The dirt on cleaning equipment

Knowing the 4 elements of cleaning will help match your customer with the correct pressure washer

By Dan Leiss

It’s a challenge faced by equipment dealers in every industry — focusing on sales of primary equipment lines while still doing justice to secondary offerings. Outdoor power equipment dealers are no exception. With more emphasis naturally being placed on selling mowers, power tools and other products that are more inherently tied to customer productivity and profitability, it’s easy to see how a product often thought of as “support equipment” usually won’t receive an adequate level of attention.

The pressure washer is a perfect example of a product that many dealers neglect to give much thought. After all, how complicated is it to sell a pressure washer to a customer looking for one? Well, in reality, there are several varieties of pressure washing machines available, each designed to meet different cleaning demands. Having some basic cleaning knowledge will help you quickly identify the best solution and produce a happy customer in the process.

Digging up the facts

The first step is determining what the customer hopes to achieve by cleaning and what type of contaminant is involved. Common contaminants include those that can be seen, such as dirt and grease, to those that can’t be seen, like bacteria and germs. Knowing these facts will dictate if a quick rinse or a heavy-duty cleaning will suffice. And because different cleaners provide faster results than others, it is also wise to figure out the time savings that can be achieved with a large-capacity washer.

Next, take these facts and think about the combination of elements that will best solve the problem. There are four basic elements of cleaning: flow, chemical, temperature and pressure. Changing one element, even slightly, significantly affects the other three. Not only that, but any deficiency in one element can be made up for by a stronger presence of another. When the elements are thoroughly understood, it becomes fairly easy to find the best solution to even a complex cleaning problem.

Dynamics of the elements

The best way to introduce the four elements is to visualize a basic cleaning task. Think about people washing dirt off their hands. The cold water from the faucet (flow) combined with rubbing their hands together (pressure) would be sufficient enough to remove the dirt, but would not provide a thorough cleaning. In order to accomplish this, adding some soap (chemical) and warmer water (temperature) would be effective and speed up the process.

Seems simple enough, right? But what if instead of dirt, the person’s hands are covered in a greasy deposit? In this case, flow, pressure, chemical and a cold temperature of water would not be enough to provide a thorough cleaning, as cold water does not effectively remove grease. To clean away grease, hot water combined with the other elements is required.

Now let’s take this hand-washing example and change it a bit to illustrate the fact that any deficiency in one element can be made up for by more effort from another. Imagine the person’s hands are not covered in light dirt or grease; this time they are caked with mud. The presence of all four elements seems necessary to efficiently clean the mud off the person’s hands.

But what if hot water isn’t available? The person’s hands can still be cleaned thoroughly, but not without a little more effort from the other elements. Maybe using a stronger soap or scrubbing the hands together more briskly to create additional pressure would be enough to make up for the low temperature. Both of these would be effective ways for the other elements to work harder and compensate for the one that is lacking. Conversely, if a weak chemical was being used, added pressure and the use of hotter water would make up for the deficiency.

Okay, so the hand-washing example is easy to grasp, but your customers obviously are not looking for something to effectively clean their hands. But what this example does is break down the cleaning process so it can be understood and applied to complicated, real-life situations. Let’s examine a few possible scenarios and, while keeping the elements in mind, take a look at which machine would be the best solution to each problem.

Ready, set, clean!

In the first example, dirt and other debris need to be washed off a deck. This is a fairly simple need that may only require a cold pressure washer.

These machines work great when used for the proper applications. Relying on high flow and water pressure, the cold washers are not able to heat the water, so they are best suited for quick surface cleaning and tasks such as spraying mud or dirt off siding, wooden decks or concrete. Certain chemicals can also be incorporated with the use of a cold pressure washer if desired.

While the solution in this scenario appears fairly obvious, one may also want to consider a hot pressure washer, which would provide a quicker and more thorough cleaning. Using the same high flow and water pressure as a cold washer, the hot washer also incorporates high temperatures. Any time that temperature is increased in a cleaning situation, the results will always be better.

The next scenario is more demanding. This time, mildew, heavy dirt and grime need to be removed from siding, requiring more than just high water pressure to wash them away. Adding chemical and increasing temperature will effectively remove the mildew and wash the grime away.

For this task, a hot pressure washer would indeed be the best choice. Other great uses for hot pressure washers include cleaning large areas more quickly than a cold pressure washer, removing gum from concrete, and washing away tough dirt.

The next example requires a heavy-duty cleaning machine. A customer has been asked to pressure wash a concrete driveway. However, the driveway contains grease and even has gum stuck to it. Some may be quick to consider a hot pressure washer, but this would be a mistake. Hot pressure washers may be able to handle the gum, as well as the grease to some extent. However, the high water pressure will end up spattering most of the grease around and often will leave a film behind. For this customer, a steam cleaner would be the best recommendation.

The term “steam cleaner” is really a misnomer since the machines don’t actually use steam to clean. Steam cleaners utilize vapor, which is made up of 85- to 90-percent water, and are very effective at removing grease, oil, animal, vegetable and mineral contaminants. They are also excellent at killing germs and sanitizing. Chemicals may be incorporated to make the cleaning process faster and more effective. And as an added bonus, steam cleaners use less water than other machines, which is important for areas where flooding may be a concern.

A common misconception many people have is that because 212 degrees Fahrenheit is the atmospheric boiling point for water, it must be a hot enough temperature for the water in a steam cleaner. However, the environment created inside a steam cleaner allows the water to be heated to more than 212 degrees without boiling. This is why water temperatures for these machines actually range from 300 to 335 degrees Fahrenheit, and they are most effective when the temperature is 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a final scenario, your customer has bid a variety of jobs, including both concrete and deck washing. Well, the cold and hot washers would work well for the deck, but for more demanding jobs, such as the concrete example, a steam cleaner would be the only choice because its high temperature will cut through the grease and other tough contaminants. However, a steam cleaner isn’t the best machine to accomplish the first job, so what is the best advice? Rather than recommending the purchase of multiple units, this is the perfect situation to show you’re looking out for your customer’s financial interests by offering a combination cleaner, which provides the benefits of all three units in one machine.

Combination cleaners consist of both a cold and hot pressure washer, as well as a steam cleaner in one portable package. Because they offer the option to quickly switch between the three functions, the two biggest features they offer are convenience and versatility. They save customers time, as well as the need to buy and use multiple machines.

While versatility is the main attraction of these machines, it can also be overkill for some customers. They may see the machine as a time saver and an opportunity to have one cleaner that can do it all, but in reality they may not need all three uses, resulting in wasted functionality. This is why it’s critical to understand a customer’s needs before simply selling a catch-all solution.

Sell on quality

No matter what the type of pressure washer, customers are sometimes overwhelmed at first by the cost of professional units. Many are tempted to go the cheap route and buy an imported machine from a big-box retailer. As you would while selling a primary product line, be sure to educate about return on investment and the higher price tag that accompanies a high-quality machine. Upon crunching some numbers, a customer may suddenly not find a $2,500 unit to be so expensive, considering that about one-fifth of that cost could be earned back with a single large cleaning project.

First and foremost, keep the customer focused on the task at hand and the combination of basic cleaning elements that will produce the best results. Armed with the knowledge of these four elements, it will be much easier to confidently recommend the most efficient tool for the job. Customers will appreciate the value of your expertise…and with any luck, that appreciation will continue to pay off with future equipment sales down the road.

 Dan Leiss is the president of Jenny Products, Inc. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Penn State University and has 19 years of experience with Jenny in product development, sales and management.

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