by Stephen P. Ashkin — When facility managers think about Green Cleaning, they typically think about using environmentally preferable cleaning products—products that have been independently tested and certified to meet very strict guidelines that ensure they have a reduced impact on people and the environment. However, the day will soon come—and in many ways is here already—when Green Cleaning strategies will also include the use of no cleaning chemicals at all.
This practice is referred to as the use of “engineered-water.” No, the water has not been artificially created in some laboratory. It means that regular tap water has been activated, oxonated, electrolyzed, or treated in some specific way, turning it into an effective cleaning method without the use of chemicals. We shall give specific examples of how it can be used and the many benefits of using engineered water later.
But first we must say that cleaning using engineered water is effective for many, if not most, cleaning tasks. However, studies verify its efficacy it should not be used in place of disinfectants, for instance in the medical or some food preparation areas of a facility. In those areas, EPA-certified disinfectants or sanitizers should continue to be used and may even be required by regulations/codes.
Water as a Cleaner
We know that regular tap water is a solvent and able to dissolve or help remove soils and contaminants from all types of surfaces. When used, for instance, with microfiber cleaning cloths, the combination can provide excellent cleaning results. The water helps dissolve soils and the microfiber provides the necessary agitation to loosen and then remove them from surfaces.
However, it is the use of different cleaning technologies that has taken this to a much higher and more significant cleaning level. Examples of this, and ones some facilities may have used or are using now, are the use of vaporized water and spray-and-vac cleaning systems. Professional-grade vaporized water systems heat water to nearly 250 degrees (F). This is hot enough to melt away many soils and kill many, if not most, microbes on surfaces such as floors, counters, ledges, etc.
Spray-and-vac systems, as they are referred to by the worldwide cleaning association ISSA, were originally designed to be used with chemicals, however some users have found them to be effective cleaning tools just using tap water. Apparently, once water is applied to surfaces, it begins dissolving and loosening surface soils. However, it is the pressurized rinse of those surfaces by the machine, again using just water that takes this a step further, removing soils from a variety of surfaces where they can be vacuumed up by the system.
Both vaporized cleaning and spray-and-vac cleaning systems are not new. However, more recent technologies that employ engineered-water are the activated, ozonated or electrolyzed water systems mentioned earlier. While these are different technologies, they are similar enough that we can discuss them here together. They are designed to be used to clean restroom fixtures, counters, floors, and so on. As a matter of fact, some major manufacturers of floor cleaning equipment have created an entire line of automatic scrubbers designed to clean most all types of floors just with engineered water. With these systems, typically a small electrical charge is passed through the tap water used in the machine. The result is a mild yet effective all-purpose cleaner.
You might be saying right now, “All of this is quite interesting, but how does it really help me?” As a facility manager, the first way it helps you is that the use of these machines puts no added chemical into the facility or the atmosphere. It is, in fact, probably the most effective Green Cleaning strategy because no chemicals are used whatsoever.
However, among the other benefits worth noting are the following:
- Cost savings; there are no cleaning chemicals to purchase.
- No chemical residue left on surfaces; chemical residue left on a surface can attract soil to the surface, increasing the cleaning needs of a facility.
- No fumes, no mixing of chemicals, and no impact on indoor air quality.
- Greater safety; a large percentage of the injuries that happen when cleaning are due to accidents and exposure to chemicals.
- Enhanced sustainability. Chemicals must be packaged and delivered. When no chemicals are used, there is nothing to package or anything to deliver.
While we did point out that engineered-water should not be used in place of disinfectants, it can be used for most all other cleaning tasks. A good place to start your investigation into engineered-water technologies is with floor care. As mentioned earlier, some automatic scrubbers from different manufacturers are designed to work effectively just using water.
These machines have become surprisingly popular — most likely because they are proving effective — and are cost comparable to traditional, chemical-using scrubbers. Because most facilities install hard surface flooring throughout the facility, selecting a scrubber that operates with engineered-water could not only be a very good introduction to this Green technology, but have a major impact on “greening” your facility as well.
Stephen P. Ashkin is founder of the Green Cleaning Network a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating building owners and suppliers about Green Cleaning, and president of The Ashkin Group a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry. He is considered the “father of Green Cleaning” and is coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.