Dan Carr

By: Dan Carr on May 15th, 2020

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Floor Machine Batteries: Everything You Need to Know (Types, Maintenance, Cost)

When purchasing janitorial cleaning equipment, the main focus typically relies on finding a machine that fits your budget and will provide your facility with a range of benefits such as improved worker productivity and enhanced cleaning results.  

Some of the most popular machines are battery powered, because they can boost worker productivity by 30% or more when compared to cord electric equipment. They also allow the operator to clean beyond the length of a cord or without being restricted to the nearest outlet.  

Aside from identifying these obvious benefits of a battery powered machine, little thought is often given to the type of battery or required maintenance of your equipment’s batteries. 

However, batteries are a costly component of your janitorial cleaning equipment investment. Maximizing the life of your battery will help you achieve a faster return on your investment and save you from having to replace costly batteries. 

With regard to janitorial cleaning equipment, there are four main types of batteries. 

In this article and video, we’ll go over the different types of batteries used in commercial cleaning equipment and provide some simple tips for extending battery life, so you can get the most out of your investment. 

What are the different types of batteries? 

There are four main types of batteries for janitorial cleaning equipment: wet flooded, AGM, GEL, or lithium ion.

Wet Flooded Batteries 

What is a wet flooded battery? 

12vcutaway Wet-BatteryWet flooded batteries are one of the oldest types of rechargeable deep-cycle batteries. 

Flooded batteries get their name because they contain a solution of electrolytes and water. This electrolyte solution is what is typically known as battery acid. This liquid solution is harmful and can spill if the batteries are not properly handled. 

They must be regularly filled with distilled water to maintain a level of solution that covers the positive and negative plates so that the battery can be charged and used. 

Flooded batteries require the most maintenance when compared to other rechargeable batteries.

How to properly maintain wet flooded batteries?

Wet flooded batteries require the most maintenance out of all types of batteries. 

They need to be “watered” weekly. The plates, which produce power, must always be fully submerged in the battery’s electrolyte and water mixture to function properly. 

Always check the battery before charging. Open the vent cap to see if the plates are covered with water. If the plates are not covered, fill the battery with distilled water to ½ inch below the bottom of the cap to cover the plates. If you overfill the battery, the batteries will leak liquid from the caps when charging. The acidic solution that leaks can be harmful to your machine and dangerous for the operator. 

BU800 AGM Batteries angle1

It is important to use distilled water with a low pH. High pH or water with impurities can damage the battery. pH should measure between 5 and 7 to reduce the likelihood of battery damage. 

Never add your own electrolyte to the battery. 

Wet flooded batteries must also be charged in an open, well-circulated area. They release toxic hydrogen gas.

This gas must be able to escape which is why some refer to this type of battery as vented cell battery. Wet-flooded batteries are not able to store or recombine the gas like other rechargeable batteries, so it must be released externally.  

How much does a wet flooded battery cost? 

Wet flooded batteries have a lower initial cost when compared to AGM, Gel, or lithium ion batteries, but they require more maintenance which can increase labor costs. 

The cost of wet flooded batteries depends on the manufacturer and size of the battery.

It is critical to the life of a wet flooded battery that they are properly maintained. If they are not properly maintained throughout their life, they will have to be replaced sooner than expected, ultimately costing you more in the long run.

Advantages of Wet Flooded Batteries 

  • Least Expensive for Janitorial Equipment 
  • Long Lasting if Properly Maintained 
  • Provides About 500 Charge Cycles 
  • Charges Faster than AGM or GEL

Disadvantages of Wet Flooded Batteries 

  • Requires Maintenance 
  • Spill Prone 
  • Requires Ventilation in Open Area 

VRLA Batteries 

Valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries are a type of liquid electrolyte battery. VRLA batteries do not require regular addition of water to the cells and are commonly referred to as 'no maintenance' batteries. 

There are two types of VRLA batteries: AGM and Gel. 

AGM Batteries 

What is an AGM battery? 

AGM batteries are sealed lead acid type batteries. 

SC2000 batteries copyWhat does AGM battery mean?

AGM battery stands for absorbed glass mat. 

The absorbent glass mat refers to a fine fiberglass mat inside the battery that soaks up or “absorbs” the sulfuric acid in the battery. Unlike wet flooded batteries, there is no “free” liquid. The matting technology absorbs any liquid so the batteries are “spill proof”. 

Requiring no maintenance, AGM batteries typically last longer than wet-flooded batteries that are improperly maintained. They most commonly break down due to lack of maintenance or error. 

How to properly maintain AGM batteries?

Unlike wet flooded batteries, sealed AGM batteries do not require any water to be added to them. Sealed AGM batteries are safe to be charged in any area without discharge of fumes. 

To keep these batteries in good condition, make sure they are regularly charged. The most common mistake that users make with AGM batteries is forgetting to charge them. 

These batteries are sensitive to undercharging and opportunity charging. 

Pro Tip: Most battery chargers are automatic and fully charge the batteries without overcharging. 

Improperly charging the battery will affect the life and performance. 

How much does an AGM battery cost? 

AGM batteries are about double the price of wet flooded batteries, but require less maintenance. For example, for a wet flooded battery that costs $300, a comparable AGM battery would cost about $600.

Advantages of AGM Batteries 

  • Spill Proof
  • Low Maintenance - Do Not Require “Watering”
  • Provides About 500 Charge Cycles 

Disadvantages of AGM Batteries 

  • More Expensive than Wet Flooded 
  • Easily Damaged from Opportunity Charging 
  • Slower to Charge 

Gel Battery 

What is a Gel battery? 

Gel and AGM batteries are commonly mistaken for each other. Both are VRLA batteries and are both spill proof and maintenance-free. 

Similar to AGM batteries, Gel batteries do not require weekly watering and are considered maintenance-free. 

Gel batteries do not have liquid electrolytes. A gel battery uses a sulfuric acid that has been mixed with fumed silica to create a gel-like substance. The substance is a pliable solid, so it doesn't leak. 

How to properly maintain Gel batteries?

SC401 GEL batteries copyA significant difference between gel and AGM batteries is the charge and discharge rates. Gel batteries can handle slower, or longer discharge rates than AGM batteries.

Similar to AGM batteries, the most critical maintenance component of Gel batteries is ensuring proper charge and discharge.

When AGM and Gel batteries are confused, Gel batteries can suffer. Gel batteries are extremely sensitive during charging and require a specific Gel charger to avoid damage to the gel-like substance. 

Gel and AGM require a specific charger that will slow down the charge cycle to prevent overheating. They take longer to charge than a wet flooded battery.  

How much does a Gel battery cost? 

Gel batteries are slightly more expensive than AGM batteries. Using the same example as above, if a wet flooded battery costs $300, a comparable AGM battery would cost about $600, while a Gel would cost about $750. 

Advantages of Gel Batteries 

  • Maintenance Free
  • Spill Proof 
  • Safe For Use in Enclosed Areas
  • 500 Charge Cycles 

Disadvantages of Gel Batteries 

  • More Expensive Than Wet Flooded and AGM
  • Sensitive to Charge- “Special Charger” Which Controls Charge Rate 
  • Easily Damaged From Opportunity Charging 
  • Slower to Charge 

Lithium Ion Battery 

What is a lithium ion battery?

MA30 13B Lithium BatteryLithium ion batteries are spill proof and maintenance free, but they use a chemical compound, typically lithium cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate, to charge. 

Lithium-ion batteries, or Li-ion batteries for short, have lithium ions that bounce back and forth between the cathode and anode of the battery during charge and discharge.

Lithium-ion batteries are all about the movement of lithium ions. In short, when the battery is charging, the ions move one way and when it is providing power the ions move the opposite way to supply power. 

How to properly maintain lithium ion batteries?

To preserve the life of lithium ion batteries, it will be critical to properly maintain the batteries during every charging procedure. They are especially susceptible to heat. 

Lithium ion batteries have several components that degrade over time. 

Store the batteries in low temperatures and always allow the battery to cool down after charging before using it again.

How much does a lithium ion battery cost? 

Lithium batteries are by far the most expensive. They can be as much as double or triple the price of wet-flooded batteries, but offer the operator the increased convenience of no maintenance and a long battery life. 

The increased cost of a lithium battery can be offset by the number of times it can be recharged. Lithium ion batteries will also reach a full charge more quickly when compared to Gel, AGM, or wet flooded batteries.

MA30 13B battery installedAdvantages of Lithium Ion Batteries 

  • Longest Life, General Charge Cycles Range Between 880-1500
  • Maintenance Free
  • Spill Proof 
  • Smaller, Lighter Weight 

Disadvantages of Lithium Ion Batteries 

  • Most Expensive 
  • Sensitive to Heat 
  • Difficult to Dispose

How to extend battery life? 

To ensure you get the most life out of any of these batteries, there are five rules to remember: 

  1. Always Adhere to Manufacturer’s Guidelines 
  2. Do Not Opportunity Charge 
  3. Let the Batteries Cool Down After Charging 
  4. Charge the Batteries Before they are Completely Dead
  5. Do Not Forget to Charge 

Always Adhere to Manufacturer’s Guidelines

Battery maintenance can vary by manufacturer and battery type. It is critical to the life of your battery that you follow the manufacturer's instructions for use, storage, and maintenance. 

Do Not Opportunity Charge 

SC2000 battery levelOpportunity charging is charging your batteries before they reach their minimum charge. 

Opportunity charging is most often done on a machine that comes equipped with an on-board battery charger. On-board battery chargers allow batteries to be charged at any available 120V outlet. Although convenient, opportunity charging is not recommended. 

Opportunity charging will shorten the life of your batteries by overheating them.

Let the Batteries Cool Down After Charging

All types of batteries for cleaning equipment need to cool down after being charged and before being used for additional cleaning shifts. Heat will degrade the battery and lower its life expectancy.  

Constantly charging and then using the batteries does not give them a chance to cool down. Batteries which do not get the chance to cool down are prone to overheating. 

The batteries should complete an entire charge and cooling cycle before using them for another cleaning shift. 

An entire charge and cooling cycle for a machine with a 3 hour run time is about 9 hours. It will take about 6 hours for the batteries to come to a complete charge and 3 hours to cool down. 

Charge the Batteries Before They Are Completely Dead 

Batteries should be charged before they are dead. They require a minimum voltage to begin charging. The minimum voltage will vary by battery type and size. If you continuously run the machine until the batteries are dead, it will become harder and harder to get them to recharge over time. 

Do Not Forget to Charge 

Batteries that are discharged and do not get charged will degrade battery life. Batteries should always be charged at the end of their run cycle. 


Final Thoughts

Battery powered janitorial cleaning machines will use either wet flooded, Gel, AGM, or lithium ion batteries. 

Selecting the right battery, as well as properly maintaining batteries, will be critical to making sure you can get the most life out of them. 

Each type of battery has its own maintenance guidelines and adhering to them will be important to maximizing battery life. 

Wet flooded, AGM, or Gel batteries are considered lead batteries and contain an electrolyte solution which causes a chemical reaction and produces power. 

Wet flooded batteries use a liquid solution prone to spilling, whereas Gel and AGM contain the electrolytes in a “dry” way. Lithium ion batteries also provide power without a liquid solution. Eliminating the liquid involved in batteries can help lower the required maintenance and mitigate spills. 

Wet flooded batteries have a lower initial cost when compared to VRLA or lithium ion batteries but they require more maintenance. They require weekly "watering" to ensure the electrolyte remains at a proper level for optimal performance and extended life. Wet batteries that are not properly maintained will need to be replaced more frequently, increasing overall costs. 

Gel and AGM batteries are more expensive than wet flooded batteries but do not require any maintenance. Maintenance free batteries can help improve worker productivity by eliminating the need for periodic watering or careful venting while charging. Lithium is the most expensive, but longest lasting battery.

EBP has been the leading provider of commercial cleaning products and janitorial cleaning equipment for over 100 years. 

If you are not getting optimal run time or are experiencing power issues, our team of factory-trained service technicians are dedicated to keeping your equipment running at peak performance. 

Depending on your battery type we can perform routine service and maintenance such as repairing terminals when they become corroded from battery acid overflow, or testing to see if the battery has overheated. 

Visit our equipment service page to request help with your batteries. If you are in need of a new battery, our Account Executives can help with that too. Contact us today!

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About Dan Carr

Dan Carr is the Equipment Program Manager for EBP Supply Solutions and a Trainer for the EBP Training Academy, which offers CMI-certified and other training courses for supervisory and front-line cleaning professionals throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. He holds the ISSA CMI Basic certification and has over 35 years of experience in the janitorial and sanitation industry.