Until recently, Janelle Bruland, president and CEO of Management Services Northwest in Ferndale, Wash., was completely satisfied with the cleaning chemicals she had in stock.

“I was really stuck on them,” she recalls. “I was very happy with the products and the pricing.”

What happened? She tried something new. Today, less than a year later, those same cleaners have been phased out of her inventory, for good.

“We decided to sample an oxygen cleaner at one of our sites,” says Bruland. “We were very pleased with how well it worked, and it was actually less expensive than what I was using, so we began to switch all our products over.”

Count Bruland among the growing number of building service contractors who are choosing oxygen cleaners over harsh chemicals as part of a switch to greener cleaning. They talk with the enthusiasm of converts when it comes to oxygen cleaners.

“I couldn’t believe the cleaning results that I was able to see,” Bruland says. “We got the same results as from the stronger chemical we’d been using.”

Fewer products needed
Bruland has been in the cleaning industry for more than a decade, and oxygen cleaners have been around for at least twice as long. But their paths didn’t cross until now, in part because the new products are more dependable and yield more consistent results than they once did. In the past, the hydrogen peroxide in oxygen cleaners often broke into its basic elements of water and oxygen either too quickly or not completely enough — and both situations prevented effective cleaning.

Now, after some improvements, oxygen cleaners are much more “stable.” The hydrogen peroxide — think of it as water (H2O) with an added oxygen molecule (creating H2O2) that boosts its ability to oxidize dirt — stays suspended and releases oxygen molecules only upon contact with organic soils. Contractors are pleased with the results.

“It’s a product that does just about everything,” says Ken Sargent, support services administrator and training director for Porter Industries, Inc., in Loveland, Colo. “It just works.”

Sargent’s company began testing oxygen cleaners in early 2004, and by the end of the year was transitioning to hydrogen peroxide-based products.

However, it was not, he notes, a one-for-one exchange that involved replacing one product with an oxygen cleaner product. Rather, the multi-purpose nature of an oxygen cleaner allows it to take the place of several more specialized cleaners. The same hydrogen peroxide-based product can be used in routine cleaning of both countertops and carpeting in an office building, as well as to remove protein-based stains from a variety of surfaces. The only adjustment needed is an increase or decrease in the level of dilution.

For Porter Industries, which cleans an eclectic mix of high-tech, bio-tech and medical buildings, the company was able to replace a variety of bleach and non-bleach cleaners with a single, multi-purpose oxygen cleaner.

Fewer products on the shelf translates into fewer training issues, says Sargent.

Another reason oxygen cleaners are more popular now has to do with the fact that the product was not effective as a degreaser. In recent years, though, manufacturers have combined hydrogen peroxide with surfactants, solvents or, much more commonly, citrus oil made from orange peels, which has greatly enhanced an oxygen cleaner’s ability to cut through grease. Those combinations made it a much more attractive and practical cleaner to use.

In addition, studies now support the disinfectant capabilities of oxygen cleaners; the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has already certified some of these cleaners as virucides, is expected to provide more certifications soon.

“We’re within a year or two of that being done,” Sargent predicts, adding that the EPA has already issued bacterial kill times for the product he uses.

Safety benefits outweigh limitations
One drawback to oxygen cleaners is that they won’t work as well as traditional cleaners in certain environments — a greasy shop floor, for example. Brian Carson, division manager for RestoreTech, a specialty cleaning company based in St. Cloud, Minn., says his company found them less than ideal, too, for deep cleaning.

“We demoed an oxygen cleaner a couple of years ago and the report came back that it just didn’t do as deep a cleaning in traffic lanes,” he says. “It seemed to us like more of a maintenance cleaner.”

Nevertheless, many contractors cite the multiple safety benefits of oxygen cleaners as a reason to use them rather than more traditional cleaners. Depending on the cleaning agents they’re combined with, BSCs note, oxygen cleaners emit little or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). And the H2O2, itself, dissolves into oxygen and water and thus presents no environmental threat. When diluted, the products are gentler, too, which means that spills likely won’t harm substrates or workers’ skin.

Mary Erpenbach is a freelance writer based in Rockford, Ill. She is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.