W.A.T.C.H. for Great Cleaning

By David Harkleroad, Chemical Engineer

Over the last 10 years I have had a chance to clean everything from factory floors to steel mill pits to railroad cars to dairy farms with a variety of cleaning solutions. In each instance the chemistry played a vital role in how effective, efficient and environmentally friendly (to the people cleaning and the environment at large) the process was. As I continue to work at developing and producing cleaning chemistries within a variety of industries I am surprised how little thought is given to some key principles that lower total cleaning costs and increase the effectiveness of cleaning chemistry. It is important to note that these ideas/concepts are not original with me – I have had the opportunity to work with many great scientists and cleaning practitioners. These are facts wrapped in an easy to recall acronym: WATCH. I hope you learn and apply these principles to save your company money.

W = WATER QUALITY

What quality of water are you using?

Most of the time we turn the knob or valve in our janitorial closets or filling stations and don’t give what is coming out a second thought. With most concentrated cleaners used in factories the water makes up 80% – 99% of what is in the mop bucket, trigger, sprayer or floor cleaning machine. If your municipal water source is from deep wells or tied into the factories softened water loop the chemistry has to fight all of the minerals and preservatives in the water before it can start cleaning. This requires the use of more chemistry (equals more $$) to clean than if one just had access to better water. I have had five partners with poor water quality reduce their chemistry use by 25% – 40% simply through installation of a DI (deionized) water system. I don’t sell DI systems but what our business is about is reducing your overall cost to clean – better consistent water quality can be a game-changer when trying to lower overall cleaning costs and chemical consumption.

A = AGITATION

How much mechanical energy can you add to your cleaning process?

Don’t underestimate the power of cleaning with mechanical energy. Adding a new rotary brush to your floor scrubber or increasing the pressure from your nozzle jets in a cabinet washer (change the pump or nozzle type) is a great way to gain cleaning efficiency.

T = TIME

How much time can you give your cleaning solution to spend on the surface before rinsing or picking it up?

The more time you can give the chemistry and the surface you are cleaning spend together the cleaner the surface will become. All of us wash clothes and dishes and can readily see the effect of soaking a very dirty garment or soaking a dirty dish overnight. You may be thinking “time is money – how can I leave chemistry on the surface longer and still get everything done?” I have employed techniques where total cleaning time is reduced by 30% on factory floors in some of the largest, oiliest stamping plants in America simply by changing to better chemistry and employing a different cleaning strategy. As an example we improved cleaning results and cut cleaning times by 30% utilizing better quality chemistry in lap 1 for an area and picking it up in lap 2 (total dwell time of 5 minutes) rather than taking two laps putting down less efficient chemistry down with a dwell time of about 5 seconds).  This approach had the additional benefit of cutting chemistry consumption in half and decreasing the need to purge dirty water tanks and refill cleaning tanks; more than making up for the small cost increase for the better quality chemistry. In this large  facility (over 500k sq feet) these changes equated to $150k in annualized savings.

C = CONCENTRATION

How much chemistry is in the solution to affect cleaning? Are you using the optimal concentration?

When I walk into plants I see various pieces of equipment used to dilute concentrated chemistry. In most instances this equipment is poorly maintained and installed by technicians for soap manufacturers or distributors whose interest is to sell you more soap. Too little chemistry increases the frequency  of cleaning and the time needed to clean. Too much soap on the floors leads to rapid dirt redeposition and the need to increase cleaning frequency. If the concentration is wrong it leads to increased labor costs, chemical expenses and often additional equipment that would not have been needed if the proper assessment was completed by a knowledgeable chemical and equipment provider.

H = HEAT

What is the optimum temperature for your cleaning chemistry?

Heat can be a powerful tool to aid cleaning. With some of the chemistry I have designed there can be a 2x improvement in cleaning effectiveness by adding 18°F to the solution’s temperature. Most cold water taps run between 50°F – 60°F in the Midwest (depending on whether the water comes from the surface or deep wells) but may dip lower in the winter. Tap water in the south is slightly warmer. Adding 18°F at the floor requires 35°F to be added at the fill station with a small in-line heater. My best experience utilizing heat was at a steel mill in NE Ohio. We installed a small in-line heater in the floor scrubber fill area with a reverse osmosis water purifier and insulated the clean water tanks with foam. This kept the water at close to 95°F in the tank (below the plant’s health/safety defined ‘hot water’ limit) and 80°F at the floor. With a $3k investment and $100/month in supplies we were able to reduce the chemistry usage by 40% which equated to a $75k annual cost reduction in chemistry. A word of CAUTION when it comes to adding heat – the adage ‘if a little is good then a lot is better’ does NOT apply to cleaning chemistry. If you enter the chemistry’s cloud point when you are adding heat then cleaning performance can be adversely impacted – if you don’t understand cloud points you need to leverage a resource that does before adding heat to your chemistry.

Some of the poorest SOPs and most overlooked parts of a maintenance program are the janitorial closets and cleaning stations. No one likes to clean – I get that. You have to do it. I would challenge you to view your cleaning team as an efficient, cost-effective part of your operation that sets you apart from your competition. I work with Fortune 100 companies who spend hundreds of millions to billions of dollars building plants and then spend little to no time finding the best methods or cleaning chemistries to showcase these facilities to their clients. One final story –  I have a Tier 1 automotive supplier that stamps components who shared that they earned a significant long-term contract because of the cleanliness of their operation. Their building and equipment were older and their overall costs were comparable but on the site visit the evaluation team was so impressed by how clean the floors were and how well maintained the equipment was that it won the contract. The senior purchasing agent said “we don’t see many stamping companies who take cleaning as seriously as you do – I would eat off these floors – we want your help improving our facility’s cleaning effectiveness”.

QUESTIONS WORTH ASKING:
  • Have you ever evaluated better quality chemistry or better quality water to see how it impacts cleaning performance and if it allows you to reduce the amount of chemistry you use – how much is that worth to your organization?

  • Have you ever taken the time to see if you have the optimal ratio of cleaning chemistry at your filling stations?

  • Have you ever tried water that is ~20°F warmer to see how it impacts your chemistry’s performance?

  • Have you ever attempted different methods of applying and removing chemistry to increase dwell time?

I would encourage you to partner with a team that understands the total cost of cleaning and who will work with you to determine the best chemistry and cleaning  methods at your facility. We would be honored if you give the SURGE family of concentrates and RTUs a try on you hard surface applications – I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the results and we will be happy to help you WATCH the savings roll in!

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