What, No Chemicals?

by Katie Lee

The next evolution in chemical-free green cleaning is here.

By Matt Montag

When the U.S. Green Building Council launched the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program back in 2000, the goal was to single out and honor commercial facilities that had taken steps to reduce their overall environmental impact. Usually this was accomplished by implementing strategies so the facility used less water and energy than comparable facilities; was built with some recycled products or products from renewable sources; and most importantly, initiated programs to help improve indoor air quality and the overall health of the indoor environment.

Interestingly, when the LEED program first started, facilities earned credits if they used green cleaning solutions, tools and equipment. However, the use of these products was not required at that time. That had changed by the time Version 3 of the LEED certification program was adopted in 2009, which made the use of environmentally preferable cleaning products a prerequisite before a facility could even be considered for LEED certification.

This was a very big turning point for the “greening” of the professional cleaning industry. It verified the importance of green cleaning products. Any hesitancy by manufacturers in the professional cleaning industry to get on the green cleaning bandwagon was essentially eliminated, and any reluctance by building owners and managers, including those in retailing, shopping malls, etc., to implement green cleaning strategies was also eradicated.

But it did one more thing as well. It began what Stephen Ashkin, often referred to as the “father of green cleaning,” calls the ‘green cleaning journey.’ By this he meant that there is no end point in green cleaning. New products, new procedures and new technologies will continue to be introduced that help reduce the impact of cleaning on health and the environment, which is the ultimate goal of green cleaning. Further, many of these new products, procedures and technologies will help improve the effectiveness of cleaning, so it addresses the ultimate goal of the professional cleaning industry — and that is to protect human health.

An example of this is the development of “engineered water.” In fact, for some in the professional cleaning industry, some forms of engineered water are now viewed as the ultimate in green cleaning.

First Chemical-Free Cleaning

About 5 years ago, the book Extreme Green Cleaning by Vincent Elliot was published. The book suggests that there are many ways to effectively clean surfaces without the use of chemicals. While Elliot may not have coined the term, his book certainly made the words “chemical-free cleaning” a key part of the lingo in the professional cleaning industry.

Elliot describes different forms of chemical-free cleaning, some of which the administrators of retail facilities may already be aware of. For instance, “steam-cleaning” systems were first introduced in the 1920s and found a niche removing grease and oil in all kinds of facilities, from factories to commercial kitchens. The process essentially melts away grease and oil, allowing it to be easily wiped up and removed from surfaces. No chemicals are used in the process, making it a very green way to clean.

However, more advanced steam-cleaning systems are now referred to as “dry steam” machines. The water is heated to as much as 290˚F — a far higher temperature than the early steam machines and hot enough to not only clean surfaces but also sanitize them, killing many forms of germs and bacteria. In fact, dry steam systems are often used in commercial kitchens and food-processing locations to clean and sanitize such things as deli slicers, choppers, mixers and meat-processing equipment.

But the next big advance in chemical-free cleaning was the introduction of electrochemical technologies. These systems electronically convert tap water into a cleaning agent. Manufacturers introduced floor-care equipment using this technology that proved its effectiveness. As it became more popular, variations of the technology were adopted by more manufacturers.  It was also at about this time that the term “engineered water” became the accepted term to describe cleaning systems that effectively clean and sanitize surfaces without the use of chemicals. Both dry steam and electrolyzed water “reengineer” water, turning it into a cleaning agent.

The Next Step: Aqueous Ozone

In recent years, another technology has been making green cleaning even greener and that is the adoption of aqueous ozone cleaning systems. Note, we called this “another” technology and did not refer to this as a “new” technology. We have known for decades that aqueous ozone is an effective cleaner and sanitizer. However, historically, these systems have had various limitations — from high costs to difficulties using the equipment in facility cleaning situations — presenting obstacles to their use. That has all but been eliminated in recent years.

So what is aqueous ozone? While ozone is naturally found in the atmosphere, the type of ozone we are discussing has nothing to do with the so-called ozone layer, nor does it refer to ambient ozone, which is essentially low lying smog that can prove harmful if inhaled.

Aqueous ozone is perfectly safe. Ozone is mechanically created through the interaction of electricity and oxygen. This combination is then infused into water, creating aqueous ozone.

Aqueous ozone is making considerable headway in the professional cleaning industry today for four key reasons:

1. The limitations are gone. Costs have come down considerably, and aqueous ozone systems are now cost-effective. In fact, over time, they pay for themselves because they eliminated many costly cleaning solutions. Also, they are much easier to use. In some cases, the system may be attached to a plumbing sink outlet so that the aqueous ozone can be poured directly into a spray bottle or bucket.

2. Related to this, aqueous ozone works the way cleaning workers are accustomed to using chemicals. Once the solution is in a spray bottle, the cleaning workers can apply (spray) it to a cleaning cloth or surfaces and wipe the area clean. No special training is required. This is how surface cleaning is traditionally performed.  After wiping the surface, any remaining aqueous ozone essentially evaporates.

3. There is no chemical residue, so surfaces can stay cleaner longer. Retailers may not be aware of this, but cleaning chemical residue is one of the main causes of what is called rapid resoiling. We see this most often with carpet cleaning, but it can happen with all types of cleaning and on all types of surfaces. Essentially what happens is chemical residue remains on a surface after cleaning. This residue attracts more soils and pathogens, resoiling the surface in a relatively short time after cleaning.

4. Aqueous ozone is considered not only green but also a very sustainable manner of cleaning. Ashkin notes that it helps eliminate all the packaging, transporting and fuel required to ship cleaning chemicals, along with considerable waste that invariably ends up in landfills.

It probably never occurred to the founders of the LEED program that the day would come when cleaning chemicals might actually be unnecessary in professional cleaning. And while we cannot say that day has arrived, new technologies have been introduced that not only help reduce cleaning’s impact on health and the environment, but essentially eliminate it.

— Matt Montag is the distribution sales manager for CleanCore™, a cleaning technology that infuses cold water with ozone gas to create aqueous ozone, a natural and robust cleaning solution. Montag may be reached via his company website at http://cleancoretech.com.

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