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Sustainability

Renewable Cleaning Technology For Schools

August 24, 2011
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Over the past 10 years, schools have moved to safer cleaning products, practices and equipment.

During this time, the institutional cleaning sector has undergone rapid change.

Advances in renewable cleaning technology are positioning it to be one of the most eco-sensitive ways to care for public buildings while protecting the health of the users, students and staff.

Renewable cleaning is the removal, inactivation and/or proper disposal of dirt, dust, organic matter, chemical residues and pathogenic microbes to protect public heath and maintain indoor environments.

Water is a key medium for renewable cleaning — but not the only one — because it is a universal resource, which is benign, non-polluting and renewable or naturally replenished.

Renewable cleaning works like nature does and employs parallel methods.

The three technologies described in this article clean, sanitize or disinfect surfaces without using harmful chemicals.

Combining these technologies with other infection control strategies such as personal hygiene — handwashing to remove microbes transmitted by contact with surfaces or cough etiquette for microbes transmitted by an airborne route, as examples — disinfectants registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for specific applications and appropriate ventilation can create a comprehensive infection control program.

Industry manufacturers have introduced these renewable cleaning devices for surface cleaning and hygiene in the past few years.

Although the processes are different, they all use water as the basis for the technology.

Some innovations are possible because of advances in electrical engineering, software and solid-state circuitry.

Although these technologies are not appropriate for all cleaning tasks, they can successfully be used as part of a Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PCHS) program.

Antimicrobial devices must comply with federal standards for advertising, labeling and testing efficacy.

The testing must be performed by an independent third-party organization verifying kill claims.

Rather than an EPA Registration Number, as found on chemical-based germicidal products, verified antimicrobial devices receive an EPA Establishment Number.

A chemical-related health warning label is not required on devices using only water.

The Technologies

• Activated water

A water cell applies a slight electrical charge to tap water.

The charged water passes through an ion exchange membrane, creating an oxygen-rich mixture of positively-charged and negatively-charged nanobubbles.

The ionized water now attracts dirt somewhat like a magnet and lifts it from surfaces, enabling it to be wiped away.

The low-level electrical field created destroys microbes through a process called electroporation.

Independent third-party testing found this technology removes and/or kills more than 99.9 percent of harmful bacteria — reaching a sanitizing level — using a six-second continuous spray and a spray-and-wipe process.

• Spray-and-vacuum or high-flow fluid extraction units

Pressurized water agitates surface soil, as does a squeegee, which aids in removal along with a wet/dry vacuum system.

The loosened and suspended soil and microbes are immediately removed by the vacuum.

Independent third-party testing showed these devices remove greater than 99.9 percent of the targeted microbes — to a sanitizing level — from the surface.

Versatility allows for deep cleaning of restrooms, kitchens, hallways, carpeted areas, stairwells, classrooms, gyms and fitness areas — both on floors and above floors.

High productivity and rapid drying — through vacuuming or, sometimes, blowing — are traits of this system.

• Steam vapor technology

In newer systems, a water treatment module modifies the structure of the minerals in tap water before the water passes through a boiler, which converts it to superheated steam that, combined with an insulated hose and application tools, carries energized mineral crystals to the surface being cleaned.

These crystals disrupt the cell membranes of microbes, allowing the steam to quickly destroy them, while the process breaks the bonds between the soils and the surface to facilitate rapid cleaning and drying with very little water consumption.

Testing by independent third-party laboratories demonstrates a three to five second kill time — to a disinfection level — for a broad range of microorganisms using a thermal-accelerated nano crystal sanitation (TANCS) process.

Benefits Of Using Renewable Cleaning Technology

• Improved health and safety

Replacing harsh cleaning chemicals with water reduces the chances of accidental injuries.

A review of workers'' compensation data from the state of Washington found that six out of 100 janitors are injured by chemicals every year; the most common injuries are serious burns to the eyes or skin.

• Reduced purchase, storage and disposal costs

Facilities using these renewable technologies have realized a significant savings in their budgets, not including the costs associated with storage or hazardous waste disposal.

• Simplification of cleaning protocols

Water-only devices can be used for cleaning, sanitizing and, with steam vapor, disinfecting tasks; the contact time needed to inactivate microbes is often significantly shorter than conventional methods.

No rinsing is required because there is very little residue remaining on surfaces.

• Ease of use

The devices are ergonomically designed and simple to use.

• Reduced cost of recordkeeping

Time spent managing material safety data sheets (MSDS) and hazardous communication (HazCom) programs is eliminated because the devices do not require MSDS.

• Environmentally sustainable profile

Floor machines using renewable technology require less water; handheld devices, when compared to chemical cleaners, reduce energy consumption and pollution between 97 percent and 100 percent across seven key indicators of environmental sustainability, according to the Center for Clean Products at the University of Tennessee.

• Costs

Although the up-front cost of the devices may seem higher than that for chemicals, they can rapidly pay for themselves, as demonstrated by a pilot program at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The program, using handheld activated-water devices, produced savings in chemical purchases that paid for the cost of purchasing the devices during the first six months of operation.

As another example of fiscal effectiveness, one company providing services to 20 charter schools in the Miami/Dade County area has saved $72,000 to $80,000 a year through renewable or sustainable cleaning, using better equipment and cleaning processes and reducing chemical usage by 99 percent.

As school budgets become tighter, cutting maintenance department staff and funding is becoming prevalent.

Schools should strive to clean smarter, using the advanced technology and processes that are now available, to deliver high-quality cleaning with health benefits.

Renewable cleaning as part of a Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools program can be an important part of a leaner, more effective and hygienic cleaning program.


Ruben Rives, chief executive officer (CEO) of Miami, Florida-based PSS/H2OnlyDisinfection, is a renewable cleaning advocate and foundational supporter of the non-profit Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools Consortium (PCHS).

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