bucket and triple-bucket options and can incorporate wringers and dosing systems as well. And mops can be used dry, damp or wet.”
However according to managing director of Denis Rawlins James White, mops are only preferable to a machine when an area is too small for a machine to be used.

“Where mopping is regarded as a cost-saving alternative to machine cleaning, the economy is usually a false one,” he said. “Labour is the largest element of a cleaning budget and mopping is labour-intensive as well as ineffectual. It wastes the operative’s time, creates a slip hazard and is not a cost-effective use of a facility’s cleaning budget.”

Where manual mopping is required, he adds, the most acceptable method is microfibre mopping. “This should be used with a clean solution and the mop should be rinsed before it is put back into the solution,” he said. “Mop heads should also be changed as often as possible  - and sterilised - because once the head has collected any dirt it will spread this back on to cleaned areas. The dirt may then become embedded in grout lines and crevices where it will leave behind a smorgasbord to nurture bacteria which can multiply very quickly.”

According to White, using a machine that automates the mopping task and removes both dirt and water will speed up the process, providing both labour and cost savings. “Meanwhile, a properly-cleaned floor that has been left dry by a machine will result in far fewer slip and fall accidents,” he said. “As well as avoiding injury, this may obviate the potentially high costs of a lawsuit.”

He feels that an increasing number of contractors are moving away from manual mopping. “I have heard this month from a large cleaning contractor at a major UK airport that they now have no mopping operations on site - hallelujah!” he said.

Cost concern

Denis Rawlins supplies a range of cleaning machines including the Kaivac OmniFlex Crossover System, said to allow the user to progress from manual mopping by adding the capability to vacuum.

Concerns about the cost of manual mopping are growing as an increasing number of employers seek to pay their operatives a sustainable wage, according to White. “Also, machines are becoming even more efficient,” he said. “Comparative testing has shown that manual mopping takes between twice and three times as long as a machine. I can see no reason for persuading anyone to adopt a manual mop in place of machine cleaning.”

However, he feels there will be an ongoing need for mopping systems in situations where it is necessary to spread a cleaning solution over a floor. “But there are now systems available where the solution can be dispensed to the floor and wiped away so that the mop never needs to be dipped into the solution,” he said. “This keeps the solution clean and means that any leftover solution can be used another time.”

Export manager for Filmop Paolo Scapinello says manual mops offer a major advantage because they enable a single tool to be used for cleaning floors and vertical surfaces such as walls, skirting boards and tiles. “They are also ideal for areas where a machine cannot operate due to its bulk, such as in narrow spaces or areas filled with obstacles,” he said.

He agrees with other manufacturers that manual mops are particularly appropriate in healthcare where any cross-contamination of microbes and bacteria needs to be closely controlled.

“Here the cleaning of patient rooms and bathrooms needs to be performed using new and clean mops every time,” he said. “In healthcare environments, machines can only really be used in corridors that are totally empty.”

He admits that compact scrubbing machines could begin to rival the manual mop. “However the cost of these machines right now is still too high and they are definitely not for everybody, even
though there are arguments about labour cost savings.

Limited impact

“For the time being we feel that compact machines are having a very limited influence on the mop market not only for economic reasons, but also because the two systems meet very different needs.”

New from Filmop is Duo Face, a combined system of frames and mops for cleaning floors and vertical surfaces, and Equodose which is a mechanical dosing device that enables mops to be soaked directly at the cleaning location.

Scapinello admits that the labour costs involved with manual mopping systems are a concern for customers. “However, cleaning has a fundamental value with regard to health and well-being,” he said. ”For this reason, the high hygiene standards associated with manual mopping plus its flexibility for use not only on floors but also on furniture, mirrors, glass and walls makes the ‘human factor’ of mopping both precious and unique.”

IPC Group managing director Michele Redi says mops and machines are best when used in tandem. “Machines cannot clean all floor spaces – think of washrooms and hospital rooms for example,” he said. “Manual mopping systems are increasingly used to complement those machines that are used to clean large uniform spaces. Non-mechanised solutions, on the other hand, can cope with more complex tasks - particularly where high standards of hygiene are required.”

He says manual mopping systems are used extensively in hospitality and medical environments where cleaning has to be performed with minimal disturbance to guests or patients. “Manual mopping systems are both versatile and mobile,’ he said. “They are ideal in crowded areas and adapt well to the environment. They are also silent.”

Boost productivity

However Redi believes that today’s new compact scrubbing machines can boost cleaning productivity in smaller, more uniform areas. “The impact of the increasing penetration of floor machines is that manual mopping is becoming an even more complementary, specialised job,” he said. “The challenge to the industry is to continue to innovate and increase the productivity of the entire cleaning role.”

He says labour costs are always a concern in the cleaning industry. “However cleaning is always a laborious task, no matter what tool is used,” he adds. “Machines have provided an important contribution but there is no perfect tool that can cater for all floors. In fact we are seeing increasingly specific solutions for individual cleaning tasks, and these are not always mechanised solutions.”

IPC offers trolleys, frames and mops plus a range of floor scrubbers and sweepers. “Offering the entire set of cleaning tools and machines enables us to grasp the complexity of any cleaning job and develop truly complementary solutions,” he said.

According to Redi there will always be a place for manual mopping. “Manual mopping systems are becoming more productive and allow the operative to cover more space in less time. It is likely the focus of manual mopping in the future will be to ascertain how best it can complement the work of machines and increase overall productivity,” he said.


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