by William R. Griffin — Advances in technology impact every aspect of our personal lives—computers, smart phones, and high-definition television are just a few examples. Meanwhile, over the last 100 years, the cleaning industry had pretty much stood still. Until the last five years, during which we have witnessed the beginning phases of an evolutionary process that will totally revolutionize every aspect of professional cleaning. Below, let’s first take a look at some of the drivers behind the innovations as well as some of the new technologies themselves.
In the past, we often went through the motions and called it cleaning. Yet many of the processes and products we used didn’t effectively remove soil or contamination, but this didn’t seem to matter as long as it “looked” clean. Today, cleaning for appearance alone is no longer acceptable. Cleaning for health is the focus. We now understand that what we can’t see on a surface can often be more hazardous to our health than what we can see.
This realization that looking clean and being safe and healthy aren’t the same has caused the cleaning industry to change its focus from appearance to health. This said, let’s take a look at some emerging trends that are a result of this shift and are beginning to impact how we clean floors, carpets, and surfaces in office buildings, hotels, schools and other types of facilities.
Science. Through scientific testing, we are beginning to get the facts needed to determine which equipment, chemicals and processes are effective in removing soil and which ones simply spread the soil around so it’s not easy to see. Examples include detergents that leave a sticky residue on surfaces that attract and hold soil and soiled mops that spread bacteria from room to room. It is no longer acceptable to just say that the work has been done properly, now the expectation is that you will validate cleaning results with facts. For example, through its Integrated Cleaning and Measurement Protocols, IEHA has begun using testing equipment to verify bacteria, particle count, airborne gasses, film thickness, reflectivity, slip resistance, and conductivity. And that’s just a start.
Standards. The industry trade associations are researching, writing and establishing standards for cleaning equipment, products, processes, and areas. Already on the books are standards for chemicals, clean rooms, carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, water damage restoration and mold remediation. Take ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) and CIMSGreen Buildings programs, which are leading the way in setting standards and expectations for professional cleaning organizations. Along with standards come accepted definitions, best practices, and testing methods for cleaning.
Environmental expectations. Sustainable development, lifecycle costing, green products and processes, waste stream reduction, indoor environmental quality concerns, and recycling are all having an impact on purchasing, procedures, and how we go about our daily cleaning tasks. Due to presidential directives, corporate citizenship initiatives, and environmental stewardship and awareness, the interest in these issues will to continue to grow in the future. In many areas of the country, green cleaning has become the expected industry norm. We are seeing new product categories and procedures that include the use and discussion of such things as: mold remediation, multiple chemical sensitivity, HEPA filters, low-moisture systems, enzymes, soy-based products, and chemical free cleaning.
Below are a few of the emerging technologies we are or soon will be seeing.
Coatings and finishes. Just a few of the recent advances in this areas include anti-microbial impregnated surfaces, semipermanent floor coatings, manufacturer- and onsite-applied aluminum oxide layers on floors that repel and prevent the penetration of soil and micro-organisms make cleaning easier and more effective.
Self-cleaning. Sound like something from the next century— buildings and surfaces that clean themselves? Actually, this technology already exists and is in use in high-tech clean rooms around the world. Highly effective filtration, positive air pressure, barriers, prevention, and the use of specialized surfaces reduce the need for cleaning. Meanwhile, titanium dioxide coatings on window glass, urinals, and ceramic tile oxidize soils and kill germs when exposed to the ultraviolet rays present in florescent lighting or sunlight.
Vapor cleaning. Small, compact, and highly effective dry vapor cleaning machines are now on the market for use on a wide variety of surfaces, from hard floors, and carpeting to fabrics and toilets. These steamers are a great tool for delicate and intricate cleaning that, in the past, was time consuming and tedious work when done by hand with a brush. One of the benefits of these machines is that they can sanitize and, in some cases, are said to disinfect surfaces without the use of chemicals.
Vacuum cleaners. Tremendous advances have been made in vacuum cleaner design, function, and productivity. Today, we have lightweight backpack vacuums with HEPA filtration that contain 99.999% of the soil picked up, with a production rate triple that of a standard uprights. Other advances include battery power, wider vacuums, rider sweepers, and robotic units.
Auto scrubbers. Major advances have been made in the design, functionality, and productivity of these models. Today’s auto-scrubbers can be low profile, easy to operate, and have a zero turning radius for use in all types of facilities. The latest micro-scrubbers are lightweight with the footprint of a small upright vacuum cleaner. Other enhancements include multifunctionality, robotics, low-moisture foam, hybrid/activated water, stand up riders, self-diagnostics, sweeping capacity, high filtration, water recycling, and quick-charging interchangeable battery packs.
No touch. The area where we have seen the most dramatic use of no touch technology is hands down in restrooms. Sensor activated toilets, soap dispensers, hand dryers and towel dispensers are just the beginning.
Chemical and water reduction. Respnding to health and environmental concerns, manufacturers are refining chemical dilution systems and ultra-concentrated products to reduce waste and assure accurate measuring. The latest carpet, fabrics, and hard flooring cleaning systems incorporate low-moisture processes while several companies have spent millions working to perfect low-flush toilets and waterless urinals.
Nano-technology. Nanotechnology holds tremendous potential for the cleaning industry. Through it, surface coatings and chemicals can be improved to the point of becoming a part of the surfaces themselves.
Microfibers and flat mops. The broom, dust mop, feather duster, and string mop are headed for the museum. Over the next 10 years, micro-fiber clothes and flat mops will replace much of the outdated equipment in use today. Other advances in this area include bucketless mopping and self-contained finish application systems.
Floor care systems. Advances in floor care include the use of polished and densified concrete and natural stone surfaces that can be maintained long term with diamond impregnated and segmented floor pads. Over the last 15 years, burnishing has replaced polishing and spray buffing and already almost eliminated the need for stripping, which has been replaced by more frequent scrubbing. New flooring materials entering the market today don’t require topical finish, burnishing, stripping or recoating.
Computerization. In more advanced companies, all aspect of managing the cleaning operation is computerized. Common computerized functions include quality and cost control, scheduling, staffing, timekeeping, inventory control and bidding and estimating. Future advances will include global positioning system and other position/time tracking of vehicles and individual workers.
Communications. To better serve our customers, we are expected to be available 24/7. Already the use of smart phones is common operating procedure in most organizations as is e-mail and texting. The beeper, fax, and plain “old” cell phone are outdated technologies, traded in for mobile online access, voice, and visual communications.
No Free Ride
Keeping up to date with the latest changes taking place in our industry and the customers we serve is a job in itself. Indeed, staying current with the rapid changes taking place in our world takes time, energy, and money. You need to read trade publications and attend trade show and seminars on an ongoing basis to keep abreast of what is new. It’s a choice every individual and company has to make. But if you don’t stay on the cutting edge of the changes taking place today, you will not survive in the fastpaced future of tomorrow.
William “Bill” Griffin is a prolific industry
author and presenter and president of Cleaning
Consultant Services, Inc. He can be reached at