Hand injuries from chemicals are a leading cause of injury in the cleaning industry.

Is This the End of Cleaning Chemicals as We've Known Them?

Engineered-water cleaning systems do work. They are an effective alternative to chemical cleaning that are not only very environmentally friendly, but a cost savings as well.

Several years ago, a manufacturer in the professional cleaning industry introduced what was then a quite revolutionary cleaning system. The unit looked like a large sprayer, such as you would see used by a hotel housekeeper or cleaning professional in an office building, except, using electricity, it produced its own cleaning solution. What's more, this solution contained no chemicals whatsoever.

Further, preliminary tests indicated that the solution made by the system was effective; could be used in a variety of cleaning situations and on many different types of surfaces and surface materials; and was in essence the ultimate in green cleaning, due to the fact that there were no chemicals used at all.

Unfortunately, after great fanfare, advertising, and marketing, this manufacturer and this revolutionary product failed. While everyone was impressed with the concept, the reason it failed could be narrowed down to one word: practicality. It just did not make sense to select this cleaning system for many different reasons, including:

It was heavy. Whereas a typical plastic sprayer may weigh just a few ounces, even filled, these chemical-free systems weighed in at eight pounds or more. Try carrying an eight-pound sprayer around for an eight-hour shift, and you can see this soon becomes a very "weighty" problem.

Battery life was limited. In an attempt to reduce the weight of the unit, batteries with a shorter lifespan were introduced. However, this meant the cleaning worker would likely need to change units two or more times every shift or wait a couple of hours while the unit's battery recharged.

It was pricey. Costs were the real clincher. Whereas a spray bottle is very inexpensive—sometimes even given away by janitorial distributors—these systems cost several hundred dollars. Very simply, few cleaning contractors or building managers could justify the expense.

Time, Patience, and Resources
Most likely what happened in this situation was the company introduced this revolutionary new product before it had worked out all of the issues just mentioned, as well as others. But that did not mean the technology was a failure. In fact, very soon after this, a major manufacturer of floor care cleaning equipment introduced an automatic scrubber—used to clean floors—that used no cleaning solutions at all. This system, using what is called "engineered water," really turned heads in the professional cleaning and building industries. The price point for these new devices was comparable to that for a similar scrubber using chemicals. In addition, the system proved very easy to use and was very effective. This system soon developed its own following in the professional cleaning industry, and that following has grown by leaps and bounds ever since.

The technology used in this machine was just one type of an engineered-water cleaning system. This system proved that the concept and the technology worked and opened the door for the development of similar engineered-water cleaning systems for all types of cleaning uses and surfaces. These new systems are now garnering serious interest from all stakeholders in professional cleaning. Prices have come down, the machines are more versatile, and, for the most part, they are very easy to use.

While the automatic scrubber using engineered water proved very effective, the big question with some of these other new engineered-water cleaning systems is whether they really work. If the goal of professional cleaning is to keep people healthy, which means the elimination of germs, contaminants, and bacteria on surfaces, will engineered-water cleaning systems be able to accomplish this?

The Nebraska Study
In September 2015, the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) conducted two studies on an aqueous ozone cleaning system.1 Aqueous ozone cleaning systems mechanically create ozone, which is naturally found in the atmosphere, and then infuse it into water. It can then be poured into a sprayer, just like any cleaning solution, or released through the unit itself for cleaning floors or carpets, for instance. This means that there are no special—and heavy—sprayers to carry around.

A small number of manufacturers make these systems. The one tested was provided by CleanCore Technologies, a company based in Omaha, Neb. The researchers applied E. coli and Listeria bacteria on stainless steel and ceramic surfaces and measured the bacteria by counting the number of colony-forming units (CFUs).2 For control purposes, some surfaces were cleaned using sterile water, others were cleaned using peracetic acid (PAA), and the rest cleaned using the aqueous ozone cleaning system. PAA is a powerful, hospital-grade disinfectant.

The study looked into a number of cleaning and health-related issues. When the study was published in September 2015, it concluded the following:

"There was a statistically significant decrease in E.coli and Listeria CFUs found on the [treated areas] . . . in several instances there was no significant difference in reduction of E.coli and Listeria between the aqueous ozone [cleaning] solution and the . . . PAA."

Based on these findings, this would suggest that engineered-water cleaning systems such as aqueous ozone are the next step in green cleaning. No chemicals are used, and the aqueous ozone leaves no residual on a surface after use.

So does this answer the question as to whether these systems work? Are we now embarking on an era in which cleaning chemicals will no longer be used? As to whether these systems can be used for disinfection, the answer is no, at least for now. In a hospital, for instance, a disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency is often required. At this time, these systems have not been officially tested or certified by the EPA. But in many other cleaning situations, the answer is yes, these systems do work. These systems are an effective alternative to chemical cleaning that are not only very environmentally friendly, but a cost savings as well.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building industries.

1. The study is titled "Qualification of Surface Disinfection using Aqueous Ozone generated by CleanCore Technologies Ozone Systems."
2. If ingested, these forms of bacteria can produce food poisoning–type symptoms that can be very harmful, even resulting in death.

About the Author

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.