Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Making Green Greener: Chemical-free Cleaning

September 19, 2010

Water, something we can''t live without that has long been called the universal solvent, is finding its rightful place as our primary and safest cleaning solution.

Water is becoming a more valuable and scare resource; this has been speculated to accelerate in the future.

The disposal of soiled cleaning solution will grow as an issue until technology brings us waterless cleaning processes and we come to understand that "prevention" is the ultimate green cleaning process.

Soaps and synthetic detergents have a long and interesting history, starting with soap-like materials found in the ancient ruins of Babylon dating back to 2800 BCE.

Records from 1500 BCE describe the combining of animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to form soap-like materials for treating skin diseases and washing.

Modern history recognizes Procter and Gamble Company as the first to market a synthetic detergent in the early 1930s.

Since that time, detergents have been refined, compounded, buffered and further enhanced to produce the products we use today.

Water Comes Full Circle

Before we had soap and synthetic detergents, water was the only substance anyone had for cleaning.

After decades of using petroleum-based synthetic detergents, we have begun the move towards bio- or natural-based cleaning chemicals.

The final step in this evolution is to go back to where we started: Using only water for cleaning.

Today, water is used as a hybrid enhanced in many ways to make it more effective than plain tap water, including: Activating or electrolyzing, oxygenating, energizing, cavitating, vaporizing, heating, polishing, softening, filtering, deionizing — the list goes on.

Electrolyzed Water

Even though the process isn''t effective when cleaning petroleum-based oil and grease-contaminated soils, what it is able to do is a major advancement towards green floor care.

The elimination of or even a reduction in the use of chemicals from the cleaning process has many benefits, including increased productivity, lower costs, less residue remaining on floors, greater slip resistance and a more environmentally friendly waste stream.

Since electrolyzed water''s introduction, several companies have entered into licensing agreements with its innovator and continue to refine the processes and the equipment used to employ the technology.

According to Sven Toelen with the Tennant Company, "Our next step is to see what else we can do with the ec-H2O process. We know that from a chemical cost savings standpoint alone, our customers are able to get a return on investment (ROI) on their equipment purchase in as little as two or three years."

One company has taken the ec-H2O process a step further to make it portable in a spray bottle and has improved the technology to the point that it can kill germs and viruses as well as clean hard surfaces.

An onboard chip senses the minerals in the water and adjusts the electrical current for optimum cleaning and sanitizing, enabling the water coming out of the sprayer head to kill all microorganisms at a log 5 level — 99.999 percent efficacy — in six seconds or less.

Chris Deets, marketing director for Activeion Cleaning Solutions LLC, explains it this way: "We have effectively amped up the ionizing process to enable the ionized water to kill microorganisms by breaking down the cell wall in less than six seconds. Based upon a tested and proven process that has been used in the medical and food processing industries for many years, this is the first time it''s been applied to the cleaning industry. It''s not a miracle cleaner, the process doesn''t work on heavy grease, grossly soiled surfaces and isn''t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on food preparation surfaces in restaurants."

Financially speaking, an activated water sprayer that replaces hundreds of bottles of pricey chemicals may pay for itself over time.

Dry Steam Cleaning

A growing number of companies are offering low-moisture steam vapor systems for cleaning.

One reputable company, whose units have a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishment number as disinfecting devices, uses a process that produces steam vapor with hospital-quality disinfectant properties.

The system uses a combination of heat and low-pressure, low-moisture vapor for rapid results, and is especially effective on hard and intricate or porous surfaces that are difficult and time consuming to clean and disinfect.

Rick Hoverson, president of Advanced Vapor Technologies LLC, is frank about the fact that he doesn''t know how it all works, but he does know that independent lab and on-site testing and performance prove that the Thermo Accelerated Nano Crystal Sanitation (TANCS®) process gives rapid results and is effective in killing a broad spectrum of microorganisms.

As Hoverson puts it, "Not all steam is created equal. This is truly a green disinfectant process that uses no chemicals of any kind."

Spray And Vacuum Systems

Recent tests by independent laboratories have found that spraying surfaces with plain tap water, followed by vacuum removal of the solution, removes 99.9 percent or more of all microorganisms and soils present when used as directed.

Tom Morrison, Kaivac Inc.''s vice president of marketing, explained that the critical elements of effective cleaning and sanitizing with spray and vacuum systems combine the use of water pressure, vacuum removal and a squeegee.

Morrison went on to explain that by using plain tap water only as opposed to adding chemicals to the spray stream, workers are able to reduce the time it takes to clean a restroom by as much as 40 percent or more.

From a realistic standpoint, Morrison cautions that the process is not suitable for all locations: "If you have serious antimicrobial outbreaks, grease or extremely heavy soil and years of buildup, a disinfectant, detergent or degreaser will be more effective and speed up the process. If surfaces are in bad shape or extremely sensitive to moisture, this type of system shouldn''t be used. For restrooms that are in good shape, you won''t find a faster or better process than spray and vacuum cleaning, and now it can be a totally green, chemical-free process."

Chemical-free Scrubbing And Stripping

One of the latest developments in green floor care is the introduction of floor finish scrubbing and stripping systems that do not require the use of a detergent or stripper to remove finish from floors.

A leading company in this technology claims the process is six times more efficient than conventional pad scrubbers and can get better results more quickly with less pad wear and pressure.

As the technology matures and is further supported by science, the environmental movement will continue to have a major impact on how and what we use to clean commercial facilities in the years ahead.

Green chemicals and cleaning will continue to evolve and grow in popularity as more people become aware of the benefits of new and evolving technologies.


Wm R. Griffin is the president of Cleaning Consultant Services Inc. For more information, please visit www.cleaningconsultants.com.