Trends Report: Cleaning Chemicals
Europeans in same race to reduce chemical misuse
Recent European trends in cleaning chemicals have focused more on how employees use them, than on the chemicals themselves.
It is common knowledge that the incorrect use of cleaning chemicals not only leads to poor results, but can also be dangerous to the health of cleaning workers (known in Europe as “operatives”). Unfortunately, it is all too common, in European countries, that contract cleaning companies ignore the risks associated with chemical misuse. And the fact that the industry as a whole suffers from high staff turnover, similar to the problems U.S. contractors face, means training often simply is not a priority. This means cleaners all too often resort to using the good old “glug-glug” method of mixing that seems to be universal among the world’s cleaning workers.
European chemical manufacturers and suppliers have been addressing this issue over the past few years and a number of new and innovative ways of mixing and dispensing solutions has been the result. The use of dilution control systems helps to reduce both costs and risks to worker safety, and if cleaning companies choose the best system for their applications, the savings can be substantial.
In addition to this benefit of reducing chemical cost, there is the advantage of being able to control the costs of a cleaning procedure and to avoid the expense of unnecessary remedial operations. But the chemicals must be diluted accurately. Therefore contractors in Europe currently are installing what is called “dosing equipment” on a widespread scale to help stave off employee chemical misuse. The term “dosing equipment” can refer to many different systems. As with any purchase, it is vital the contractor chooses the one that best meets the needs of particular sites. But with the number of different options now available on the market, there really is something to suit everyone from the smallest to the largest building service companies.
Here is a brief description of the systems now widely used in Europe:
Dosing bottles – This is an easy way to dispense accurately, especially for daily cleaning and poorly-educated staff. Bottles also are flexible because they are not limited to a particular place/room, so workers can carry them throughout a work site. Although the nature of the bottle limits dilution to only one product when cleaners may use many.
Small dispensing system (combination of bottle and hose) – Again, this is easy to use but the discovered disadvantage is that workers need a water source nearby, and, again, only one product can be diluted.
Fixed dosing systems – These are wall-mounted and more flexible because, in most cases, several products can be diluted for different applications (spray bottles, bucket filling, etc). Because the dosing station is fixed, however, workers have to return to the room each time they need a refill.
Dosing systems for drums – This is a centrally located, fixed system for use only in very large areas. They can produce a vast amount of cleaning solution, but these systems occupy a great deal of space, are very expensive and require the cleaning staff to be well trained in their use.
Pre-measured packs and caps – These are very easy to use, but contractors in Europe have reported that they can be an expensive investment in the long-term.
The right fit
When deciding on which kind of system to install, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. Contractors should look at their sites in terms of both size and layout. In a situation where there are many different buildings spread over an area, for example, a portable system might be better for a more streamlined workflow pattern.
The actual cleaning equipment used also may affect the type of system that can be installed. And, of course, Europeans must consider local water regulations. Many countries now require air-gap backflow prevention to keep chemicals from entering the water supply should there be a reverse in pressure. So some water sources may not be best suited for permanent use with dispensing systems.
More acceptance of concentrates
Across Europe, the trend toward an increased use of dilution and dispensing systems has gone hand in hand with the growth in chemical concentrates – products with a lower percentage of water and a higher percentage of active ingredients compared to traditional solutions. The user simply dilutes them before use. These undoubtedly offer numerous advantages as opposed to conventional formulations, both for the manufacturer and the contractor.
For the producer, the growth in concentrate use means:
- Lower production costs
- Lower storage costs
- Lower transport costs
- Lower packaging costs
- Lower environmental costs resulting from some of the above
- Fewer financial transactions
Advantages to the contractor include:
- Lower cost
- Lower risk of stock depletion
- Less storage space
- Provision of chemicals near to point of use
- Less packaging to dispose of, with environmental and cost benefits
All the benefits listed above, however, only hold true if concentrated chemicals are used correctly, and this is where the problem lies when purpose-designed equipment is not used. Because so many cleaning workers have a tendency toward the “more is better” philosophy with cleaning agents, overdosing can be widespread, rendering the industry’s most recent solutions useless.
Without adequate supervision, cleaners are being left to their own devices with poor or no training – a situation which is negative not only for the contractor, the cleaning workers and the customer who foots the bill, but also for the reputation of the industry itself.
These drawbacks are why it is so important to use chemical concentrates in conjunction with dispensing systems in a manner that involves regular training or frequent quality checks. This ensures workers will use concentrates safely and efficiently, and removes the responsibility for calculating dilution percentages from the cleaner.
Additional chemical trends
In analyzing the European market’s cleaning chemical sector, contractors also must look at how the role of manufacturers is changing. The cleaning contractor, is demanding more, in terms of after-sales service and advice. It no longer simply is a matter of selling product volume; a manufacturer has to do more to earn his money. As with their colleagues in the U.S., contractors are demanding free training and added guidance when they have specific cleaning problems. Basically, European contractors want hand-holding and suppliers are complying as they realize this is the new cost of doing business.
Also, of course, manufacturers and contractors continue to be locked in the age-old battle of putting price before quality – still an unfortunately major issue across Europe. Cleaning companies always are watching the bottom line, which makes it unattractive for them to invest in higher-priced quality products. What many contractors fail to realize is that the only criteria a product should be judged on is the end result. If a product is purchased for a “high cost” per concentrated litre but it cleans what is necessary, the higher cost is balanced in productivity — at least that is what manufacturers continue to argue.
Ultimately, European cleaning chemical suppliers are offering their customers more efficient, safer and “foolproof” ways to use their products. But in a marketplace often ruled by price, those customers sometimes take a great deal of convincing before they will make the investment in the latest systems.
This is an exclusive report written for Contracting Profits by Michelle Marshall, editor for European Cleaning Journal. The Journal is a publication that covers the cleaning industries across the European Union.
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