Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

LEANing Up The Cleaning Process

September 19, 2010

As we begin to see rays of sunshine peaking through the economic storm clouds, virtually every organization is looking for ways to reduce costs.

Many have indiscriminately reduced budgets without examining the negative impact on their operations or in servicing their customers.

A growing list of companies are responding to tighter budgets and increased competition by adapting their businesses through the application of a process known as LEAN.

LEAN is defined as a collection of principles, methods and tools that improve the speed and efficiency of any process by eliminating waste.

LEAN principles have their roots in the Toyota Production System (TPS) of the 1950s, which have been successfully applied to world class manufacturing companies, such as General Electric.

However, the LEAN process can be applied to virtually any business or operation, including distribution businesses and facility cleaning operations.

The search for ways to reduce costs has not escaped the cleaning industry.

Applying LEAN concepts to in-house cleaning operations can help improve results and drive down costs.

A building service contractor (BSC) can also benefit by becoming more competitive through cost reductions without compromising quality.

Cleaning operations that figure out how to reduce costs without compromising results will survive and thrive today and into the future.

This article is not a tutorial on LEAN processes, but is intended to foster understanding of the connection between LEAN, sustainability and green cleaning.

Common Goals

LEAN processes have a lot in common with green cleaning and the sustainability initiatives that are sweeping through many organizations.

The concepts have the common goal of reducing waste, which can produce synergistic results as summarized in Table 1.

The meaning of "reducing waste" is far reaching.

Waste reduction can be thought of as the elimination of unnecessary and non-value-added processes and activities.

Now more than ever before, LEAN is a process every business needs to embark upon to be successful.

The integration of LEAN, sustainability initiatives and green cleaning promise to reduce costs, raise efficiency and reduce human health and environmental impacts.

LEAN Business Processes

Some LEAN implementation concepts include 5S+1, Kaizen and Value Stream Mapping.

The 5S+1 process is often seen as a necessary precursor to applying LEAN ideas and is usually the first step on the LEAN journey.

5S refers to a list of activities that promotes organization and efficiency in the workplace.

The 5S terms are: Sorting; set in order; shining; standardizing; and sustaining.

An additional S is sometimes added for safety.

  • Sort all items and keep only those considered essential — store or discard any items not used on a regular basis

  • Set in order tools and equipment to promote efficient workflow

  • Shine: Bring all tools and equipment to a "like new" condition

  • Standardize work practices and operating procedures

  • Sustain the new way of operating and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating

  • Safety is an integral part in any process, including cleaning.

Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning: "To change for the good of all."

Kaizen events bring together a cross functional group of employees to study a specific process and immediately implement changes.

Value stream mapping is an advanced LEAN process referring to the activity of developing a high-level visual representation of the process flow in delivering a product or service to customers.

Applying LEAN To Cleaning

Applying LEAN processes to cleaning operations is possible and can be highly beneficial as the cleaning industry is full of ideas that can help start the LEAN journey.

A review of Table 2 shows a variety of waste reduction processes already available to the cleaning industry and the potential results of implementation.

Properly applied, each of these ideas can meet the goal of waste reduction and help "LEAN up" cleaning operations.

To apply LEAN to cleaning operations, step one is to begin implementing 5S+1.

During the 5S+1 step, start by organizing cleaning closets and supplies.

Get rid of everything that isn''t used.

Conduct an audit of cleaning chemicals and consolidate similar products.

Bring all tools, equipment and supplies to a "like new" condition.

Organize safety supplies and make them available to staff.

Ensure a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for every chemical is readily accessible.

Emphasize this new way of operating to maintain the condition indefinitely.

Then, in the Kaizen step, conduct events with staff to determine what processes can be modified to improve efficiency.

Involve the front line workers.

You may be surprised what is learned when you engage the people that actually do the work.

Value stream mapping: Start by mapping discrete cleaning processes, such as restroom cleaning, daily dusting, daily floor mopping/scrubbing, etc.

Nothing helps visualize a process better than a picture.

Use this workflow diagram to look for ways to modify or change the process to reduce waste.

As the cleaning industry becomes more sophisticated, the LEAN concept used successfully for years by world-class manufacturing organizations can offer many benefits to cleaning operations.

LEAN processes can help drive down costs by eliminating waste without compromising quality.

Understanding the intersection between LEAN, sustainability initiatives, green cleaning and the successful application of these concepts can result in world-class cleaning operations.

Mike Tarvin is vice president of Multi-Clean, a division of Minuteman International Inc. The company manufactures a comprehensive line of high-performance cleaning chemicals, floor maintenance products and professional cleaning equipment. Mike can be contacted at (651) 481-1900 or More information can also be obtained at or