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Chemical-free Cleaning In Action

January 24, 2012
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The real goal of any operation should not be to blindly eliminate all chemicals; rather, we should strive for the removal of unwanted matter from our environment while minimizing our use of chemistry.

Procedural Importance

You can have a poor procedure with good chemistry and achieve bad results.

Similarly, you can employ a good procedure with poor chemistry and achieve good results.

"It''s really about the removal," states Tom Morrison, vice president of marketing for Kaivac Inc. "The process itself is what removes soil; chemicals, even water, simply help facilitate the removal."

What this means for many people is a fundamental change in the way cleaning is viewed.

The chemicals in any arsenal of cleaning products, whether they are for a restroom, kitchen or any number of areas in a facility, are not what is important: It''s how you use them.

Though they may make for easier soil removal, the application of chemicals is not necessarily going to make a surface cleaner.

"There are several components in effective cleaning," asserts Karla Leis, vice president and general manager of Tennant Company''s Orbio Technologies division. "An often used expression is CHAT — chemical, heat, agitation and time. Chemical is only one component in effective cleaning. The importance of heat, to melt fats, as an example, agitation such as scrubbing brushes on an automatic scrubber, and time, allowing liquids of chemistry to re-hydrate dried-on soils, also play an important role in the cleaning process."

Education Is Key

Change is never easy to come by.

The majority of the time, most people would be content to go about their daily lives without many, or any, changes in their routines.

This is the crux of the chemical versus procedure matter.

Many of the industry''s top professionals have been at their jobs for a long time, and many — if not most — are set in their ways.

Routine can be good; it can ensure that each step of the cleaning process is happening in the correct fashion, each time it is done.

However, when trying to move towards an industry that relies less on chemicals and more on process, this can be a hindrance.

"Society and cleaners alike have been conditioned to think that cleaning is the application and removal chemicals," says Morrison.

According to Morrison, while this is essentially true, the better way to think about cleaning is to understand that it is not the application of chemicals, but the removal of soils.

Change is often not welcomed in the commercial cleaning industry.

So, in order to get more people onboard with the chemical-free approach, they need to be taught the financial, health and environmental benefits of drastically reducing chemicals as they remove unwanted matter from the indoor environment.

Validating The Process

Cleaning with little to no chemicals sounds great, but validation is necessary to prove the process'' effectiveness.

"We are a visual-based, results-oriented industry," asserts Brian Simmons, product manager for Nilfisk-Advance Inc. "Most building owners do not spend time understanding actual cleanliness. As long as it looks and smells clean, they are satisfied."

Aside from sensory assessment, there are other ways to prove cleaning results.

Although other devices and methodologies exist — such as gloss meters, particle counters, floor friction meters, log reductions and so on — one of the most common quantifiers used is the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) meter.

ATP, first discovered in 1929, is an energy molecule found in all living — or once living — organisms.

According to Morrison, ATP testing should be performed both before and after cleaning.

Doing so is twofold: It shows that a surface was cleaned while also shedding light on the effectiveness of the cleaning.

As can be surmised, a low ATP count is preferable — as the gist of cleaning is to remove unwanted matter from surfaces.

A high ATP count means there is potential contamination on a surface, likely resulting from improper or insufficient cleaning.

"ATP measurement is growing in popularity, but visual and olfactory assessment still wins," says Simmons.

Redefining Cleanliness

A major hurdle that must be overcome if the chemical-free cleaning approach is to be widely accepted is for the public to dismiss the "it must smell clean" mentality.

For decades, people have equated a strong bleach waft or a residual quaternary ammonium (quat) scent with cleanliness.

The reality is that true cleanliness has no scent.

"You can blame the consumer side of the cleaning business for training people to think that clean areas or surfaces have a particular smell," proclaims Simmons.

The scent that is left behind is actually chemical residue, which is, in and of itself, a soil.

If you can still smell a residual scent after you''ve finished cleaning, your process has failed, as the chemical residue has not been thoroughly removed.

According to Jeff Johnson, director of product management and marketing for Tennant Company''s Orbio Technologies division, you should ask people to describe what clean smells like.

When you get them to really think about it, says Johnson, they realize that most of the smells they associate with clean are really chemical odors that are a byproduct of the chemical used to clean with or fragrances that are artificially produced and intended to mask the smells of cleaning chemicals, mask odors present in the soil or simply a marker for evidence of cleaning action.

Any time soil is left behind, a slip, trip and fall situation has been created, putting the safety of building occupants at risk.

A lack of a scent is one of the limitations of chemical-free processes.

Because users are not reassured with that "clean" smell, they are sometimes pensive to call a chemical-free process effective or a surface free of unwanted matter.

"Chemicals have their place," notes Morrison. "For instance, a chemical-free approach will be ineffective on greasy kitchen soils."

The goal is not to eliminate chemicals altogether; rather, we should strive to remove unwanted matter from our indoor environments while introducing the absolute minimum amount of chemicals.

"In a typical commercial building, 80 percent or more of hard floors require only light cleaning on a regular basis," adds Lance Hartmann, manager of Nilfisk-Advance Inc.''s Americas Product Management Team, responsible for development of the Advance, Clarke, Kent and U.S. Products brands. "Often, these surfaces can be cleaned with a good quality scrubber using only water to release dirt."

Anyone directly responsible for the cleanliness for a facility should adopt the habit of adjusting the strength and usage of a chemical to the task at hand.

Chemicals should not be underused, but also should not be overused simply because the prevailing belief is that the more chemical used, the cleaner a surface can be.

"Chemical-free, or the reduced use of chemicals, represents a paradigm shift in the industry," notes Morrison.

The acceptance of chemical-free cleaning is likely to increase as more become educated to its benefits.

"The more positive press this movement receives, the more people will view it as a viable cleaning solution for certain situations," adds Simmons.

We are seeing an increasing number of individuals exhibit more environmentally friendly behavior in their daily lives.

Part of that is reducing the amount of chemicals — or eliminating them entirely — used in the cleaning process.

At the end of the day, it comes down to proof.

"Seeing is believing," concludes Morrison. "It is all about the removal of soil, and showing the science is how we can get staffs onboard with a chemical-free cleaning program."

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