Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Cleaning With Water

What has been a growing trend in the professional cleaning industry is the use of cleaning equipment that cleans without the use of cleaning solutions.

Water and agitation (friction) have always been recognized as one way to clean some surfaces. However, these new systems, take this a step further.

Whether referred to as “chemical-free” cleaning, “activated water,” or “engineered water,” the essence is the same: cleaning is performed without the use of any cleaning agents.

To help eliminate confusion, let’s refer to this type of cleaning as chemical-free cleaning. Examples include the following:

  • Activated and electrolyzed water. While these technologies do differ, primarily what happens is electricity is used to activate or electrolyze water. This turns the water into a cleaning solution.
  • Dry or vapor cleaning. This refers to commercial-grade steam vapor (dry vapor) machines. These machines can heat tap water to temperatures of 240°F to 310°F. The steam is applied to surfaces via a variety of insulated tools and accessories, thereby safely providing the energy needed to break soil bonds and release contaminants into water suspension, after which they can be removed by wiping or vacuuming.
  • Aqueous ozone. This system creates ozone through the interaction of electricity and oxygen. It is then infused into water and used for cleaning.

There are several reasons this type of cleaning has grown in popularity. For example, while the cost of cleaning is typically 90 percent labor with only about 10 percent associated with cleaning agents, chemical-free cleaning can still prove to be a cost savings.

The Benefits and Limits of Chemical-Free

Chemical-free cleaning is also considered a very safe way to clean surfaces. Safety is always a concern in cleaning and using cleaning agents. We must also add that this type of cleaning is viewed as very environmentally preferable.

Finally, in many situations, chemical-free cleaning has proven effective. Major manufacturers of floorcare equipment have introduced floor machines that use just water for cleaning, and these machines have been well received. However, there are issues that custodial workers and school administrators should be aware of when it comes to the use of chemical free cleaning systems. Very simply, they are not effective in all types of cleaning situations. Among these are the following:

  • Chemical-free cleaning has proven most effective when used to clean lightly soiled surfaces. When encountering more heavily soiled surfaces, cleaning agents are typically needed.
  • While some manufacturers of chemical-free cleaning equipment report they can disinfect surfaces, cleaning workers and campus and school administrators are advised to use sanitizers and disinfectants when called for. Schools are always in a “don’t take any chances” situation when it comes to cleaning.
  • Chemical-free cleaning will likely prove ineffective when deep cleaning, scrubbing, or stripping floors. Cleaning solutions engineered for this purpose are usually required.
  • Some custodial workers report chemical-free cleaning has not proven effective when it comes to removing grease and oil in food-service areas. Degreasers are explicitly made for this purpose and should be used.
  • While some custodial workers report positive experiences using aqueous ozone, many cleaning experts believe the jury is still out as to the long-term effectiveness of this cleaning method.

Do Your Due Diligence

As a cleaning chemical manufacturer, some readers might think my goal here is to point out the value of using cleaning solutions. Not so. My objective is to let school and campus administrators/cleaning professionals know that these systems are available, along with their pros and cons, and encourage due diligence.

What is most important is that administrators and managers select the most effective and cost-effective cleaning methods that protect the health of their facilities and all that use them. CPM Mike Watt is head of Training and New Product Development at Avmor, a leading North American manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions. He can be reached at mwatt@avmor.com.

About the Author

Mike Watt is head of Training and New Product Development at Avmor, a leading North American manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions. He can be reached at mwatt@avmor.com.