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Hands-On Cleaning Tools

By Alan S. Bigger - July 2002 - Equipment Rental & Tools


Too often, housekeeping managers and cleaning crews work under the assumption that if workers had more powerful tools, their jobs could to be accomplished that much more easily. Sad to say, more power is not always necessary. To ensure worker productivity, the manager of any operation needs to provide the right tools for the task at hand, and in many cases, workers can accomplish tasks with the most basic of tools.

The same holds true for custodial operations. While there is a place for powered cleaning equipment, many day-to-day jobs can and should be accomplished with simple hand tools — something that is often overlooked.

The daily tasks of cleaning an institutional or commercial facility usually are performed using good old-fashioned techniques and tools that include sponges, towels and mops. Cleaning is a truly hands-on business, and the work of a trained custodian using the right hand tools for cleaning is a work of art.

As with powered cleaning equipment, which has seen many changes affecting power, speed and ergonomics, manual cleaning tools have undergone important changes in recent years. No longer is a sponge just a sponge. Now, cleaning crews have access to multiple varieties of sponges, from the least abrasive to very coarse.

Managers also have many different kinds of cleaning cloths to choose from that used to be called rags but today are highly sophisticated tools made out of microfibers.

Product Selection

Choosing the right cleaning tool for a cleaning task is critical. But managers must select the right task from among many types of categories of hand tools. What are the benefits of each type of product?

Mops and cleaning cloths. Mop heads today can be manufactured of synthetic blends of fibers, with looped ends that ensure greater durability and longer performance life. New materials retain and release water and dirt more easily than previous models. As discussed in the accompanying article, many housekeeping departments now use flat-headed mop holders that use special cleaning cloths for dusting, basic mopping of floors and even disinfection of floors.

Some cloths used on the flat headed mops and cleaning cloths in general are manufactured from microfibers. In nearly all cases, new-generation mop heads and handles are lighter than their predecessors and easier to use.

Sponges and cleaning pads. Even though traditional cleaning sponges still exist, today’s cleaning sponges come in different colors with varying degrees of coarseness. Some sponges might have a scrubbing or scouring pad on one side and a sponge, normally made of synthetic materials, on the other side. This combination facilitates soft wiping of a surface and provides the cleaner with a tool to help remove more stubborn dirt.

In addition, the technology used in manufacturing floor pads used on buffers and scrubbing machines has been applied to special cleaning pads, which might be one of a variety of colors. The general rule of thumb is, the lighter the color of the pad, the less aggressive it is on a surface to be cleaned.

Cleaning pads can be attached to a special holder or brush head that is attached to a handle, which enables the operator to clean floors and walls easily.

Glass-cleaning tools. Numerous lightweight squeegees with special handles, synthetic cleaning blades and holsters are available for cleaning interior and exterior glass. The tools have integrated some microfiber technology instead of the traditional terry towel that had been used in window cleaning prior to the advent of microfiber cloths.

And at least one manufacturer now offers a window-cleaning squeegee that features a swivel head, which makes it easier for the clearer to rotate the squeegee in tight spots.

Brushes. Today, many scrubbing brushes are made out of natural or synthetic materials, which makes them lightweight and flexible and allows the cleaner to work in hard-to-reach areas. Swivel-head scrub brushes, wedge-shaped brushes for cleaning showers and locker rooms, and lightweight industrial brooms and handles are available in various widths and with differing styles of bristles. Some brushes are very soft, while others are highly abrasive for deep cleaning in such places as storerooms, warehouses and industrial plants.

Pick-up tools. These tools can be a real benefit to cleaners who must reach down to pick up bits of trash or cigarette butts. One tool is a light mechanical hand on a pole that allows cleaning personnel to pick up items off the floor without bending over.

Another tool is a dustpan with a handle. The dustpan is on wheels and has a cover that can be activated by the operator. Thus, any bits of dirt or debris can be swept into the dustpan without bending, and the tool be emptied into a trash receptacle without bending.

A new breed of bulb snatcher on the market enables workers to replace overhead light bulbs without having to haul and set up a ladder. Earlier generations of these tools were not as efficient as the current generation. Some current models of grabbers have rubberized materials that cover the fingers of the tool, preventing bulbs from falling out during changing.

Dusting tools. Today, many dusters feature lightweight telescopic extension poles, and some with curved heads to dust difficult to reach areas. Also available are African feather dusters made of ostrich feathers, non-allergenic polyester dusters, lambs-wool dusters and synthetic dusters treated with a static charge to attract dust and dirt. In addition there are special dusting mitts to assist in cleaning surfaces made out of comparable materials as well as special cleaning sleeves or sheets that can be attached to flat mop heads for dusting floors, ceiling, walls and counters.

Efficient Tool Use

Manufacturers of cleaning equipment and supplies have rolled out a large arsenal of hand tools that departments can use in the war on dirt. The innovations and tools of today increase productivity, are ergonomically designed and enable the cleaning manager to make available the right cleaning tools for the task at hand.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of these cleaning tools, housekeeping managers must ensure that their workers are properly trained in the use of all cleaning tools. For instance, a surface that is cleaned by an abrasive cleaning pad — when it should have been cleaned using a soft sponge with a cream cleanser — could be damaged irreparably, all because of the cleaner used the wrong sponge.

As in all functions, training is the key that unlocks the potential for an effective cleaning program. By providing the appropriate cleaning tool with effective training, housekeeping managers can ensure that many cleaning problems will be resolved by using hand tools that are both cost-efficient and effective.

Tools: Trend Watch

A review of three significant trends impacting the design and performance of hand tools used in cleaning today reveals the opportunities available to managers.

Ergonomics. Just as large cleaning equipment for carpets and floors has seen increasing emphasis on ergonomics, small manual cleaning tools also have been affected by ergonomic design. Items such as snow shovels now have ergonomic handles, and the old style of mop handle made of wood with a metal mop attachment is being replaced by lightweight, aluminum handles with comfortable hand grips.

Also, mop buckets — once large, heavy and metal — are rapidly being replaced by lighter weight buckets. Some are made of plastic compounds and have drainage systems in the bottom so a user no longer needs to lift a bucket full of water high off the floor to empty it.

Efficiency. Some housekeeping crews use two mop buckets for disinfecting and rinsing. Today, product specifiers can select mop buckets that have a partition in the middle that allows the operator to use one bucket with two mops, one for the disinfectant side and the other for the rinse side. This change saves on the need for double-handle buckets.

Mops themselves also have changed. Many models used to be made of cotton, but a vast improvement in fibers has resulted in stronger and lighter mops than previous cotton mops and that minimize mildew because of their anti-microbial characteristics.

Indeed, flat mops are now here to stay. A huge hit in residential cleaning, these mops have a flat head to which workers attach special mopping, dusting or cleaning cloths. With a flick of the wrist, these mop heads can clean large floor areas with little stress to the user.

The microfiber cleaning cloth, an innovation imported from Europe, is made of more aggressive fibers than traditional cleaning cloths and can clean surfaces with less effort and, in many cases, fewer chemicals.

Portability. Many hand tools are now available in kits that are designed to make it easier for the cleaner to carry all the necessary tools in a holder on the cleaning cart or in a holster around the waist. For example, one company offers a lightweight restroom cleaning kit that enables the cleaner to carry nearly all the items that he or she might need on their cart or even in a mop bucket, saving unnecessary trips back to the cleaning closet.

— Alan S. Bigger and Linda B. Bigger





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