Oxygen, citrus and soy (OCS) cleaners have many in the industry “bidding adieu” to butyl-based cleaners. While many OCS cleaners were considered less effective and more expensive than their butyl-based counterparts, manufacturers have developed options that are often competitively priced and comparable in efficacy.

In many surface situations, OCS cleaners are equal or superior to traditional cleaners. In a number of states — including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — OCS cleaners are all but necessary for facilities that need to comply with environmentally preferable purchasing regulations.

Doting On Dilution
Oxygen and citrus cleaners work as well as traditional butyl-based cleaners for regular maintenance of glass surfaces, stainless surfaces and as a neutral floor cleaner, according to David Kawut, CEO of Supply King, Inc., Neptune, N.J.

However, Kawut acknowledges that there is a learning curve with OCS cleaners. “For example, using a citrus cleaner on glass requires that the correct concentration be used, or it can leave streaks on the glass, “ Kawut explains. “The jan/san distributor can easily remedy this situation by providing training to customers on the proper use of these products.”

Dan Ellis, president and owner of Juniper Paper and Supply Co., Bend, Ore., says OCS products can be used in any general cleaning application.

“OCS products, especially hydrogen peroxide-based products, have broad usages because of their dilutability,” Ellis explains. “You can use them for cleaning glass, floors, for general surface cleaning, and for degreasing. There really aren’t too many applications where you can’t use these products.”

Ellis says the only applications where OCS products might not work are surfaces that are sensitive to cleaners. These include upholstery, some carpets and polished stones.

Green Schools
Schools offer a great market for OCS products, according to Kawut. He points to New York State, which now requires all elementary and secondary schools to purchase environmentally sensitive cleaning and maintenance products. “State law defines these products as ones that minimize the adverse impacts on children’s health and the environment,” Kawut explains.

Many school districts outside New York have environmentally sensitive cleaning and maintenance requirements that make OCS cleaners particularly attractive given their lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and neutral pH.

Dale Lenhardt, vice president of Donson Supply Inc., Plymouth, Mich., believes the main factor driving the use of OCS cleaners is legislation. “If states adopt green cleaning requirements, manufacturers will make OCS products and distributors will sell more,” says Lenhardt. “It is more important for my customers to have a cost effective product that works than it is for them to have a green product.”

Schools are an excellent market for OCS products, both because of legislation that requires green products, and because many school districts want to use the most environmentally friendly cleaners possible, says David Blundy, president of Sunrise Supplies, East Peoria, Ill.

However, there are other considerations to take into account. Because his region has hard water, lime build-up is common in schools’ water fountains. Therefore, Sunrise Supplies has to offer an alternative product for cleaning drinking fountains.

“OCS cleaners are wonderful products, but I just haven’t found one that can remove lime deposits,” Blundy says.

Regional issues aside, schools typically need basic supplies: a glass cleaner, a general surface cleaner, a floor cleaner, and a bathroom cleaner. “OCS cleaners are perfect for these applications and they have the added benefit of satisfying the schools’ desire not to have their kids exposed to harmful chemicals,” says Kawut.

Balancing Act
Health care settings require the use of disinfectants for most applications. At this time, there are no disinfectants registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Therefore, if an application calls for a disinfectant, OCS cleaners should not be used, according to Kawut. Hospitals and nursing homes are the most common healthcare settings where cleaners with disinfecting properties are required.

However, not all surfaces in healthcare settings require disinfecting cleaners. Kawut recalls an instance when an infection control nurse at a hospital specifically wanted to use a citrus-oxygen cleaner but was concerned that she could not because it was not a disinfectant. Kawut said that his staff met with the nurse and reviewed all the cleaners the hospital was using.

“We were able to craft a solution using the citrus-oxygen cleaner for non-disinfecting applications and a single disinfectant where it was required,” Kawut says. “Ultimately, the hospital switched from using eight different disinfectants and cleaners to two and saved money in the process.”

Blundy also stresses the fact that nursing homes can use OCS cleaners if they tailor them to the right application. “In the nursing home setting, OCS cleaners can be used as neutral floor cleaners, while a disinfectant can be used for wiping down door knobs,” says Blundy. “The important thing is that you work with the customer to figure out the applications where OCS cleaners will work.”

Ellis agrees that OCS cleaners can be used effectively in conjunction with disinfectants. “You can use an OCS cleaner for surface preparation followed with an EPA-registered product for disinfecting,” he said.

Communicating Benefits
A big part of the challenge is convincing customers that a “different” product does not necessarily mean it's a “bad” product.

“Getting some customers to change cleaning supplies is like getting a mechanic to change his hand soap,” Kawut says. “Many customers will question the reason for switching from a butyl-based product when the butyl product fulfills its function. In this case, demonstrating the effectiveness of the product is key to convincing customers that OCS cleaners are good products.”

Lenhardt cautions distributors to make sure the product being sold is right for the customer’s application. He says Donson had a long-time repeat customer that returned two shipments of a product because it did not work like it previously did using the same cleaning methods.

“The product took much longer to dry, and left an oil film on the clean surface, which was totally unacceptable for their use,” Lenhardt explains.

Donson investigated the matter and found that the manufacturer altered the product’s formula to make it more environmentally friendly. “The experience helped me understand the need for janitorial and sanitation supply manufacturers to move very cautiously when switching over to new OCS products,” says Lenhardt. “Consumer education about new products needs to be thorough.”

Ellis seconds this sentiment. “The most important thing is showing customers they have a choice,” he said. “Many will use oxygen-based products when they see that there really isn’t a downgrade to their effectiveness and they are competitively priced.”

Kawut, Blundy and Ellis all agree that, with the growing sensitivity toward the environment, the market for OCS cleaners is growing. “If the customer sees the product demonstrated, sees that it works, and finds it competitively priced, we can sell it,” says Kawut.

Distributors can help build trust with industrial customers by informing them that these facilities typically do not benefit from OCS cleaners. In environments that contain heavy industrial grease and solvents, OCS cleaners may not pack enough punch to do the job, according to Blundy.

Even that might be changing in favor of OCS, however. “We are starting to see the introduction of soy and citrus products that are designed for heavy duty degreasing applications,” says Ellis.

As long as end users have no illusions as to whether OCS cleaners will work in their facility, and are aware of the importance in product dilution, there are very few applications in which OCS cleaners will not provide a high-level of clean.

Patrick Callahan is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.