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Left in the Dust: Industrial Vacuum Cleaners Outperform Sweeping, Shop-style Vacs

Posted on October 1, 2009

Check out this article on Industrial Equipment News’ website, here.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thrown away a shop-style vacuum. How about $10,000?  Unfortunately, if you answered yes to the first question, you should probably be nodding your head for the second.

Today, plant maintenance is more important than ever before. Food manufacturers of all shapes and sizes have been put under the microscope regarding worker health and safety, environmental concern and customer well-being. More stringent quality standards and regulations have taken plant cleanliness to a whole new level, and turned simple housekeeping into an issue of complexity. While mops, brooms, compressed air, and shop-style vacuums all have their place in maintenance plans, many plant managers underestimate the direct and indirect costs associated with purchasing inefficient equipment, and ultimately end up paying tens of thousands of dollars more in labor, health insurance, and other costs.

Mops/Brooms/Compressed Air

Believe it or not, many facilities still clean their plants the old-fashioned way. For example, prior to purchasing a high-quality industrial vacuum cleaner, Harris Woolf Almonds in Coalinga, CA, the state’s largest almond producer, was battling fine almond dust with a small army of workers equipped with brooms and dust pans. Cleaning around the clock to combat dust that settled on floors, walls, pipes, and machinery was absolutely necessary–despite being a breeding ground for insects, almond dust can also be a fire hazard, and as plant managers have learned in one too many recent tragedies, combustible dust cannot be ignored.

Similar to Harris Woolf, most manufacturers that use mops and brooms start at the top of their plant and work their way down, sweeping away dust and debris as they go.  This process is not only time consuming, but actually just re-disperses the particles back into the air, especially if using compressed air.  Mops and brooms can also promote contamination by spreading bacteria from one piece of machinery to another.

So what is the alternative? Harris Woolf recently traded in their mops and brooms for a high-powered industrial vacuum cleaner and immediately started reaping the benefits.  They cut their cleaning time in half, significantly reduced labor costs, and recently got the thumbs up from the much-respected AIB International, who gave Harris Woolf a score of Superior for their contamination-control efforts.

Shop-style Vacuums

Like Harris Woolf, companies are starting to see the many benefits industrial vacuum cleaners can provide. Equipped with the right hose and accessories, i-vacs are built to meet specific challenges like collecting crumbs in a hot oven or removing spider webs on overhead pipes, but despite all the advantages, many manufacturers still opt for the low cost alternative of shop-style vacuums.  Take a walk-through any manufacturing plant and you’ll find dozens of these portable units scattered throughout the facility, stored in janitor closets or near machinery.  They are to industrial plants what a household vacuum is to consumers, and while they may be a purchase of convenience, sold on the shelves of nearly every Home Depot, Sears, or Lowes, shop-style vacuums are by no means built for efficiency or reliability, and like mops, brooms and compressed air, ultimately cost more in the long run.

The most common problem with shop-style vacuums is frequent motor burn-up. Typically equipped with low-cost, unreliable motors that overheat quickly, these vacuums are normally short-lived, especially when used to collect fine dust and debris several times a day for a lengthy period of time. High-quality industrial vacuums are equipped with superior motors, specifically designed to handle longer run times and industrial applications.

Aside from motor burn-up, shop-style vacuums also do an inadequate job of retaining collected materials due to poor filtration. Quality industrial vacuums are equipped with oversized filters which allow the vacuum to filter more efficiently. The larger the filter, the more space there is to trap particles that would otherwise clog or “blind” the filter, reducing suction and performance. Industrial vacuums also have graduated or multi-stage filtration systems. These systems require debris to pass through several steps of filtration, such as a paper bag, main cloth filter and/or HEPA, with each level acting as a barrier to the next. By the time the particles reach the last stage, the majority of debris has been trapped by previous filters.  Shop-style vacuums are usually only equipped with single-stage filtration systems, allowing particles to pass through the motor and disperse back into the facility through the exhaust stream.

Unlike most shop-style vacuums, i-vacs are also available with many different features that increase run time and help prolong the life of the vacuum, features like an automatic filter cleaning system, which frees the filter from caked on dust and debris before it can clog the filter and reduce vacuum suction. Industrial vacuums can also be customized for specific applications, such as machine integration or multiple users.

Aside from contamination control and labor costs, mops, brooms, and compressed air do little in preventing a combustible dust explosion. In fact, shop-style vacuums can actually cause an explosion if used to collect hazardous materials. Although workplace blasts have been occurring for years, the issue became a national headline last year when the Imperial Sugar Factory in Savannah, GA went up in flames when finely ground motes of sugar combusted. If 14 fatalities weren’t enough, OSHA fined the company more than 8 million dollars in workplace safety violations. Blasts like these could be prevented if a certified Explosion-Proof Vacuum (EXP) is used consistently to clean the plant thoroughly. Certified by a nationally-recognized testing agency, these vacuums are tested from the ground up to insure they are safe to use in high-risk environments. An EXP might be priced higher than basic models, but the return on investment is immeasurable, saving not just money, but lives.

Despite all the clear advantages, companies are still hesitant to invest the money in a quality industrial vacuum cleaner, thinking only of the short-term costs. But believe it or not, the investment can easily save you $20,000 in the first year alone. Take a look at these figures:

Mops, Booms, & Compressed Air vs. High-Quality Vacuum Cleaner

The difference is staggering.  The efficiency of an industrial vacuum cleaner can cut cleaning time in half. Whether a plant operates 40 hours a week or 24/7, facilities would get a return on investment on a $2,000 vacuum cleaner in less than 2 months.

Mops/Brooms/Compressed Air Industrial Vacuum Cleaner
Number of workers 3 1
Time needed to clean 2 hours 1 hour
Labor cost (for plant open 5 days a week) $23,400 a year* $3,900 a year
Labor cost (for plant open 7 days a week, 365 days a year) $32,850* a year $5,475 a year

*Assuming pay is $15 an hour, not including benefits.


Shop-style Vacuum vs. Quality Industrial Vacuum

Upgrading from a shop-style vacuum to an industrial vacuum cleaner will save you both money and trips to the dumpster, especially when collecting fine powders on a consistent basis. The below table doesn’t even take into account the reduced labor costs associated with an industrial vacuum purchase as a result of time-saving features like self-cleaning filters.


Shop-Style Vacuum Industrial Vacuum
Lifespan 3 months 72 – 96 months (6-8 years)
Initial Cost $180* $2,095**
Cost per year, includes replacement filters/parts estimated at $50 per year $770 $312
Cost over 10 years $7,700 (doesn’t include price increases over time) $3,120

*Shop-style vacuum sold at a local hardware store

**Based on a comparable model, the Nilfisk CFM 127


In today’s economy, the reality of labor costs cannot be ignored when evaluating the cost-effectiveness of a comprehensive cleaning program. In terms of productivity and vulnerability to safety concerns, employees represent a critical cost, and maximizing their efficiency is key. By choosing superior equipment and implementing clear, consistent practices, employees will be more productive and operations will be more profitable. Food processing companies need to control issues where they can by choosing better quality equipment, developing proper procedures, and investing in employee education and training. Through these integrated efforts, manufacturers can increase the productivity and profitability of their facilities and overall operations.

Proactively addressing the ever-changing challenges in today’s industry will save companies money in the long run. The selection of a high-efficiency industrial vacuum that has the filtration capabilities to preserve the integrity of the product and protect the health and safety of personnel is an important first step.