Maximizing Chemicals In Cramped Janitorial ClosetsBy Ronnie Garrett
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Janitor closets range in size from a small phone booth to a space that's big enough to house autoscrubbers and ride-on equipment. But the latter scenario tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
"All too often storage space is kind of an afterthought from a design standpoint," says Bill McGarvey, director of training and sustainability for Philip Rosenau Co., Inc., a jan/san distributor in Warminster, Pa.
Yet, these closets must hold everything from janitorial carts and equipment to cleaning chemicals, which makes the footprint of each of these items an important consideration.
On the chemical side, wall-mounted proportioners are great when space is available. A single system dispenses most of the chemicals janitors need at the correct dilution every time. However, when space is at a premium, storing the concentrated chemicals these systems require, let alone fitting a closet with a wall-mounted dispensing system, may not be feasible. Fortunately, the jan/san industry offers solutions that maximize chemicals in a minimal amount of space.
Portion Control Packets
Like wall-mounted dispensing systems, portion control packets take the guesswork out of mixing chemicals. Packets provide pre-measured chemicals to which janitors add a specified amount of water. The equation is simple: One packet to one spray bottle or one mop bucket.
Bob Hurd, regional manager for GMI Integrated Facility Solutions, San Diego, further simplifies chemical selection by putting job cards that are both number- and color-coded on every cleaning cart. Icons on the card help janitors select the correct chemical packet for the task at hand.
Utilizing portion packs rather than dilution centers helps GMI keep a close eye on chemical use. The company opens cases of portion packs, which typically contain 100 packets, at a central storage location and distributes the correct number of packets to clean a facility for one month.
"We literally only have exactly what is needed on site, so there's no overstocking, which keeps costs down," he says. "When you buy a case of concentrate, you need a place to store it, and it might be 15 months before you run out. In the meantime, your money is sitting on a shelf."
When GMI janitors arrive for their shifts, they receive the packets needed to carry out their duties for that day. With dilution systems, janitors may return to the unit as many times as they want to refill their mop buckets, meaning more product than necessary may be used.
"With portion packets, if they are supposed to mop X-number of times a day, they only have the packets for that day," says Hurd, which enables GMI to accurately track chemical use and chemical costs.
This system also ensures janitors use the correct products for specific tasks.
"Over my career, I've seen janitors put glass cleaner or whatever else they wanted to in their mop buckets," says Hurd. "With packets they have exactly what they need, and they either use it or they don't."
Because the packets are small, Hurd says potential exists for employees to stick them in their pockets and take them home. GMI requires cleaners to collect their empties and turn them in at the end of their shifts, providing the company with a count that shows products are actually being used.
Ready-to-dispense (RTD) units provide another option that can free up space in overflowing janitorial closets. They can be used anywhere there is a water source — not just janitor closets. Chemical bottles are equipped with a dial on the handle. Janitors simply turn the dial to the correct dilution ratio to mix the product they need.
"The advantage is that we don't need a dilution system," says Marc Collings, vice president of marketing for Varsity Contractors, Pocatello, Idaho. "Janitors simply pull out the bottle, take it to a water source and mix the product. They are our main standard for smaller buildings where closet space is a problem."
Besides minimizing the space needed for chemical dilution, Collings adds, RTDs also enable them to reduce expenses.
"It minimizes cost because we don't have to purchase a dilution system," he says. "It reduces set-up for new accounts because we do not have to mount a system to a wall."
Because portable dispensing systems contain the dispensing mechanism inside, these units can be carried throughout a facility and to multiple job sites. Users simply hook the unit to a water source and fill spray bottles, mop buckets and autoscrubbers onsite.
Products are also available to convert standard chemical containers into ready-to-dispense units. Janitors hook these devices to concentrate drums or larger bottles and a water source. The chemical is pulled out of the container and into smaller bottles, buckets or machines while being diluted with water to set ratios.
The portability of ready-to-dispense products also have the benefit of not having to drill into a client's walls to affix dispensing units.
"Many building managers do not want us drilling holes in walls to mount units," McGarvey says. "RTD units can go with janitors, dispense chemicals accurately, and keep janitors out of harm's way."
Upfront costs may be slightly higher for these products, but McGarvey notes they are within pennies on the gallon. In the long run, portable solutions may actually better control dilution than concentrate systems, serving to lower chemical costs. BSCs need to look at their actual yield from a bottle of concentrate, he says.
"The 'glug-glug' method is far too prevalent out there and that's where it gets expensive and dangerous," McGarvey adds. "It puts people at risk. And, if we mix chemicals too strong, we can damage surfaces. Who is going to pay for that?"
However, while proper dilution is relatively easy with RTD units, McGarvey notes janitors still must be trained to properly use and maintain them. The device's metering tip may become clogged with hard water deposits, causing weaker chemical dilutions.
"Janitors should be able to diagnose and fix this problem to ensure the systems continue mixing accurately," he says.
When a facility has optimal closet space, BSCs may decide to use wall-mounted units. If that's the case, McGarvey says they should ask themselves the following questions: How much wall space is there within the closet? How close is the closet to a water source? What else will be stored in the closet? Is the dispenser going to be in the way of the shelves holding other tools? And finally, how many chemicals does the job actually require? It may be overkill to install a four-chemical dispensing unit in a facility where only one or two chemicals are needed.
Whatever dispensing solution a BSC ultimately selects the goal should be to choose a product that best limits janitors' chemical exposure.
"While chemicals are safer than what they were 20 to 30 years ago, it doesn't mean it's good to soak your hands in them eight hours a day," says McGarvey. "You need a dispensing system that mixes products accurately to minimize exposure from improperly mixed products."
Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.