Web Exclusive - July 2015
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Green Your Cleaning

By Stephen P. Ashkin

A cleaning contractor that has been in business for more than 30 years was responsible for cleaning office locations for the City of Santa Rosa. Unfortunately, he frequently received complaints from the facility manager who felt that the restrooms were just not as clean as he would like them to be. There was never anything specific mentioned; the manager just believed they could be cleaner and healthier for users.

The contractor strongly believed his staff was cleaning the restrooms thoroughly and properly. However, with the non-specific complaints continuing, he tried something to see if it would alleviate the problem. He instructed all of his staff to start using a pine-scented cleaner to clean the restrooms.

Now, as soon as you walked in the restrooms, the pine scent was quite noticeable, and the more noticeable it was, the fewer the complaints. Apparently, this facility manager was from the "old school," which taught that not only should restrooms look clean—they should smell clean as well.

With the adoption of green cleaning practices in public facilities, including park and recreational facilities, one of the first things to go was the use of cleaning products that left a scent. We now know that as pleasant and clean as those scents may be to some, for many others they cause allergies, respiratory problems, and in a worst-case scenario, even an asthma attack.

This manager would likely be unhappy to find out something else about the cleaning chemicals used today. Not only are more and more of them green and scent-free, many cleaning "chemicals" are not chemicals at all. We are entering an era in professional cleaning where the key ingredient in many cleaning solutions is pure water, plain and simple. What we are referring to is "engineered water."

Defining Engineered Water

While the name seems to imply the water was somehow made in a factory somewhere, engineered water is water right out of the tap. However, the water has been activated, oxonated, electrolyzed or treated in some specific ways that turn it into an effective cleaning solution. Water is naturally a solvent, and these added engineered steps help to make it even more effective as a cleaning agent.

Before we go into some of the specifics and some examples, we must add a disclaimer. While some engineered water systems have proven very effective at eliminating germs and bacteria, they should not be used in place of a disinfectant. A disinfectant is designed to kill virtually all germs and bacteria on a surface. We cannot make that claim about engineered water, even though it has proven to be surprisingly effective in many studies. (Every disinfectant will list the bacteria and pathogens it is designed to kill. It is very important when selecting a disinfectant, to make sure the types of pathogens that may be present in your facility are listed on the product label.)

Some examples of engineered water cleaning systems now available include the following:

  • Vaporized cleaning: These are professional-grade vaporizing machines that heat water to around 250 degrees (F). They create a vapor that is hot enough to essentially melt away many soils and kill many pathogens on surfaces such as floors, counters, ledges, restroom fixtures, etc.
  • Spray-and-vac/no-touch cleaning: Introduced nearly 20 years ago, these machines were originally designed to be used with chemicals. However, this is an example of a system that has proven surprisingly effective with just tap water. The machine pressure-rinses counters, floors, fixtures, etc. The process has been referred to as "blasting away contaminants" because the machine loosens and removes soils from surfaces, so they can be washed down floor drains or vacuumed up by the machine.
  • Floor scrubbers: Different manufacturers are now introducing floor scrubbers that clean floors without the use of chemicals. These convert water to electrolyzed water, which helps the machine break down soils and contaminants quickly, which are then vacuumed up by the machine. While they may not work on extremely greasy floors, such as those in a commercial kitchen, under most floor cleaning situations, they have proven very effective,
  • Electronic handheld sprayers: We would be remiss if we did not discuss one of the failed attempts at engineered water, but why it failed had little or nothing to do with the effectiveness of the equipment. A few years back, a handheld sprayer that created engineered water for cleaning fixtures and surfaces was introduced. While effective, the sprayers were heavy and expensive, among other issues. What this tells us is that not every attempt into using engineered water will succeed, but the technology is real and effective. Just like developing "long-life" batteries and other technologies, we may need to wait a bit longer till systems are introduced that are easier and lighter to use and less costly.

The 'Whys' of Engineered Water

It is clear that the most significant benefit of using engineered water is that it is the greenest of green cleaning. When no chemicals are used at all, there is essentially no impact on the environment. However, there are other benefits—some of the reasons why we should all take advantage of this technology include the following:

  • Cost savings; there are no cleaning chemicals to purchase.
  • No chemical residue left on surfaces; chemical residue left on a surface can attract soil to the surface, increasing the cleaning needs of a facility.
  • No fumes, no mixing of chemicals and no impact on indoor air quality.
  • Greater safety; a large percentage of the injuries that happen when cleaning are due to accidents and exposure to chemicals.
  • Enhanced sustainability. Chemicals must be packaged and delivered. When no chemicals are used, there is nothing to package and nothing to deliver.

A Future in Park and Rec Facilities?

Can you expect to see engineered water cleaning systems used in park and rec facilities now or in the near future? For many centers, it is already true. The floor scrubbers mentioned earlier have become surprisingly popular. Additionally, the spray-and-vac systems are now manufactured by several different manufacturers and sold around the world.

So to answer the question, yes, these systems are getting noticed and gaining more and more supporters. And with the technology still evolving and with ongoing improvements, it is almost assured that water will become one of the key cleaning solutions in your facility in years to come.

Stephen P. Ashkin is founder of the Green Cleaning Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about green cleaning; and president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry. He is considered the "father of Green Cleaning" and is coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.