Time is money, and nowhere is that more painfully obvious to building service contractors than when examining employee timesheets. With labor being the biggest percentage of a BSC’s budget, and in a business marketplace that is slowly recovering from recession, increasing efficiencies is one of the best ways to save money and remain competitive.

Customer budget cuts, which have affected a vast majority of BSCs over the past few years, have resulted in changes in specifications, reductions in frequencies and routine and interim maintenance, and unmitigated cuts. As more contractors struggle to stay out of the red, they are searching for ways to save on labor costs.

“I think one of the reasons cleaning is being cut back is that people are trying to save money, so I think that as you take a look at the cleaning that’s getting done, it would be hoped that by being more efficient, you’re able to get more done in a short amount of time,” says Keith Schneringer, marketing manager for Waxie Sanitary Supply, San Diego.

Defining one-pass cleaning

One-pass cleaning — the multiplying of tasks so that janitors need only move through an area once to clean it — is not a brand new practice, but manufacturers have begun to pay more attention to ways in which they can assist BSCs with the time-saving concept.

From a quick pass through office cubicles to dust, vacuum and empty waste and recycling receptacles, to floor machines that run the gamut from sweeping and vacuuming to heavy-duty cleaning, one-pass procedures are useful for night shift work, but are more fitting for day cleaning programs.

There are different categories in which to define one-pass cleaning. Some systems are designed like a janitor cart, with a vacuum in the low center of a dolly, and surrounded by tools, tool holders, receptacles and compartments for supplies; others are similarly designed but are for use in the restroom and hook up to a water source so that the machine can spray a cleaning solution on fixtures, walls and floors, and rinse them. More heavy-duty machinery is made for sweeping and cleaning hard floors as well as vacuuming, agitation and extraction for carpets.

The one-pass system simply helps janitors get the job done quickly, with as little intrusion as possible. And with equipment that is made to have lower decibel noise, it can be appropriate, with the right machines, to vacuum while occupants are working. Day cleaning shifts can also be scheduled when occupants are on break and not in their cubicle or office. During this time, janitors can vacuum dust and empty trash in one pass and leave before the tenant needs to go back to work.

One-pass day cleaning in office buildings provides a basic cleaning system, says Randy Burke, president of Daylight Cleaning Systems, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Typically, if a basic clean — including trash emptying, floor sweeping and spot cleaning — happens four days a week, then once a week will be a thorough clean, and those are done usually on the weekend, when the building isn’t occupied.

Energy, cost savings for customers

Daytime cleaning requires janitors to work around building occupants, which is one drawback typically cited by BSCs and customers alike. Introducing one-pass cleaning, which allows janitors to quickly get in and out of an area with minimal disruption to tenants, reduces the potential for actual disruption as well as perception of disruption.

“If the custodian is seen multiple times, it might be perceived as being disruptive even though it might not necessarily be,” says Schneringer. “When you’re talking about day cleaning, you’re talking about managing perceptions.”

Most contractors would love to be able to offer one-pass day cleaning, but they aren’t doing it on a large scale yet, other than for the big accounts that require day porters, says Rick Granfield, director of janitorial sales for Dade Paper in Miami. Even day porters aren’t doing as much cleaning as evening workers might, he adds.

“Ninety percent of the cleaning still gets done in the nighttime,” Granfield says.

That’s OK, says Burke. The role of a day porter or day cleaners is primarily that of public relations, he says, and that is its single greatest advantage.

“What we’re finding with day cleaning is that when the cleaner goes by and does the single pass, what makes it especially effective is, often, the tenant is there so if there are any issues or questions or requests it kind of gets handled on the spot and you don’t have this large circle of what I would call complaints/requests,” Burke says.

However, demand for day cleaning is growing due to increased interest and awareness of energy-saving practices in green facilities. Energy efficiency is top-of-mind for building owners and switching to day cleaning can help save significant amounts of money. That, mixed with the need for many customers to save on energy bills, makes now a good time for BSCs to learn about one-pass cleaning and discuss it with customers.

“Looking at day cleaning is a fun conversation to have because now you’re connecting that cleaning to the idea that’s in the front of their mind all the time,” says Schneringer. “So if you’re able to connect the cleaning to a way of saving energy in the building, I think customers can get excited about it.”

While one-pass units tend to be more expensive, they are also combining tasks that otherwise would be done separately. Certain markets, particularly office and education for the vacuum trolleys, or facilities with a lot of floor space for the floor machines, are probably best for this type of cleaning. BSCs can benefit from significant cost savings by cutting down on cleaning times in those types of buildings.

Training employees on use of one-pass systems is easier than training them on a number of different machines and cleaning procedures, saving BSCs additional labor costs.

Concerns over cost, customer interest and noise are the biggest obstructions to BSC use of one-pass cleaning during daytime hours. But as interest in cost-saving efficiencies continues to grow, BSCs can expect to become more familiar with the idea and the wisdom of one-pass cleaning.