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CLEANING OPERATIONS: Cleaners & Disinfectants

Chemicals: Shopping for Cleaners and Disinfectants

By Thomas G. Dolan
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In years past, there were relatively few cleaners and disinfectants on the market for custodial managers to choose from. A housekeeping staff would get used to a few old standbys and simply follow an established cleaning routine, but cleaning procedures were as limited as product options — dilution control consisted only of the “glug” method. Although not all the products and practices have changed, technology has made room for vast improvements.

TRecently, there has been a proliferation of new cleaners and disinfectants hitting the marketplace, each claiming to be better, more efficient, or more cost effective than those before them. And many times these claims are true.

Because of recent improvements, it is important for cleaning managers to keep up with the trends by experimenting with newer products that might help employees do their job more effectively.

Dilution and Contact Times
Whether cleaning managers are examining existing cleaning processes or considering implementing new cleaners and disinfectants, it is important to test a variety of products before purchasing.

“It is very important that custodial workers understand solution rates and dilution control, especially if there is a big difference between the current product and the one they propose to use,” says Richard J. Smith, president of Ann Arbor Cleaning Supply Co. in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Keep in mind that a half ounce [of chemical] per gallon [of water] is designed for daily cleaning. Two ounces per gallon is for higher active cleaning, such as in hospitals, but can allow you to clean in normal situations every other day.”

It is important for the custodial crew to follow directions for each product being tested. But, Smith adds, “it’s sometimes difficult to see if the product is doing what it says it does in terms of killing germs.”

He explains that cleaners sometimes have a problem with contact times, which is the duration of time that a chemical or disinfectant has contact with the surface it is cleaning, before it is wiped down.

Most disinfectants today require a 10 minute contact time. This has been determined by manufacturers and is based off of statistics from their lab where scientists combine unwanted microbes and sterile nutrients. The combination is then immersed with the proper disinfectant solution for 10 minutes.

“If there is any growth after 10 minutes, the product has pretty much failed,” Smith says.

The significance of this, he explains, is that it is reasonable to assume that it takes 10 minutes for the product to work. In other words, just spraying from an aerosol can is not going to kill all the germs.

Convenience and Storage
Andrew Brahms, owner/president of Armchem International Corp. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. recommends that cleaning managers think in terms of convenience when purchasing a cleaner or disinfectant.

“Is the product a concentrate or ready-to-use?” Brahms asks. A ready-to-use product might be more convenient. On the other hand, a concentrate might be more cost effective and made convenient through a dilution control system, which is easy for the employee to use and minimizes error.

Whether the cleaner or disinfectant comes in a cartridge, wall mounted unit, aerosol can or liquid formulation, it brings different considerations as to how to achieve the easiest application for the least cost.

Another factor is storage space, Brahms says. If the right dilution control system is purchased, departments might get more concentrated chemicals in a smaller storage space.

Some managers have found that using dilution control for cleaners and disinfectants and identifying the most effective multi-purpose formulation can also save valuable budget dollars.

“Managers can buy the chemicals in bulk — at a better price point,” Brahms says.

Experts comment that there are huge benefits to dilution control systems, but cleaning managers claim that the staff sometimes has a hard time with them. The end result is everything comes out looking and smelling the same.

This is why training is so important if implementing cleaners and disinfectant dilution control systems.

Employee Training
According to Smith, many departments make purchases based off budgets, but he argues that additional considerations should be factored in.

David Kawut, chief executive officer of Supply Ring, Inc. in Neptune, N.J., agrees that price should not be the determining factor when choosing a cleaner or disinfectant.

“Most of the chemicals out there are good products,” he says. “But when we speak to housekeeping executives we find that 80 percent of the problems are labor-related. So you want to make sure the product is used correctly and helps cut down labor costs. The key to making sure this happens is through training.”

Kawut’s first suggestion is “demand a trial of the new product, not simply a demonstration. Make sure it is supported through the product literature and in-service training. Establish the parameters of a trial and have specific employees test the product.”

He continues, “The introduction of a new chemical or disinfectant generally fails for one of two reasons. Either the employees have not been properly instructed, or their questions and issues have not been properly addressed.”

For example, a new product may be used incorrectly, or employees assume it should be used the same way as the old product was.

If possible, managers should request a test run with new products. Generally a 30-day trial period is sufficient.

It is also important to make sure the distributor has a structured training program and is prepared to roll out the product for the trial.

“When I demonstrate a new product, there’s no charge for the 30-day trial,” Kawut says. “If my trial fails, there is no charge. Every facility has different operating budgets and different policies and procedures so the distributor should be willing and able to customize his program.”

Managers should also request that training is offered in multiple languages to bridge that gap. Labels and directions should also be bilingual.

“You want to keep the training simple. If you rely on technical or written materials, you’re kidding yourself,” says Brahms. “You have to use pictures or videos and concentrate on ‘show-and-tell’. There are so many choices in chemicals as well as dilution equipment, and you want to be able to choose the most effective, easy to use, easy to train, and safe one.”

Change With Time
Experts agree there’s a constant stream of new products being introduced to the marketplace and the distributor can help departments adapt to the changes.

“Certainly most of the growth is in the green, certified, and environmentally friendly products,” says Kawut. “The technology is constantly changing and improving, making the cleaners and disinfectants more effective and budget friendly.”

Other ways to keep current, he adds, are through trade journals, industry seminars, and information shared with your peers.

The constant stream of new products implies a constant program of training. “Training never stops,” Kawut says. “When I speak to savvy housekeeping directors, I find that they provide ongoing training programs for their employees.”

Not only is ongoing training beneficial to new recruits, it refreshes seasoned veterans. It also helps reduce safety concerns, which is always top-of-mind when working with cleaners and disinfectants.

Thomas G. Dolan is a freelance writer based in Anacortes, Wash.

posted on: 9/1/2007






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