Vacuuming protects indoor air quality

It is currently estimated that the floor coverings in most long-term-care facilities are about 60 percent hard surfaces and 40 percent carpeting. Although that estimate varies and changes frequently, cleaning and maintaining these hard-surface floors is so important that it should be viewed as a health issue

*This estimate is based on current flooring trends for most all commercial facilities.

in a care facility.* Why? Most tile floors are dust mopped. Dust generated in a building can include bacteria, allergens, paper dust, mold, pesticides, toxins and dust mite droppings. Eventually, many of these contaminants find their way onto a facility’s floors. Dust mopping often stirs them up, making them airborne, and that’s when they become a problem: They are in the air that patients and staff breathe every day.

If the fundamental reason custodial workers clean is to protect human health, then improving indoor air quality (IAQ) is one of their highest priorities. Fortunately, vacuum cleaners are an excellent alternative for cleaning hard-surface floors, protecting IAQ in the process.


To be effective, the vacuum cleaner must have a HEPA filtration system. The contaminants mentioned earlier can range in size from about 1 to 10 microns in diameter. A properly functioning HEPA filter can capture particulates down to 0.3 microns in diameter, preventing them from being released into the air.

As to the types of vacuum cleaners, there are two options:

●  Backpack vacuums. Early backpacks were heavy, noisy and ran hot. However, newer systems are lighter and quieter, run cooler, are much more ergonomic and can dramatically increase worker productivity. Experts estimate that as many as 7,000 square feet can be vacuumedin an hour with a backpack, compared to 2,300 square feet with a 12-inch upright.

●  Canisters. These are popular in many parts of the world but are just recently getting increased attention in the United States. Older canisters were often noisy and many did not have HEPA filtration. Once again, the new generation of canisters addresses these issues. In fact, some newer models are now recommended for day cleaning because they are quiet and do not disturb the residents or the workplace.

What about the 40 percent of the facility that is carpeted? How do you protect IAQ in these areas? Again, using a HEPA-filtered machine is imperative, and the two types of vacuums discussed earlier can usually be used for carpets. However, many managers prefer an upright machine. Beyond having a HEPA filter, managers should be aware of two issues when considering an upright:

●  Cost. For an upright, this can vary significantly, and the price you pay does not always reflect the performance, quality or durability of the machine. Instead of looking for a machine with lots of bells and whistles that add to the price tag, stick to the basics. Does the machine have onboard tools for high and low dusting? Is the casing made of polypropylene and metal construction materials for durability? Is it quiet (less than 70 decibels)? Has it earned the

**The Carpet and Rug Institute evaluates how well a vacuum cleaner performs, how clean it leaves the carpet and how well it protects IAQ.

Seal of Approval from the Carpet and Rug Institute?**

●  Ease of use. A feature that is often considered only after the machine has been selected is ergonomics. Upright vacuum cleaners are pushed and pulled sometimes for hours each day. This can be physically stressful and tiring. A lightweight machine helps alleviate this stress, but examine the handle of the machine as well. Some handles are essentially a pole attached to a motor. But an ergonomic machine will have a well-thought-out handle that fits comfortably in the hand; this helps steady the wrist, reducing stress. The handle should also be slightly curved so that the machine becomes a natural extension of the arm.


Finally, for any vacuum cleaning system to perform properly, it must be maintained, which often is not a consideration until it needs repair. To keep the machine working at its best and protecting IAQ, check the filters, belts and brush roll after each use. Replace the filter bag before it becomes completely full to maintain maximum suction. And keep it clean. Custodial tools are a reflection of the custodial staff. A clean, well-maintained vacuum cleaner is a reflection of a professional, well-trained cleaning crew.

Robert Kravitz writes for the professional cleaning, building, hotel and education industries. He can be reached at

Topics: Articles , Facility management , Operations