Take Control! End Chemical Mixing Mayhem
For most of the cleaning industry’s history, chemical dispensing and control was scattershot at best. Building service contractors had to deal with complex dilution ratios, big jugs of highly concentrated chemicals, and janitors mixing chemicals using guesswork, also known as the “glug-glug” method.
This was, and is, a problem for may reasons — too high a concentration and the chemical can damage a surface, cause health and safety issues, and waste money. If the janitor doesn’t use enough concentrate, it won’t be effective. In both cases, workers will likely need to re-do the task, generating lost productivity.
Since the 1980s, when the first chemical proportioners came on the market, BSCs have had a variety of choices for ensuring their cleaning chemicals were diluted, dispensed and used properly. These include closet- or wall-based proportioning systems; point of use proportioning systems; pre-moistened towels; and ready-to-use chemicals.
Which devices to use in your business is largely a matter of personal and business preference, says Dave Frank, president of KnowledgeWorx and founder of the American Institute of Cleaning Science in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
“Common sense and safety must prevail,” Frank says. “Control mechanisms as a whole have been one of the top five significant cleaning innovations in recent history. Control helps with quality, safety, cost-effectiveness, training and communication.”
Concentrates One common method for ensuring bulk concentrates are diluted properly are closet- or wall-based proportioning systems. These systems mount on a wall or table in a janitor’s closet or supply room, and are connected to a water supply. Users load concentrate into the machine (often in a bag or other container that ensures janitors don’t have to touch the concentrate), and the machine dispenses the concentrate, diluted with water, into a bottle or bucket.
“Concentrates are cheaper; you’re not buying water,” says Rick VanderKoy, president of Secure Clean Building Services Inc. in Marengo, Ill. “You can avoid problems with [closet-based] devices; the user doesn’t have the ability to override the dispense, so it’ll all be diluted properly.”
Another method of using concentrates is a point-of-use dilution system. These include bottles with built-in dilution mechanisms; pre-measured packets that are mixed with water in specially sized bottles or buckets; and liquid- or powder-filled packets that dissolve right into the water, wrapper and all. Some systems even include hoses that attach to standard sinks, so the janitor doesn’t need to return to the closet to refill a bottle.
“I see closet-based solution centers, as well as point-of-use mixing devices, being used well into the future,” Frank says. “Chemical control has been around since the 1980s; since then, most daily-use chemicals are dispensed through chemical systems. There aren’t a lot of people using the glug-glug method anymore.”
With most of these methods, concentrates are mixed with water and dispensed in a secondary container, such as a spray bottle, which must be properly labeled according to guidelines from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Labels must include product name, usage guidelines and safety concerns, as well as other information.
“Users are looking more at the [secondary] bottles,” Frank says. “They’re seeking silk-screened labels, that are both color- and number-coded. Many people in the cleaning industry can’t read, or can’t understand English, so you need a common, non-lingual communication device.”
Besides cost, another reason BSCs use concentrates is environmental. They want to cut down on packaging, and the fuel involved in shipping water; also, cleaners working in buildings that are involved with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program must use concentrates in order to earn points toward certification, adds Frank.
Ready-to-use Even though chemical concentrates are fast becoming the norm in most cleaning operations, ready-to-use (RTU) spray bottles and aerosol cans still are in common use, especially for specialty products which don’t need to be used in large quantities, and for odor-control applications.
For instance, Rich Short, owner of North Shore Office Maintenance in Deerfield, Ill., has a very small company, and he finds RTU chemicals fit his needs. What they cost in added price, they make up for in convenience.
“I’ve never really gotten into the concentrate — I think ready-to-use works out well,” says Short. “I think the chemicals and dilution get too complicated otherwise.”
Although he uses a wall-mounted proportioner for most chemicals, VanderKoy also uses ready-to-use bowl cleaners and acids in his small operation due to their simplicity and efficacy.
“We try to use stuff that works well, for one thing – we try to give people the tools to do the job,” he explains. “We started off doing the cleaning ourselves and we know how frustrating things can be if they don’t work.”
Another RTU method BSCs use to control their chemicals is pre-moistened towels. These paper or cloth towels are shipped with glass cleaner, furniture polish, disinfectant or other chemicals impregnated right into the towel. Users then wipe the towel directly on the surface, and dispose of the towel when they’re finished.
Most BSCs agree that pre-moistened towels are useful for specialty applications only, because they’re generally quite expensive compared to liquid chemicals, especially concentrates.
Even though Short uses disposable paper towels in medical facilities to avoid cross-contamination, he avoids disposables in general, because they become too expensive.
Regardless of the methods used to keep chemicals under control, training and hiring good people is vital to ensure the chemicals are used correctly and aren’t pilfered or wasted.
“The only thing we can really do is teach janitors how to use or apply chemicals properly, and hope you’re training as well as you can so they do use it properly when they’re on the job,” Short says.
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