A few years ago, I had a staff member explain why he didn't vacuum that day, "Because we just vacuumed yesterday!"
I think I just blinked at him for 30 seconds, waiting for him to crack a smile or wink. He was kidding, right? Uh, no. (I continue to blink in disbelief as I think about it now.)
Clearly, like any other business with communal areas, hostels need to be cleaned daily. Besides wiping the kitchen counters and toilet bowls, if the hostel has carpet, then it needs to be vacuumed. Every. Single. Day. "Got it, Ely?"
And it is preferable the vacuum not just be pushed around the wider areas, but for someone to take the wand and get the corners, under the beds and even snagging the dangling spider web over the reception desk. Because the vacuum(s) will spend a good deal of time in use, the owners or managers will become very familiar with the operation, repair, and maintenance of the vacuum. So it is important to get a good one.
The Ideal Vacuum
There are many types of vacuums out there, but since you will be using yours a lot, taking the time to learn more about them will be time well spent. Finding the ideal vacuum has been something of a Holy Grail for me, and I still haven't found the right one just yet.
What makes the ideal vacuum?
That it sucks! No use having a vacuum that just rolls over the dirt. How many cheap vacuums have I owned where I had to bend down and pick up the offending white flick of paper from the carpet, then just to maybe prove a point to myself, put it into the mouth of the vacuum hose? If the vac doesn't suck literally, then it sucks figuratively, and nobody has time for that.
That it lasts! Vacuums are like cars in that you can get a gem or a lemon in any price range. Vacuums range in price from the $50 model to the $500 model (or more?). And while it is true that you get what you pay for, if you take care of your equipment, any vacuum should last you at least 3 to 4 years. As long as the machine continues to suck properly without excessive maintenance and burning up the motor within that time, it is a valuable product.
You can find replacement parts for it! So, one of my biggest peeves about the modern world is the tendency to throw things away instead of fixing them. The fact that it's becoming more and more difficult to find replacement parts for any modern appliance merely pushes that peeve to a crescendo. Wear and tear will cause the hose to end up with a hole in it or the brush to wear down its bristles, totally normal. But we should be able to find the replacement parts for less than buying a new vacuum.
That it is Lightweight! To be honest, I absolutely hate vacuuming. And when I have to vacuum 5 flights of stairs with a heavy ass machine, rest assured I am severely lacking in enthusiasm about it. At least if I have a lightweight contraption or a backpack model, I won't curse the stairs so much.
That it has a Retractable Plug! The electric cables on vacuums are particularly susceptible to fraying. Most of the European or Aussie/NZ models I have used have a spring-loaded button where, once depressed, retracts the cable nice and neat into a holding chamber. I like that. The USA tends to have a lot of upright models, where you coil the electric cord around a couple of hooks. Invariably, the hooks manage to break, and the coil becomes more of a knotted heap on the closet floor instead. No bueno.
A few more vacuum features you will want to consider:
Upright v. Canister: While upright vacuums tend to be better for carpets, canister vacuums are often better suited for hard floors and stairs. Uprights tend to be heavier than canister vacs, especially in the older models, but there are several lightweight models available, usually in the pricier section. The canister vacs also come in a backpack model, which can be super handy.
Bagged v. Bagless: Bagged vacuums are supposed to do a better job of filtering out allergens in the air. However, cleaners will frequently not notice when the bags are full. This can lead to clogged hoses which may require a messy disassembly to clean out. A few newer models include an indicator to show the user when the hose is clogged, but so far a model that indicates when it’s time to replace the bag has not been found. In addition, the ongoing expense of bags should be considered.
Belt or Beltless: For uprights, the user will have a choice between a belt or a motor-driven (beltless) roller brush. Roller brushes tend to get tangled with hair and string which places increased friction on the mechanics driving the roller brush. Belts often get hot and melt (causing a bad smell) and cleaners often fail to notice this until after the belt is broken. Belts can break as often as once a week in a hostel environment and only a few people will have the ability to replace it. The ongoing expense of belts should be considered. Beltless models have a circuit breaker that will turn off power to the roller brush motor if the friction is too high. This can be reset with the touch of a button, but someone will need to know that the roller brush needs to be cleaned.
Industrial or Residential: A question many hostel owners struggle with is the choice between a low-cost residential vacuum (with regular replacements) or a high-cost industrial/commercial vacuum that seems to last only slightly longer. I have found that industrial or commercial vacuums are hardly better than residential ones. Often the industrial models will have a metal shell and handle rather than lightweight plastic, but the interior components are the same. Residential components are prone to breakage when there is overuse.
Like any product you will be investing in, it is always a good idea to spend some time researching and reading reviews. Talk to other hostel owners in the forums to see what they recommend. Maybe, seek out your local vacuum repair shop, if you have one, and talk with the mechanics to see what they recommend.
Vacuums ain't cheap, so we have to take care of the investment to ensure it continues to work for us. Make sure you stress to new cleaning volunteers the importance of taking care of the hostel's equipment. Hostel cleaners tend to be short-stay guests and often do not think about taking care of the equipment they are using. So, you will want to explain that the vacuum is not made to suck up large items, pen caps, earrings, or bobby pins. The cleaners should pick up the larger items and put them in the trash, directly. The vac can be costly to fix or at least annoying when you have to pull paperclips from the hose for the 3rd time this week.
Be sure to clean the filters regularly, as well. Having a spare filter to change out comes in handy if you have washed a filter and still waiting for it to dry.
Chances are good that as the owner or manager, you will be doing a lot of the initial repair work yourself. How many times have I sat on my deck, performing a vacuum autopsy, pulling Swedish Meatball sized gobs of hair and carpet fuzz out of the hose?
Not sucking? Clogs in the hoses and around the various filters are the usual culprits, and unless there is a hairpin stuck sideways in the hose, these clogs are easy to get at.
If your vacuum is not turning on, you will of course, need to do a little more troubleshooting. A common problem occurs when the staff member is reaching with the vacuum further than the electrical cord allows. This puts a strain on the plug and internal wires connected to it. Sometimes you can see where the wires have pulled but often the separation occurs inside the plastic housing, where it is not obvious.
Other problems to consider would be with the motor, a fuse or even a loose power button.
Since these issues deal with electricity, there may be some local laws that prevent you from working on the appliance yourself unless you have a certification (like in New Zealand this work should be done by an electrician). However, doing a some minor trial and error tests to locate the problem will, hopefully, save you some money.
It is also a good idea to take the business card of your local vacuum repair shop and to build up a professional relationship with them. It may come in handy in the future.
For me, because the village I live in is pretty remote, whatever I cannot figure out on my own, I generally take to my farmer neighbour. He tends to be my "repair shop" because he has all the tools and way more know-how than I do. And he doesn't mind being paid in chocolate cupcakes.
Darren has kindly created a short video about vacuum care and pulling out clogs.
What kind of vacuum does your hostel use and do you recommend it? Or does your staff groan at the mere sight of it?
We have some more helpful cleaning artlcles below, if you are in that kind of mood. Enjoy!
This is awesome! Stuff like this is seriously important haha I've just started a blog and one of my first post is to share my joy about my $30 vacuum cleaner. Check it out here;
2 years 10 months ago
I love Vacuums, I buy the Compact/tristar models. All metal, parts can easily be purchased and a 12amp motor that will suck out anything. If you have carpets but a Sebo head. These are commercial quality....
Thanks, Nick. I always feel like the work is complete once the vacuum work is finished. I am unfamiliar with Tristar, but will look into it. :) Cheers!
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