Whether they are reducing labor costs, or restructuring their cleaning program to include green products, most housekeeping departments are constantly looking for ways to add value to their organizations. One way to do so is to re-evaluate existing cleaning methods and incorporate new innovations and trends.

Floor care is traditionally scrutinized for its labor-intensive tasks and harsh chemicals, but industry experts insist that this is no longer an issue. If anything, the added features and benefits of floor care chemicals make cleaning quicker and less strenuous on cleaning personnel.

21st century breakthroughs
Ultra high solids finishing formulations are popular for reducing labor hours, perform better than earlier generations and no longer require special equipment. These finishes can also remain clear and fresh-looking much longer.

Ultra high concentration strippers are more flexible today. Like ultra high solids finishing, these strippers can reduce labor time by removing more coats. They can also be used at a greater range of dilutions for less intensive stripping projects and jobs with low odor requirements.

Enzyme and bio-based cleaners that vanquish grease have revolutionized the cleaning of unglazed ceramic tile floors often used in commercial kitchens. The tile’s non-slip quality is created by pores that capture slippery grease and dirt, a feature that makes it challenging to keep clean. In the past, cleaning was accomplished by etching a new surface with an acid several times a year, to restore its nonslip properties. But today’s bio-formulations keep floors clean and safe year ‘round.

Special polymers have been upgraded to brighten floors as they clean, so old and new tiles blend together better, improving aesthetics and reducing or eliminating the need to replace the entire floor.

Zinc-free formulations perform better than in the past, enabling municipalities with zinc restrictions to meet code without sacrificing quality in tasks where zinc has traditionally been a key performance ingredient.

It’s also exciting to think about what product innovations might be on the horizon. For example, will an all-in-one chemical soon be available? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Vice President of Ann Arbor Cleaning Supply Co., Ann Arbor, Mich., David Smith explains: “Certain soils respond to alkalinity, some to acid, and there are degrees of both. They neutralize one another, and could be toxic together, depending on the raw materials.”

President of Boca Raton, Fla.-based All Service & Supplies Victor Winik says there may be a trend toward some multipurpose chemicals; in general, he still sees specific items being used for specific jobs. Winik does mention that today’s peroxide and enzyme products can be used for a wide variety of jobs from bowl cleaning and drain opening to repelling mold and mildew on floors.

Which comes first, chemicals or equipment?
Many chemical/equipment considerations are basic. For instance, with an ultra scrubber cleaner, you’d use a low foam chemical so the recovery tank doesn’t fill with foam the consistency of shaving cream. And you’d use a different formulation with a ultra-high-speed burnisher versus a 175-rpm swing machine with spray buffing. But on another level, there are times when a facility may want the cleaning goal, not the chemicals, to dictate product selection.

Is it your goal to reduce your reliance on chemicals? Power washing systems reduce the need for both chemicals, and elbow grease. If improving worker safety is a goal, ergonomic tools that also reduce worker exposure to chemicals may be the primary focus. If reducing time spent ordering products and training employees are priorities, prepackaged systems that include both equipment and chemicals may be helpful. If improving indoor air quality is a priority, microfiber, which traps more dust in the cloth than traditional fibers, may become the pivotal component for your cleaning system.

Current and future trends
Demand for appropriate cleaning solutions for specialty floors, such as rubber and linoleum, is growing. Demand for green floor and carpet care chemicals also continues to grow. Smith says awareness is building, and more clients are asking about what’s available. “It’s come to the forefront because of the government mandate for federal buildings,” he says. “As of Jan. 1, 2007, every federal building, post office, court building, Veteran’s Hospital, etc. has to use green certified products.”

Smith’s also witnessed a significant increase in microfiber and bucketless mop systems, which will impact sales of floor care chemicals.

Experts agree that the green movement and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria has made the whole cleaning industry re-evaluate how to accomplish cleaning tasks. Chemical selection is only one part of a whole jigsaw puzzle of relevant pieces that, when they interlock, can have significant impact not only on health and environment, but on the bottom line.

“Change is good,” says Smith. “It forces people to think about new processes. Science is their friend – it’s what they need with slashed budgets.”

At the same time, demand for some floor care products is slowing as more chemicals are capable of producing longer-lasting results. Since tasks such as scrubbing and stripping are performed less often, items like pads are ordered less frequently. Likewise, microfiber mops can diminish the need for electrostatic agents or scrubbing compounds.

So what’s on the horizon? What can end-users expect to see in the future that they might add to their cleaning arsenal? Emerging trends include:

• The addition of gloss, color and textures to finishes.

• Green chemistry will continue to improve. Manufacturers will continue to invest, probably more heavily, in new green cleaning formulations and technology.

• There will be a greater variety of green-certified chemical formulations to meet a variety of applications.

• Demand for green chemicals will increase as quality continues to improve and the fear of compromised quality is dispelled.

• State and municipal governments will begin to follow the federal government’s lead in mandating green chemicals for their facilities.

• There will be more equipment/chemical systems available, and more partnerships between equipment and chemical manufacturers and large cleaning groups.

• Labor is the predominant cost in cleaning. The drive for productivity-based chemical solutions will remain strong. Products will focus more and more on value for the end-user, not just on features and benefits.

The trifecta of price, quality, reliability
With so much focus on housekeeping budgets, facility manager’s concerns for quality and reliability are often overlooked. Sure, managers are faced with the challenge of meeting cleaning objectives while maintaining a strict budget, but they are equally concerned with product quality and vendor reliability.

As end-users carefully watch the cost of oil climb, they also share manufacturer’s concerns regarding the rising cost of shipping. “Manufacturers see more and more fuel surcharges on every delivery — and are getting higher minimum orders, and tighter credit terms,” states Winik. “I would think raw material costs are probably up 25 to 40 percent depending on the item: plastic bottles, cartons, paper products…” Adding to the fiscal pressure, many traditional cleaning formulations are oil based, or based on a derivative of oil, which again, means rising prices for end-users.

Quality is another matter that housekeeping managers are more aware of these days. “They’re beginning to really get concerned now,” says Winik. “A lot of what we’re hearing today is that people are seeing a difference in end-use product by virtue that raw materials are manufactured in different parts of the world, and we don’t have the ability to get first call like we used to.

“End-users want everything to be consistent,” he continues, “but it’s hard to get, because manufacturing is now done overseas, repackaged, and you don’t know everything you buy.”

You have to check every drum of raw material, Winik advises.

“We opened a drum of alcohol one day that was supposed to be the color of water, and it was green. From a very reliable supplier! They’ll pick it up and try to figure out what happened…”

Winik and others conclude that although price is critical when considering floor care chemicals, service and quality are equally important.

Lauren Summerstone is a business writer based in Madison, Wis.