Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Development of an optimal cleaning process through ICM

September 19, 2010

Cleaning processes consist of a number of manual and/or automatic steps involving the use of mechanical action, solvents and/or detergents.

In practice, current cleaning processes are usually based on historical methods that lack an integrated scientific approach.

A scientific approach to cleaning should include advances in scientific knowledge of how contaminants stick to surfaces and what must be done to remove them.

Lacking a scientific approach, the usual cleaning processes are more time-consuming and expensive than they should be.

By applying Integrated Cleaning and Measurement (ICM) principles to cleaning, optimized cleaning processes can be developed in a methodical and logical way.

As a consequence, these optimized processes can meet the upcoming demand for better quality, faster processes, cost reduction and the quest for a healthier environment.

Limits of traditional thinking
As a general process that has been practiced by humans for many millennia, traditional cleaning has depended on tools — for example, mechanical mopping — that have advanced insofar as the materials they are made from, but not in their basic use.

In particular, the efficacy of cleaning has traditionally been judged on whether the surfaces that have been cleaned "look clean" to the naked eye.

Moreover, the cleaning methods that have traditionally been used have not been based on the physics and chemistry of the contamination to be removed.

Scientific assessment of the enemy
This lack of appreciation for the detailed nature of surface contamination is understandable: The basic analytical understanding of how non-microbial contamination interacts with surfaces is a development of the last 70 to 80 years.

It is now known that in some cases microbial and non-microbial particles as well as other contaminating substances are held to most surfaces by some of the strongest attractive chemical and physical forces that exist outside of the subatomic world.

For soils, including both inorganic — metal and mineral particles — and organic — oils and plant and animal products — contamination, there are several physical forces that operate.

The attractive physical forces include positive and negative electrical charge interactions and other strong forces that must be explained by quantum mechanics applied to close molecular interactions. For example, the so-called "van der Waals forces."

For microbial contamination, it must be realized that the existence of microbials was unknown 125 years ago and scientists are still in the process of learning how microbials attach to surfaces.

Some of the same forces that attached non-microbial particles to surfaces play roles in microbial attachment but, in addition, scientists are learning that chemical attractions of types not fully understood are also present.

For example, there are bacteria that can attach to a glass or plastic surface with a force so strong that if it were translated to a 1 cm2 surface area, it could support a car the size of a Volkswagen.

The method that underlies the advances that have taken place in the physical and biological sciences is based on integrating past quantitative knowledge into new knowledge acquired by measured outcomes of experiments.

This means that determination of the efficacy of a new cleaning process cannot depend on a qualitative measurement, such as "looking clean."

This is especially true for microbial contamination because all microbials are much too small to be seen by the human eye without a microscope.

The basic premise of ICM is that development of an optimal cleaning process for any environment must go hand-in-hand with quantitative measurements that determine how effective each cleaning step is.

That is, the effectiveness of cleaning processes must be validated by experimental measurements.

The practical implementation of ICM, therefore, requires the availability of instruments capable of measuring amounts of both microbial and non-microbial contamination on the surfaces to be cleaned.

Plenty of work ahead
Fortunately, scientific and technological developments have taken place within the last few decades that allow the quantitative measurements of contamination amounts present on surfaces before and after the application of a cleaning procedure.

The instruments that allow these measurements to be done have grown simpler and less expensive during these decades.

These instrumental developments will certainly continue for the foreseeable future.

The introduction of the science of ICM into the field of cleaning private, public, and corporate spaces is a logical extension of highly effective cleaning and disinfection protocols developed over the past 40 years in the pharmaceutical, electronics and optical industries.

These cleaning protocols have allowed manufacturers in these industries to maintain product production in rooms where contamination levels for both microbials and non-microbials are many orders of magnitude less than even the cleanest room.

While the cleaning protocols that are developed using ICM are not meant to address reduction of contamination to these low levels, the same basic scientific principle is used: Any cleaning process must be validated by measurements of contamination levels before and after a cleaning step.

Dr. Glasel is the managing member and founder of Global Scientific Consulting LLC. He is also a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Microbial, Molecular and Structural Biology at the University of Connecticut Medical/Dental School in Farmington, CT. Co-editor and an author for the Academic Press textbook Introduction to Biophysical Methods for Protein and Nucleic Acid Research, Dr. Glasel''s scientific research has been in the fields of structural biochemistry, molecular immunology, pharmacology and cell biology.