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Beyond Sustainable Cleaning

By now, just about everyone has heard of “green” cleaning and knows that environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals can help reduce cleaning’s impact on the environment. But there’s more to it than that. Green cleaning is evolving, and some manufacturers are now introducing products that clean satisfactorily with no chemicals whatsoever.

Chemical-free cleaning has a number of benefits. First, it essentially eliminates cleaning’s impact on the environment. Second, chemicals can release fumes into the air and negatively impact indoor air quality. Chemical-free cleaning prevents this. Third, it is possible surfaces will stay cleaner, longer. This is because chemicals can leave a residue on surfaces that can act as a magnet, attracting more soils and contaminants. There are also financial benefits by eliminating or minimizing the cost of purchasing chemicals as well as the costs associated with removing chemical applications. (Typically, this occurs when the chemical has not been properly rinsed off the surface or too much chemical was used in the cleaning process.)

Three types of chemical-free cleaning systems that are making a big mark on the professional cleaning industry are the following:

  • Activated and electrolyzed water systems. Although these systems are different from each other, they do have many similarities in how they work. Essentially, a small electrical charge passes through tap water producing two ionized solutions—one with negative and one with positive charges. The negatively charged stream acts as an all-purpose cleaner; the positively charged stream acts as a sanitizer.
  • Commercial-grade vapor systems. These systems heat water to approximately 250 degrees producing a steam vapor that essentially melts away soils. Although using these systems can be slow, they are especially effective at cleaning hard-to-reach tile and grout areas.
  • Spray-and-vac cleaning systems. Also known as no-touch cleaning systems, these machines use pressurized water to loosen and remove soils from surfaces. Traditionally these systems are used with chemicals. However, an independent National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP) accredited laboratory tested these machines without using chemicals and found they removed 99.9 percent of targeted surface bacteria.

Pros, Cons, and Controversy

When sustainable cleaning first emerged on the scene a decade or more ago, it caused quite a stir in the industry. Many experts concluded it was a fad, was ineffective, and would play only a minor role in professional cleaning. Little did they know that 10 years later, some now call green cleaning the “norm” in the industry.

While the jury is still out about no-chemical cleaning, some pros, cons, and controversy have emerged regarding it as well. Most chemical manufacturers believe chemicals will always play a significant role in keeping surfaces clean and sanitary no matter how prominent chemical-free cleaning becomes. In fact, they believe there will be many situations when using chemicals is the only way to keep certain surfaces clean and sanitary. (In some settings, such as healthcare facilities, laws and regulations require that certain types of chemicals, such as disinfectants, must be used in cleaning.)

Some chemical-free cleaning systems have also received mixed reviews. For instance, many of the activated or electrolyzed systems have proved to be heavy to work with and have short battery life, slowing down the cleaning process. Floor machines using this technology appear to work best primarily on mildly soiled floors. And some users question if they are really sanitizing surfaces when using activated water systems.

The vapor system, while considered effective, can be a slower method of cleaning. At a time when enhancing worker productivity is crucial, this can be a problem. However, I know of few if any complaints regarding the spray-and-vac systems, most likely because these machines have already proved their cleaning effectiveness. The only change is that we now know they can be used effectively without chemicals.

The Chemical-Free Cleaning Future

While there may be some doubters and controversy about chemical-free cleaning, the fact remains that it is a growing segment in the professional cleaning industry. While it may not become the “norm” in the industry, it will likely follow a similar evolution to green cleaning chemicals and systems. And just as green cleaning products improved over the years, new chemical-free cleaning technologies and systems will likely be developed, making chemical-free cleaning all the more familiar, effective, and accepted.

Matt Morrison is communications manager for Kaivac, Inc.

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2 thoughts on “Beyond Sustainable Cleaning

  1. What about natural cleaning agents / organic detergents, such as soap nuts? Have they been considered for green cleaning?

  2. If you’re opposed to the use of chemicals to remove offensive odors because of allergies or intolerance, there is a more natural method. Air-Renu a paint additive is a proprietary blend of naturally occurring polymeric matrix materials that are inorganic, natural, non-toxic and environmentally safe. These matrix materials are ground into a fine powder and mixed with paint then applied to the interior walls of your home or business. Air-ReNu produces a continuous flow of healthful negative ions and IFR’s, detoxifying the air while removing offensive odors.

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