Just a few years ago, some distributors were indicating that chemical proportioning systems were a tough sell. Times have certainly changed. Today, sales in this product category are hopping, along with the promise of increased efficiency and waste reduction.

Sanitary Maintenance spoke with four end users to learn their proportioning system “must have” features, as well as questions they may have for their jan/san distributor.

Long-Time User
In the 1970s Harry Kendrick used his first chemical dilution system — a simple unit that screwed onto the end of a faucet. That product had many faults: it was easy to tamper with, was negatively affected by water pressure and the chemical could leach back into the water supply.

He later switched to chemical packs that were mixed in a container for the right dilution. The packets were more reliable but were also easily tampered with.

“We’ve been through a number of different things and a lot of them are pretty similar,” says Kendrick, director of housekeeping services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. “The dispensers today are more accurate and work very well.”

Modern mechanical systems are often tied directly into a water source, which Kendrick sees as a definite improvement over early models. He also appreciates that he can put many different chemicals in one unit and that the new models are very compact and virtually tamper-proof.

“One of the major benefits is you ensure people are diluting the product properly so they are not wasting product and costing you more money,” Kendrick says. “Safety is also a big issue. Over-mixing can be a real problem. They think if a little product works, then even more will do it quicker, but many times, that’s not the case, and it can ultimately harm a person.”

Today, Kendrick uses two dispensing systems: one for environmentally preferable chemicals and another for disinfectant. He is such a believer in the products that he now has nearly 100 units for his 2-million-square-foot facility. Kendrick’s distributor made adding new units simple by performing all installation, maintenance and training.

“I think if someone changes to dilution control, they are going to save a lot of money and it is going to be safer,” he says.

Sold On The System
That some housekeeping departments don’t use chemical proportioning systems is simply unbelievable to Shawn Smith, hotel services manager for Harrah’s Atlantic City resort and casino in New Jersey. He has used the products for more than five years and can’t think of any good reason to ever stop.

“It would surprise me that people aren’t using the system,” Smith says. “There are so many options out there, from dispensers you can carry with you into a bathroom to commercial-size dilution systems.”

One of the most appealing qualities of the units, he says, is that they are often free with the chemical purchase. Not only is there no substantial cash outlay, the units actually help the bottom line, thanks to their unbeatable efficiency.

“You don’t have the ‘glug-glug’ theory anymore — no more guessing how much chemical to put in,” Smith says. “Our costs have dropped 40 percent.”

Smith has long used the system for a peroxide concentrate, which can be mixed to work as a window cleaner, spotter or general-purpose cleaner. He also recently switched to dilution control for carpet shampoo and stripper.

In total, Smith has 15 peroxide systems on his 300,000-square-foot property, plus two 55-gallon drums for chemicals he buys in bulk.

Over the last 5 years, Smith has developed a good rapport with his distributor, but says there is always room for improvement. Like many end users, he wants a distributor who gets the dispenser to him quickly and provides any necessary preventative or restorative maintenance.

Smith also wants his distributor to understand the importance of a tamper-free system. The units at his casino are made of steel and have locks to prevent an employee from changing dilution rates.

Smith and his 300 employees are happy to no longer mix their own chemicals.

“They like it because they know it’s the right thing to do,” Smith says. “They know it’s a waste not to do it so I didn’t have to get their buy-in.”

Newly Converted
For several years, three chemical dispensing systems languished unused in janitorial closets at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Although the units were supposed to make custodians’ lives easier, they were never used. Simply put, the workers hated them.

Everything changed, however, when 60 new systems were installed 6 months ago. Less than one square foot in size, the new units are substantially smaller than the old ones.

They also use just one chemical mixed at different dilutions, instead of dispensing four chemicals. But, the most important change was the sheer number of dispensers available to custodians.

“If you don’t put enough up, they have to travel too far to get them and they’d rather just mix chemicals in the closet than go to another floor to get it,” says Ron Bailey, associate director of custodial services for the university. “We’re putting the new units in areas they travel past everyday so they aren’t making special trips. It seems to be working real well that way.”

Long after he had given up on chemical proportioning systems, Bailey rediscovered the technology last year when he began pricing out new peroxide-based chemicals. After honing in on one product he liked, he learned the chemical worked best with a dispensing system. With the trial run complete, Bailey is convinced the new system is a winner.

“It will pay off in chemical reduction — there’s no doubt in my mind about that — but it will also pay off in labor,” he says. “We’re not paying someone to go in a closet and mix chemicals. They just push a button and they’re done in 15 seconds.”

Although product consistency was Bailey’s No. 1 concern, he also appreciates the improvement in safety these products provide. In the past, when employees dismissed procedures requiring the use of protective gloves and eyewear, they sometimes ended up with burns and rashes. There have not been reported injuries using the new system, which minimizes contact with concentrated chemicals.

Not Convinced
Virginia Arnsberger has certainly heard of chemical proportioning systems — she’s even priced them out — but she isn’t ready to make a purchase. She fears switching to the product will be a logistical nightmare.

As director of housekeeping at Temple University, Philadelphia, Arnsberger and her staff of 200 are responsible for cleaning more than 100 buildings (some have 10 floors or more) over a five-campus area.

“I can’t afford to lose the time it takes for them to go get chemical,” she says. “They’d be wasting 15 minutes every time they needed something.”

While it is theoretically possible to put a unit on every floor of every building, Arnsberger doesn’t have the budget for it. Sure, she could get the units for free with the chemicals, but she’s not sure she believes in any one product enough to switch completely to a system.

“I buy my floor chemicals from one company and other products from another,” Arnsberger says. “Once you put one company’s system in place, you are locked into those chemicals, even if the price goes up.”

For now, Arnsberger’s employees employ the old-fashioned method of using pre-mixed purchased chemicals (or occasionally mixing their own) and then carting the bottles around with them.

“For the most part, my preference is to find a product that works well, teach your people how to use it, and put your procedures and proportions in writing so everybody has all the tools they need to use it properly,” Arnsberger says. “It’s much more convenient to go to the supply closet and put the stuff you need on the cart and not return to that closet until the end of your shift.”

It’s not to say that Arnsberger doesn’t see some benefits of a chemical proportioning system. She’s certain waste occurs with her general purpose cleaner, which comes in a 5-gallon container and must be mixed and poured into spray bottles. She also knows some custodians believe that more chemical is better — a philosophy that can cost money.

So what would it take for a distributor to convince her to switch to a proportioning system? First, they’d have to address her perception that the campus logistics would inhibit cost savings and waste worker time.

Next, they’d have to actually show her how it would work because this long-time industry professional has to see it to believe it.

“They would have to take all the circumstances that I live with here everyday and show me how to overcome them,” Arnsberger says. “I don’t believe a centrally located distribution system would work and I couldn’t afford the capital investment to put product in every janitorial closet across the university.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SM.