Mixing chemicals with water to attain manufacturers’ recommended dilutions is one of the most important jobs in housekeeping. Too little chemical doesn’t clean and wastes chemical and labor spend.

The more frequent scenario — too much chemical to water — can injure workers and tenants, damage property, and waste product and labor hours. It can wreak havoc on a housekeeper’s or building service contractor’s facility budget by not achieving the number of applications anticipated during bidding, and, even more costly, going over budget on labor hours as cleaners using overconcentrated product work harder and longer to remove residue, streaks and increased buildups caused by premature soiling.

Portioning systems are an excellent tool for mixing safe, effective compounds that can prevent such scenarios — but only when used according to plan.

For instance, a properly portioned pale-blue window cleaner may look ineffective to a cleaner, because she expects it to be a brilliant blue. So she figures out a way to add more concentrate, or otherwise doctor it up, thinking she’s saving time when in reality she’s creating streaks, and exposing herself to unnecessary health risks.

“‘More’ creates more work somewhere down the line,” says Bill McGarvey, training manager for Philip Rosenau Co., Inc., Warminster, Pa. “For instance, too much disinfectant is a waste, it doesn’t help in the disinfecting process, and it violates the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) — which I believe violates federal law. Another example is trying to use floor stripper straight. Water helps rinse the emulsified floor finish that the stripper broke down and without water, it’s a sticky, gooey mess that you have to work a lot harder to remove.”

Getting janitorial staff to buy into the concept of proper portioning is a constant challenge, says Jim Traudt, vice president of sales for Right Choice Janitorial Supply, Milwaukee. But if distributors can convince end users on the idea, it can make a huge impact.

“If you mix stripper improperly, you can permanently bleach floors, and the stripper will not emulsify the finish,” Traudt says. “Floor cleaner improperly mixed can leave residue and create slip-fall problems...Too much prespray on carpeting will leave traffic patterns...A high-pH degreaser that’s too strong could permanently etch aluminum...An overabundance of concentrate can create major foaming problems in recycled carpet systems that put water back into the same tank...”

The list of problems that can be created by improper portioning is infinite. Distributors need to train their end user customers on proper dilution to eliminate potential hassles and hazards.

Training Tactics

Distributors offer training and refreshers on portioning systems at the client’s facility, their own facility, or both, showing end users and supervisors how to properly use their systems. Tactics involve coupling interaction with pertinent information, such as personal protective equipment, MSDS, surface types and chemical differences.

The biggest hurdle is getting around the misconception that more color or stronger odor means ‘more effective,’ says Traudt.

“They will complain before even seeing it in action,” he says. “It’s imperative that they understand, ‘This is the shade we want it, if it changes, see your manager.’ The color may mean it’s stronger, or weaker, or be the result of inconsistent dyes from the manufacturer. This brings buy-in. They have a little bit of control. They have a trigger that tells them they have a legitimate concern to go to the manager about. Usually we’ll show the concentrated color, which is very vibrant, and then the dilution, will be lighter, and then they understand.”

Kevin Harris, president of Basalt, Colo.-based Aspen Maintenance Supply Inc., says his company reinforces that end users go by the label — even if they can’t read it.

“That is why color coding is critical,” he says. “You have to make sure it’s a color-coordinated system with excellent secondary labeling.”

Posters with easy to understand graphics can reiterate proper product and surface pairings, says McGarvey. He’s also a fan of matching the actual color of the mixed product to the label color.

“Most manufacturers do this,” McGarvey says. “We try to stress they should not mix chemicals to try to come up with a super duper cleaner. At best they’ll make the situation harder to clean up, and at worst, create an unsafe situation like combining bleach and ammonia, that can kill people. We try to stress that if a product is not doing the job they think it should, to let us know — we have many chemicals in our warehouse and we can find the one that will work.”

It’s important for demonstrations to be hands-on.

“We show each chemical as it’s being put into the dispenser, where it should go, and what it’s use is for so there is no discrepancy,” says Harris. “Normally the diluter is very simple — push a button to fill a bottle. They understand that part well. The confusion comes in when they have to dial bath cleaner, kitchen, all-purpose, mop... because they can’t read, and most labeling doesn’t have pictures. Lots of executive housekeepers take digital photos and mount them now. Visual is the way to go.”

Harris even acts out the after effects of ingestion during a video they show in both Spanish and English on workplace hazards.

“We liven it up: fall down, act it out and they get the point,” he says. “They may laugh, but they get it. To me it’s a good sign if they’re laughing it means they’re paying attention.”

After the demonstration, allow time for questions and answers.

Not A Slam-dunk, But Close

The consensus is that while portioning systems aren’t foolproof, they are definitely a huge help in ensuring that chemicals are measured accurately.

“I get asked a lot in training, ‘How many quarts are in a gallon’, or ‘How many ounces in a quart or gallon?’” says McGarvey. “You can see peoples’ eyes glaze over. If we can push a button, it takes the guess work out, and you have a better product.”

When chemicals are mixed improperly, it’s a waste of labor and can cause damage, or worse, injuries. Proper dilution is critical for success.

“It’s estimated that 97 percent of cleaning cost is labor, so when cleaning concentrates are mixed, it should be done properly,” says Traudt. “Our whole business is about trouble shooting — to help our customers solve their customers’ problems.”

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

Teaching Tips

When instructing end users how to properly dilute chemicals, distributors should:

•If going to their site, schedule the visit for just before a shift begins, for no longer than one hour.

•Have an interpreter, if appropriate.

•Review proper portions for different tasks.

•Review the surfaces that each product is meant to clean.

•Review appropriate personal protective equipment.

•Read the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and explain why they are important.

•Explain the Right to Know law, and show where the MSDS sheets are stored. They come in different languages, but English versions are always mandatory.

•Review the chemical specifications.

•Review first aid.

•Explain the differences between a concentrated chemical and a diluted, ready-to-use chemical.

•Show what the chemical looks like concentrated, and when it’s properly mixed. Explain that they should notify management if that properly mixed color strays which empowers them to take matters into their own hands if the product isn’t effective — in a positive way.

•Review the tools they have at their disposal, such as color coding and images that can help match product to task.

•Ask them to show you how they properly fill a container.

•Have question and answer time.

•Have them sign off on their training. This reduces liability should they choose not to wear protective gear during their duties after training.

•Leave handouts, signage or posters as refreshers.