Rise of the machines

Smart machines and autonomous robots are lining up to dominate the hard-floor cleaning market, writes Cameron Cooper.

The days of mop-and-bucket cleaning seem to be numbered as a sophisticated range of walk-behind machines and autonomous robots take over hard-floor cleaning.

Duplex Cleaning Machines director Murray McDonald, a veteran of the cleaning industry, has witnessed many changes during his career. He says the rise of the robots – a combination of better technology and greater education – is already transforming the market.

“The good old 3000-year-old mop and bucket is a real culprit in contaminating hard floors because you’re recycling dirty water,” McDonald says. “There are better ways to clean a floor.”

At the ISSA Oceania Cleaning and Hygiene Expo 2023, Duplex won the INCLEAN Excellence Award in the small equipment innovation category for its Lithium Hybrid machine. It can clean all types of floors, including timber, carpet, Flotex, profiled ceramics and vinyl.

McDonald says the versatility of such a machine, which can cross floor types and perform restorative work, is crucial for driving quality and cost efficiencies at a time when cleaning margins are tight and staff are difficult to find.

He estimates the Lithium Hybrid can clean a 20-metre corridor “about three times faster than someone could do it manually”. Duplex is also introducing robotics into its suite of products through the FloorBotics brand, whose fleet can handle multi-area working configurations.

“As the automated floor cleaning technology evolves, more facilities will choose robotic cleaning for areas of their facility where it is appropriate.”

Peter Teska


In its Australian and New Zealand divisions, Diversey is partnering with Gausium Robotics and TASKI to roll out advanced cleaning robots.

Peter Teska, a global infection-prevention application expert at Diversey, agrees that machines and robots represent the future of hard-floor cleaning.

“Jobs that can be done more consistently by machines
will over time displace human labour,” he says. “As the automated floor cleaning technology evolves, more facilities will choose robotic cleaning for areas of their facility where it is appropriate.”

Nevertheless, Teska says facility managers and cleaning contractors must consider sustainability issues and crunch the numbers when they determine their cleaning options “because using floor machines may have a larger carbon footprint than manual floor cleaning”.

However, products used on floors (with machines) can have better sustainability profiles and the use of the machine may reduce the amount of water and chemicals used,” Teska says.

“So, it is possible that automated floor cleaning will have a smaller carbon footprint over time.”

Technology and machinery aside, Teska believes there will be increasing focus with hard floors on the best way to achieve hygienic results. Diversey’s lab-based studies show that floor cleaning with a neutral cleaner is likely to be less effective than using a biocide, such as a sanitiser or disinfectant.

“These studies showed that machine cleaning of floors is likely to be more effective than manual mopping,” Tesla says. “This leads to a point where facilities, especially in healthcare, need to consider whether using biocides on floors is a better choice than using a neutral cleaner.”


MotorScrubber Australia managing director Lucas Paris says it is “a given” that tech-driven solutions will increasingly take over from traditional forms of cleaning.

“The barrier to entry is the affordability of the equipment,” he says, noting that robots are out of the league of many smaller cleaning operations or sites. “With MotorScrubber, our niche world is compact, small cleaning equipment. We don’t deal in that robotic space.”

Paris believes financial considerations will, in the short-term at least, give hi-tech walk-behind machines an edge over other options, including expensive robotics. That rationale will see MotorScrubber release the Dryft – which has been described as the world’s fastest floor-cleaning machine for small and medium- sized areas – at Interclean Amsterdam in May.

The Dryft will be able to handle everything from quick spills through to sites such as classrooms, offices, kitchens and bathrooms, with its size giving it an edge over “fairly bulky and weighty” machines that dominate the market for now.

“What we’re focusing on is the ability for cleaners to get into a cupboard as quickly and effectively to get a piece of machinery as they can now with a mop and bucket,” Paris says.

He concedes that facility managers and cleaners will still have to assess the financial viability of compact scrubbers “because the reality with a mop and a bucket is that you can go and get them for $60 or $70 rather than investing a few thousand dollars for a machine that will do a better job”.

“But prices will come down as technology gets ensconced into the world. We all know that,” Paris says.

“Getting people to pull out a mop and bucket to clean a floor is not a high-value task. We can get an autonomous machine to do that.”

Murray McDonald


McDonald is excited new hard-floor cleaning technology makes for more interesting and high-value work for cleaners.

“People should not be doing dull, boring, repetitive tasks,” McDonald says. “Getting them to pull out a mop and bucket to clean a floor is not a high-value task. We can get an autonomous machine to do that.”

As facility managers and cleaning companies weigh up their hard-floor hygiene options, Teska advises them to “pick partners that can bring you new technologies and offer a range of solutions so you can match a selected solution with your needs”.

“Floors also play a major role in visitor perceptions of facility hygiene, so it is important to have attractive floors. As you select partners for your facility hygiene, make sure your partners can help with understanding your carbon footprint and how various cleaning processes – for floors or hand-contact surfaces – contribute to the carbon footprint for your facility.”

Most of all, Teska says industry players have to move with the times and embrace change and innovation.

“Continue doing what you are doing today and 10 years from now you will be in the same place you are today. Changing just for the sake of change may not advance your agenda and can even take you backwards. But challenge your partners to provide an evidence-based approach to evolving your facility hygiene so that 10 years from now you are where you need to be.”

This article first appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of INCLEAN magazine.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

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