As a leading advocate for safer and healthier cleaning chemicals for more than 25 years, the next direction I am advocating in certain cleaning situations might come as a bit of a surprise: from the use of healthier cleaning chemicals to using no cleaning chemicals at all.
The professional cleaning industry has changed dramatically in the past two decades when it comes to green cleaning. From early reluctance to the concept, we could say that today the use of environmentally preferable cleaning tools, chemicals, and products is “modus operandi” for the industry and is the preferred cleaning approach of facility managers throughout North America and many other parts of the world.
One of the things we have learned as this transformation has ensued is that there are times when effective cleaning—effective in the sense that surfaces not only look clean but meet acceptable standards as far as being free of contaminants and pathogens that can cause disease—can be achieved with no chemicals whatsoever. If a surface can be cleaned without the use of any chemicals – green or otherwise – this is a very significant development and one that can have a big impact on the users of cleaning products, the environment, as well as sustainability. After all, the typical American office building uses about 1,600 pounds of cleaning chemicals every year. However, the much bigger picture is that an estimated six billion pounds of chemicals are used in facilities for cleaning annually in the United States.
Before venturing further, we need to clarify exactly what chemical-free cleaning entails. It does not mean simply cleaning surfaces with water and eliminating chemicals. Instead, I am referring to examples of chemical-free cleaning technologies already being used to clean thousands of facilities such as the following:
- Steam vapor systems have proven effective at cleaning walls, floors, restroom fixtures, and other surfaces; with some systems, the heat produced, approximately 248 degrees F, is hot enough to kill many forms of bacteria and germs, to emulsify grease and oil, as well as eliminate other surface contaminants.
- Some spray-and-vac cleaning systems, as they are referred to by ISSA,* use pressurized water to loosen and remove soils. These systems can be used with chemicals; however, in many situations, they have proven effective without the use of chemicals.
- Activated and electrolyzed water systems are different and used for different purposes, but two of the things they share in common is that they use electricity to turn water into a cleaning agent without the need for cleaning chemicals.
We should also note that there are other benefits of chemical-free cleaning, other than just the fact that it requires no chemicals. As referenced earlier, it also makes cleaning much more sustainable. Many conventional cleaning products are made with non-renewable petroleum by-products. Further, cleaning chemicals must be packaged using considerable amounts of paper and plastic and shipped all over the world, contributing to greenhouse gasses. This is all eliminated with chemical-free cleaning.