A Look at Chemical-Free Cleaning
According to recent research conducted by Underwriters Laboratories, 65 percent of those questioned do not believe cleaning products have improved much in the past five years when it comes to product safety. Further, 73 percent of consumers contacted do not believe household chemical manufacturers have taken adequate steps to ensure that “environmentally friendly” manufacturing procedures are followed.
This has come as a surprise for those companies that produce green cleaning products for the professional cleaning industry. Making matters worse, some of the largest chemical manufacturers in the industry were singled out as having “failing grades” when it comes to product safety.
But perhaps the idea that consumers do not trust the safety of chemicals should not come as a surprise. Some observers in the professional cleaning industry have noticed a small but apparently growing trend that seems to support these findings. More and more of our clients are trying to find ways to perform hygienic, effective cleaning without using any chemicals whatsoever. This trend has even been given a nickname: “extreme cleaning.” This name most likely came from a recently published book on the subject entitled Extreme Green Cleaning, which was written by Vince Elliot, a consultant in the professional cleaning industry.
In his book, Elliot argues that when it comes to chemicals, the cleaning industry has been evolving. We have gone from the conventional cleaning chemicals that have been used for decades to new green cleaning chemicals that have become popular in the past five to ten years. However, the next step in this evolution is what Elliot calls chemical-free cleaning. This could be the ultimate in green cleaning.
Elliot also believes that using no chemicals may actually keep surfaces cleaner. This is because chemicals have a tendency to leave a film or residue on surfaces that can act as a magnet for soils, causing resoiling–a common problem after cleaning carpets.
Cleaning without Chemicals
Does chemical-free cleaning mean that cleaning workers should continue to perform their regular cleaning tasks in the same manner but without chemicals? Far from it–no advocate would suggest this. And while chemical manufacturers in the industry are paying attention to the evolution of chemical-free cleaning, they are not gritting their teeth in fear for the future of their businesses. Most manufacturers say they strongly believe that chemicals—whether green or conventional—will always play a crucial role in cleaning activities.
However, using certain types of tools and equipment without chemicals has proved to be surprisingly effective. There are three systems that Elliot references that are often associated with chemical-free cleaning:
Vapor or steam cleaning systems. These are professional systems that can heat water to nearly 250ºF, far hotter than machines sold to consumers. These machines essentially melt away soils and contaminants using only water; water and soils may then need to be wiped away to complete the cleaning task. While this equipment is relatively inexpensive, vapor or steam cleaners can be slow. As a result, these systems are often used for specific types of chemical-free cleaning, such as cleaning gym equipment or small tile and grout areas.
Activated or electrolyzed water systems. Although these systems are not exactly the same, the way in which they work is similar. An electrical current turns water into a cleaner and/or disinfectant. No chemicals are involved. Some users have had considerable success performing different cleaning tasks with these systems. There is, however, an ongoing controversy within the professional cleaning industry concerning how effective these systems are when used with automatic scrubbers to clean floors. It appears that as long as the floor is only moderately soiled, they can be effective.
Spray-and-vac or no-touch cleaning systems. Traditionally, chemicals have been used with these systems; however, in the past two years, a number of tests have indicated that these systems can hygienically clean many surfaces without the use of chemicals, acting as indoor pressure washers. These machines release just enough pressure to protect floor, wall, and ceiling surfaces yet still loosen and remove soils, which are then vacuumed up. The vacuuming process is actually key to these systems’ effectiveness, since the process essentially removes all soils and moisture from the surface. Testing by the independent National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program found that certain no-touch cleaning systems can remove up to 99.9 percent of targeted bacteria from surfaces using only plain water.
The Future of Chemical-Free Cleaning
Cleaning without chemicals is the ultimate in green cleaning, and it also promotes sustainability. Just think of all the packaging materials, fuel for transport, and waste that can be eliminated when no chemicals are used to clean.
So will chemical-free cleaning play an even bigger role in the professional cleaning industry in years to come? The answer is an increasingly stronger yes. This does, however, come with one caveat. The professional cleaning chemical industry is also correct in believing that chemicals will always play a part in cleaning. The more appropriate question is how big a role chemical-free cleaning will play in the industry—a question that is being addressed more thoroughly with every passing day.
Matt Morrison has been involved with the professional cleaning industry for more than a decade. He is now communications manager for Kaivac, developers of the No-Touch Cleaning system and the OmniFlex Crossover Cleaning system.
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