Chemical Packets Control More Than Just Portion
Anything that simplifies the cleaning process is a welcome addition in most janitors’ closets. Portion control products promise trouble-free cleaning by eliminating chemical waste and improving worker efficiency.
“Everyone is looking for ways to minimize their expenses and maximize their return,” says Dick Friedman, president of The RTF Group Inc. in Lake Bluff, Ill. “To do that, they have to do things in a different fashion.”
Pre-measured chemical concentrate has been around for decades and its popularity remains high, particularly among building service contractors. The rip-and-go option provides cleaners with a different, more convenient way of doing their jobs.
As with any product category, however, convenience comes at a price. While the per-piece pricing is low, pre-measured packets or cartridges are more expensive ounce for ounce than traditional bulk chemicals.
“Price is just one part of it,” Friedman says. “For a parallel, look at condiment packets in the food industry. When you understand how they are used and stored, the functionality makes the product significantly less expensive.”
The upfront pricing of portion control packets is a drawback that many BSCs believe is offset by the products’ advantages.
The biggest benefit of pre-measured chemicals is the control they afford users and managers. The packets take the guesswork out of mixing and using chemicals, which is particularly important with janitors who mistakenly believe that four ounces are twice as effective as two.
“The main benefit is you are not wasting chemicals,” says John Ferguson, vice president of JanPak Inc., in Fort Worth, Texas. ”You are getting the correct amount of product vs. the glug-glug method that many people use. The chemicals are designed to work with a certain amount of water that makes them work at the best level.”
When St. Louis-based ABBCO Service Corp. switched some of its clients from dilution centers to portion packs, the contractor was able to lower its chemical costs. The new method allows managers to dole out to janitors the exact amount of chemical needed for the day.
By pinpointing its precise chemical requirements for each building, ABBCO can devise an equation for packet usage. For example, the number of restrooms in a plant multiplied by the number of times bucket water should be changed per shift equals how many packets of disinfectant the janitor receives.
“We can exactly control the amount of chemicals in our buildings,” says John Pieske, CEO of ABBCO. “With a dilution center, it’s unlimited how many times they can go back and fill up. Now managers can even ask for empty packets.”
BSCs spend more on labor than any other line item. Portion control can create some labor savings by making janitors more effective. Using chemicals incorrectly results in a janitor doubling his efforts, either by fixing surfaces damaged by strong chemicals or re-cleaning areas unaffected by weak chemicals. Pre-measured packets ensure proper dilution.
In large buildings with few janitors’ closets, such as industrial plants, packets can also save labor dollars by reducing the amount of time a janitor spends traveling for supplies. Most portion packs can be mixed anywhere water is available, allowing janitors to replenish their chemicals in restrooms, breakrooms or even at water fountains.
“Labor is always our largest expense and anything we can do to cut down on that, especially in today’s environment, makes us more competitive,” Pieske says.
Shipping and storage are also big considerations. Cleaning products are mostly water with a small amount of chemical. Pre-measured packets don’t include the water (it is added on-site), which dramatically reduces the products’ weight and the shipping costs.
For example, 1.7 pounds of portion control cartridges makes six gallons of product; the same amount of pre-mixed chemical weighs nearly 5 pounds. Cutting the weight by more than half translates into savings on transportation costs, which is important in today’s environment of fluctuating gas prices.
“Freight and shipping have gotten to be such significant expenses,” Friedman says. “To get product from the factory to the distributor and from the distributor to an end user comes at a price. Anything you can do to reduce that makes a huge difference.”
There is no question that significantly less space is needed to store highly concentrated chemical packets than is required to house dozens of 5-gallon bottles or a 55-gallon drum. A handful of small packets allow a janitor to use the same bottle or bucket repeatedly.
In general, a case of portion control packets includes 100 pieces, with each packet making filling one spray bottle or one mop bucket.
Nearly every cleaning task that requires chemicals can now be done with pre-measured packets. There are pre-measured packets of disinfectant, degreaser, general purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, bowl cleaner, neutral cleaner, odor counteractant and even some floor finishes. The product inside the packet has the same chemistry as traditional chemicals; only the distribution method is different.
Distribution of the product is made much easier for janitors, thanks to portion control methods. The labor-savings aspect is a big positive for BSCs, and another perk of using portion control products is that simplifying the chemical mixing process means training is also made less complicated.
The chemicals typically come in translucent packets, which allow the janitor to easily see the color-coded product inside. The user can quickly identify a blue glass cleaner, green general-purpose chemical, purple restroom product, or red degreaser. Similarly color-coded quart bottles are also available to make the process even easier (the blue chemical goes in the blue bottle, etc.).
Also, most products include bilingual instructions as well as simple images that illustrate how to mix and use the product, including what personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear while doing it.
“If it’s designed for a mop bucket, there’s a picture of a mop bucket and the packet and gloves and safety glasses,” Pieske says. “Even if the user were illiterate, they would know what the product was for.”
This see-it/do-it approach drastically reduces training needs. Users need only learn how to fill the containing system (trigger sprayer, mop bucket, scrubber) with water and how to open and pour the packet safely. As long as users wear the correct PPE, there is no risk for contact with the chemicals. The packets also reduce the risk of spills because there is no pouring of chemical from a jug into a bottle.
Not always the answer
Even with so many benefits, portion control packets are not for all BSCs. Given the higher per-ounce price, pre-measured chemicals are not ideal in all situations.
Portion control packets are typically not the best solution for large accounts. Buildings with adequate janitor’s closets may be better served by dilution control centers, which can be used to safely mix chemicals for a lower per-ounce price than packets.
Small BSCs have to monitor the shelf life of concentrated products that they may not go through very quickly. Buying in bulk amounts is not a good idea for those contractors since the chemical will be sitting in janitor closets for too long. Pre-portioned chemicals ensure that product is used up in an adequate time frame. However, for medium to large companies, shelf life is not an issue. Those BSCs go through enough product that it is more cost-efficient to purchase large containers of concentrated cleaning chemicals than it is to buy pre-portioned packets.
Product theft is also a consideration. Small packets are easier than bottles or large jugs to steal, so open closets should house only small quantities at any given time.
Finally, janitor’s closets that tend to have moisture problems may need to avoid the dissolvable packets of pre-measured chemicals. These products can be dropped directly into a bucket or bottle without exposing the janitor to concentrate. Unfortunately, this chemistry means they are also very susceptible to moisture; if a case of packets gets wet, it creates a clean-up nightmare and wastes a lot of chemical.
“It’s a matter of selecting which system best fits your type of account, your type of workers and your type of supervision,” Friedman says. “There are so many choices for chemicals and it’s incumbent upon the BSC to look at all the types that are out there. Your distributor can help by giving demonstrations.”
Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in Des Moines. She is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.
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