A morning cup of espresso illustrates the power of steam. An espresso machine takes heated, pressurized water and releases it in a controlled way through coffee grounds to get that thick Italian drink.

The use of steam vapor for cleaning works much the same way. The process uses low moisture — about 4 to 6 percent water — pressurized to around 60 psi and heated to 240 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Instead of making coffee, the combination effectively clean surfaces and kills viruses, bacteria and fungi.

And while steam vapor cleaning is not as popular as caffeine, its use by building service contractors has increased, especially among those with an eye on green cleaning.

“If a person wants a nontoxic, environmentally friendly way to both clean and disinfect at the same time, I don’t think there’s a better technology [than steam],” says Benjamin Tanner, a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology, and the president, CEO and co-owner of Antimicrobial Test Laboratories in Round Rock, Texas.

To be effective, however, steam vapor cleaning requires the right equipment and training, along with knowledge about the types of surfaces and environments where this method shines.

“First thing to know is not all machines are created equal,” says Tanner.

The effectiveness varies, so he recommends finding a manufacturer that has tested the equipment in a laboratory and can recommend a configuration.

“You want to find a company that has a lab report that describes how it did its testing,” says Tanner. “And if you can mimic the way it did its testing and treat a surface in that manner, then you’re golden, because that will ensure you’ll get the same disinfection.”

Experts agree a stainless steel boiler is best. Also, there’s a cool-down period before a single-tank design can be refilled, so a two-tank system reduces down time. Hoses should be well-insulated and removable for easy repair or replacement. And BSCs should look for user-friendly controls to improve speed and safety. They should also consider ease of maintenance, since a boiler builds up a coating of minerals on the metal parts, which lowers efficiency.

J. Darrel Hicks, author of “Infection Prevention for Dummies,” recommends buying from a company that offers one-on-one training, or videos to generate interest and show staff steam cleaning is easy and saves time.

“Once they get it and see it does work, I think you’ll find employees will find other uses for it that you hadn’t even thought of — and that’s a good thing,” says Hicks.

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Use Steam For Specialty Cleaning, Tricky Surfaces