Steam vapor systems are increasingly used in facilities for two main purposes.
First, they rapidly clean and deodorize surfaces by using heat energy to break apart the bond between tough soils and the surface, with the key benefits of leaving no residue behind and penetrating to the smallest pores and crevices.
Second, they disinfect and sanitize surfaces by transferring heat from the steam vapor to pathogenic microorganisms.
With a well-engineered unit, the contact times needed for disinfection are brief and drying times are minimal, making disinfection easy, reducing slip and fall hazards and quickly returning areas to service.
Seven Key Elements
Steam vapor systems heat and pressurize tap water to produce "dry" steam vapor at six percent moisture, sometimes referred to as saturated steam vapor.
The overall function, longevity and usefulness of a steam vapor system depends on seven key elements.
1. Heating element
The heating element is where electrical energy is transferred to the water that will become steam to power the cleaning and disinfection process.
An immersion-type heating element is preferable since it directly contacts the boiler water, the most efficient way for the solution to be heated.
The boiler contains the steam within the system.
Aluminum boilers are lightweight and hold heat well, but may have a short operational life if regularly used with water containing a great deal of calcium or other minerals.
A stainless steel boiler of adequate thickness — 1 millimeter (mm) to 1.5 mm — should provide good service and longevity.
Only plain, ordinary, potable tap water is needed for filling the steam vapor system.
However, minimizing the amount of minerals introduced into the system will generally extend the life of the boiler along with other system components.
Since obtaining water with reduced mineral content in some environments may be impractical, some steam vapor systems are outfitted with technologies designed to minimize scale development within the boiler and on the heating element.
A quality steam vapor system will generate 300 degree Fahrenheit (F) to 320 degree F steam in the boiler.
This will provide a minimal water droplet size and maximize the energy transfer within the steam vapor application.
A common misconception is that a hotter boiler temperature is always better.
However, the steam heat-pressure curve is not linear, so getting the boiler hotter does not necessarily make better steam and can waste energy.
A good steam vapor system is designed to allow the operator to maintain an optimum temperature and pressure over long periods of use.
When steam is created in any device, it is important to have redundant safety measures engineered into the system to prevent overheating, over-pressuring or any other situation that might arise if there should be a malfunction within the system.
The reservoir holds the system''s water.
In a single-tank system configuration, the boiler also serves as the reservoir.
A significant drawback to this design is that the unit requires a cool-down period before it can be refilled, and then a heat-up period to operating temperatures before work can continue.
In two-tank systems, a separate reservoir feeds the boiler automatically, resulting in constant, uninterrupted steam vapor.
It provides a safer, more efficient water refill feature.
As water is drawn down, the operator simply adds more to the reservoir when the machine indicates it needs to be replenished.
A quart of water will generally provide about an hour''s use of steam vapor from a 120-volt system — and most systems will have a capacity of several quarts.
The hose carries the steam from the boiler to the tool.
Hoses are typically the most abused part of the system.
For this reason, removable hoses are advantageous because they allow for repair or replacement.
A good hose will also be light enough to be convenient to use, flexible and user-friendly, yet durable enough to withstand regular use.
The hose should be insulated, both to maintain heat levels between boiler and the various tools and for operator safety.
Tools are a key part of any steam vapor system.
The operator should expect a variety of applications to come up during use of the system.
Therefore, a variety of tools should be available to meet those needs.
Tools and attachments should be easy to take on and off safely, as well as be easy to use and maintain.
All of the components of a steam vapor system work together to deliver heat in the form of dry steam to the surface, and each of these components represents a point at which heat energy can be lost.
Thus, boiler temperature and pressure levels do not directly correlate with higher surface contact temperatures.
Since adequate heat must be delivered at the point of contact to properly clean and sanitize the area, a more appropriate means of measuring the power of a steam vapor system is to measure the temperature at the point where the tool contacts the surface.
User-friendly operation is the key to ensuring that the device is used to its potential.
Simple, straightforward controls dramatically shorten the learning curve and allow the new user to get up to speed quickly.
The steam vapor system cleaning process is not at all difficult, but it is different from traditional cleaning process, as it requires less scrubbing and surface pressure to reach desired results.
Steam volume controls allow the user to vary the amount of steam being dispersed.
Depending on the surface and situation, different jobs may require different amounts of steam.
Mobility and operational flexibility should be considered when evaluating different units.
It is, therefore, recommended that a user request an onsite demonstration prior to purchasing a system so that the user has a better understanding of its capabilities and the variety of useful applications for which it is suited.
7. Manufacturer/vendor support
A remaining consideration with regard to the expected longevity and functionality of a steam vapor system is vendor/manufacturer support.
It is helpful for new users to have instruction as to a system''s operation, its capabilities and its various applications.
In health care, the unit may be used primarily for disinfection.
Users need to gain understanding about subjects like biofilm, how bacteria are spread, the ability of heat to penetrate pores and how proper practices will result in complete disinfection.
Therefore, it is most beneficial to work with knowledgeable suppliers who can provide this training as part of the sales process and as aftermarket support.
Aftermarket technical service support, repairs, parts, etc., should be easy to access, and customer service should be responsive.
Good customer service and support cannot be overemphasized when it comes to selecting a steam vapor system.
Rick Hoverson is the principal of Advanced Vapor Technologies LLC, Edmonds, Washington. The simplified, water-only protocol for Advanced Vapor Technologies'' proprietary thermo accelerated nano-crystal sanitation (TANCS) steam vapor cleaning and disinfection system means fewer consumables, less room for error and less mess. Reduced health risks than those associated with typical chemical cleaners mean a healthier, more comfortable work environment and fewer lost workdays for your staff and less risk for you. For more information, visit www.AdVap.com.