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Case Studies & White Papers

Case studies & white papers for the cleaning professional

Chemical Free Cleaning In Schools

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For the last two years, in response to our clients question “what’s next in the cleaning industry?” we began investigating and championing Chemical-Free Cleaning.  We truly believe that Chemical-Free Cleaning is revolutionary and will fundamentally change how our homes, schools, and businesses are cleaned.  That is why the owner of Elliott Affiliates, Vince Elliott, founded the Chemical Free Cleaning Network.

Chemical-Free Cleaning is not a single activity or product but a systematic dovetailing set of broad processes and products.  They connect to provide a solution to man-made chemical pollution and the presence of artificial substances by eliminating harmful toxic chemicals in the air and on surfaces in our buildings. The very nature of these Chemical-Free Cleaning technologies and strategies create the need for an information clearing house for the wide variety of practitioners and manufacturers around the world engaged in making our buildings and our ecosystem cleaner, healthier, and better places to live. Until now, there has been no one place where you could reach out to find what you need to know or how to implement the innovative sustainable, chemical free cleaning technologies.

We are working to bring these Chemical-Free technologies and strategies under one connected organization to benefit building proprietors, janitorial service managers, homeowners, and our ecosystem as a whole.   The Chemical Free Cleaning Network is dedicated to finding and sharing any and all information it can assemble regarding these technological developments to anyone motivated to implement a chemical free strategy in any building's cleaning processes.  

And that’s where Ruben Rives and H2Only Renewable Cleaning at Somerset Charter School in Eureka come in.  The first time I saw Ruben, he stood up at an ISSA session sponsored by Activeion and spoke about “his” schools in Miami.  His enthusiasm and passion for what he was doing was obvious, and he spoke with authority about cleaning the school completely without chemicals.  He was so proud of the positive effects on the kids and staff, I was compelled to introduce myself and tell him I wanted to learn more about his story.

Over the last several months, we have made several visits to Somerset Charter School in Eureka.  I was the last to visit, a month ago in January.  Although I had heard glowing reports from my inspector, Vince, and others, I was still a bit skeptical of what I would find.  Most of the facilities I visit claim to do a lot of things, from following established procedures to embracing green cleaning – you name it.  I have often been disappointed, so it’s hard to impress me.  I like to think I have a healthy skepticism when it comes to the claims of janitorial companies.

As I walked into the open-air lobby of the school, the first thing I noticed was how clean it looked.  No leaves or cobwebs in corners, behind planters, up high around lights or corners (and the ceiling was VERY high).  A good sign, but not the whole story.  As we walked into the inner central courtyard, three custodians were in sight, and all had Activeion Ionators in one hand, cleaning cloths in the other – and nothing else.  

For the rest of that day, and the second day I spent there, I continued to observe the operation, ask questions, inspect, and do ATP ratings.  I was almost dumbfounded to discover that Ruben’s claims about his Chemical-Free Cleaning systems and processes were true.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have had true “ah-ha!” moments in my job, moments that opened my eyes to a new reality or realm of possibilities – and my visit to Somerset Academy Eureka was one of them.

That does not mean that everything was perfect — it wasn’t, and there were a few minor things I was able to see and make recommendations on for improvement.  But Ruben doesn’t claim it’s perfect — he claims his system is as good, or better, than typical cleaning systems that use traditional or green chemicals.  And our audit of the school proved that beyond any doubt for me.

Our inspection system looks at the results of the cleaning process – did it work?  Are the items in the room clean, like-new, with no cleaning defects like dust, spots, streaks, residue, etc., present?  It’s called an attribute-based inspection system, and it is unique in our industry.  The end result of our system gives an overall cleaning “score”.  That score is only the beginning, because to improve, management needs to know which cleaning process isn’t working, and what they can do to prevent cleaning problems from occurring.  This is the information and insight we provide, as well as a structured way of managing improvement methods.    

In this case, the overall score of Somerset Charter School was an 83.7% in September 2011.  In our system, a score of 0% means none of the items inspected were clean, and a score of 100% means all of the items we inspected were clean.  Our target expectations for most schools are 70-75%, which you can reach if you’re working hard - it’s a high-average score.  To get a score above a 75%, you need to be really efficient and working smart.  Above an 80, especially in an elementary school, is very, very good.

Student bathrooms were some of the cleanest I have seen, at 84.3% overall, with no streaks on walls, windows, partitions – places where chemical residue from the cleaning process is usually easy to find.  Chemicals are absorbed through the skin.  So any residue that’s left behind has the potential to be absorbed when you touch it, and in the case of younger children, ingested when they touch the residue and then put their hands in their mouth.  When I walked into a restroom, the cleaner was cleaning with MondoVap, a low-moisture steam vapor cleaning system that disinfects without chemicals.  No rags or mops to spread germs, no chemicals to leave residue, and no odors.  Again, I have heard companies say they have MondoVaps, which are in my opinion one of the best tools around – but often they’re sitting in closets not being used because management doesn’t have a mechanism in place to ensure they’re used.

Classrooms scored a 90.3%.  Remember that this school is an open-air model – all classrooms open onto an exterior corridor, which looks out over a large open courtyard.  So every time the door opens, outside dust and debris can enter.  And yet the score for these crucial spaces was extremely high.  What was even more impressive to note was the level of cleanliness of corners and edges of the floor.  Picture an elementary classroom – all of the desks, chairs, tables, equipment, carts – all of which need to be cleaned around.  The only way to clean effectively is to use a backpack vacuum (Ruben uses ProTeam).  If you do, you can tell – the floor is clean, even around furniture and in corners and edges.  The cleaner the floor, the clearer the air.

We conducted ATP tests of many touchpoint surfaces in all rooms inspected, such as door handles, desks, chairs, banisters and railings, light switches, etc.  ATP, Adenosine Triphosphate, has become one industry standard way of measuring the surface bioload (or potential food source) for bacteria.  For the device we use, acceptable levels are as follows:
• 0 to 30 – food-preparation acceptable levels
• 31 to 80 – General surface acceptable levels
• 80 and above – needs work

Our inspections occur during the day, when the building is occupied.  Even so the overall ATP levels were 117.  Compare that score to a major airport we inspected in the same time period, an airport cleaned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and typically scores in the 80s for our inspection.  Their last ATP rating overall was a 243, which is trending down.

When we met with the principal, Suzette Ruiz, she had all good things to say about Ruben and his team.  She was very happy with the cleaning, really didn’t hesitate when Ruben asked her over four years ago to try Chemical-Free Cleaning.  “He had done the research, knew what he was talking about – as long as it wasn’t worse, why not?”  That level of trust and confidence is not easy to find, and I was stunned into silence for a while.  This “new” idea to most of us is part of a way of life for them – and it’s working. When I asked about attendance, she responded that their attendance is definitely better, and test scores are up – part of which she attributed to eliminating chemicals from the environment.  

I also asked how many of her students required asthma medications in the school.  She said she thought it might be about two, now, but when she checked, it turned out none of the students needed to have asthma medications.  0 out of 800.  Asthma is not my field of expertise, but that number sounded astounding to me.  

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I was impressed, inspired, and motivated to get this story out.  If it’s possible to do it without chemicals – why aren’t we?  I believe it’s because people don’t know it’s possible, and aren’t aware of the negative repercussions of not doing it.  That’s what we’re trying to showcase at the NSU Chemical-Free Expo, and we are so proud to have Ruben as our showcase speaker.