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It is no stretch to call the floor mat cleaner a universally useful piece of carwash equipment. Every car care business format can find value in these machines, either as a money-making profit center or as a valuable service upgrade to existing wash packages.
For full-service washes, detail shops and even car dealerships, automated mat cleaners make sense because they increase employee productivity and reduce labor costs. In express wash and self-serve formats, the secure and dependable machines offer owners a worry-free source of additional revenue.
For these reasons, mat cleaners are now more widely used than ever in carwash operations. Today's machines can shampoo, scrub, extract, beat and dry customer floor mats. This cleaning flexibility, and their popularity with carwash customers, should preserve the mat cleaner's future for years to come.
Wet and dry cleaning
There are a number of automated mat cleaners available to carwash owners today. The majority of these cleaners wash mats with water and shampoo, and most are manufactured from stainless steel. This steel construction guarantees wet cleaning cycles will not affect operation, and the steel's durability has the added benefit of making the machines weatherproof.
Machines with wet cleaning cycles use a variety of cleaning and drying materials. One model shampoos the floor mats then uses absorbent sponge rollers for drying, according to Bud Abraham, president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems. Other machines can use brushes and extractors to clean mats with water and shampoo; then the mat is dried with an extractor or high-pressure air before it is output.
When it comes to cleaning mats without water, some wet machines offer dry cycles that only use brushes, vacuums or compressed air. The combination models dry brush and vacuum mats or dry brush then blow out grit using the high-pressure air, Abraham said. There's also a machine that literally beats the dirt and grit out of the carpet. This dry "beating" cleaner is especially effective at knocking pesky sand from carpeted mats.
Drawing in more customers
Cynthia Lee, sales manager with Clean World Distribution Inc., said the mat cleaners offered by her company come equipped with both washing and drying capabilities. "The unique innovation draws customers' attention, and most importantly the quality cleaning and drying technology draws customers back each time to get their rubber, plastic and carpet floor mats shampooed and dried in a quick amount of time," she said.
For self-serve and express locations, mat cleaners offer customers 24-hour convenience. Money-accepting cleaners can include a standard bill and multi-coin acceptor that receives up to three types of coins or tokens. In addition, the machines offer MEI, IDX and Wash Card system acceptance as an option, Lee noted.
Installation, security and upkeep
Setting up mat cleaners can be a simple affair, not much is required on-site for their installation, Lee stated. A proper power outlet, a water hose connection and a drainage area are all that is needed for the typical automated cleaner.
As stated, most mat cleaners are made using heavy-duty stainless steel. This construction goes a long way to keep them secure in 24-hour or self-serve environments. "We also have two heavy-duty side panel bars and lock down capability for added protection of bill/coin transactions," Lee said.
Abraham agreed that the machines are relatively secure. "They are as secure as a self-service vacuum would be," he said.
Upkeep needs will vary by type of machine, but the cleaning schedule should not. "All need to be cleaned at least once a week, which involves washing out the excess dirt that remains in the machine from cleaning," Abraham stated. When it comes to needed part replacement, the most common culprits include bearings, vacuum motors and sponge rollers.
Lee said very minimal maintenance is required for mat cleaners. Some manufacturers offer a maintenance schedule that includes simple cleaning procedures and recommends changing out parts after normal wear and tear. These parts last up to two or three years, depending on how often the equipment is used. "These simple maintenance checks will prolong the use of our equipment and keep it in normal function," she said.
Signage for customers
Lee said "how-to" signage is highly recommended for washes where customers will use the mat machines themselves. This helps users understand the proper operation of the equipment, and signs provide simple instructions and precautions for safe and effective use of the equipment.
"For this reason, we offer self-serve signage and a 3-foot-by-10-foot banner as optional purchase items to promote the new addition of our equipment to your business," Lee said.
If customers would like to use their own signage, Lee's company recommends following a standard design layout. The layout includes simple step-by-step use instructions as well as precautions that advise customers the machines are only for automobile mats made of carpet, rubber and plastic. Other simple tips to help customers use the equipment effectively and safely can be added as well.
Floor mats have changed a lot over the past few decades, Abraham said. The mats of the 1960s and 1970s were generally plastic or rubber. But, beginning in the 1980s and moving forward into the 2000s, most factory mats were carpet. Still, in some snow and ice areas where road salt is used, many car owners choose to put aftermarket rubber mats in their cars.
The early mat cleaning units in the 1960s and early 1970s were mechanical nightmares because they would "eat" mats and get stuck, Abraham recalled. This was especially a problem for busy full-service carwashes on high-volume days.
The machines were first built because the popular full-service carwashes were cleaning floor mats manually, and this was labor intensive and time consuming. These businesses needed a way to quickly clean the mats. Because of this, mat cleaners were initially used by full-service operators only, Abraham noted.