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Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Evolution of Standard Cleaning Practices

From personal hygiene to food-related activities to facility maintenance, cleaning is important to a community's and individual's health status. Thorough cleaning practices kill harmful bacteria and viruses and prevent the infestation of rodents and other pests who may carry a variety of diseases.

Over the past century cleaning practices evolved from simple soap and water to synthetic disinfectants and sanitizers to Electrochemical Activation (ECA).

From an excavation of ancient Babylon, evidence of soap-like material dates back to 2800 B.C. Though it was used throughout various civilizations, soap was generally only available to the elite; the common population was relegated to cleaning with water and other clever alternatives. By the mid-1800's, a series of soap-related inventions enabled the widespread availability of inexpensive soap. Until the development of synthetic detergent in the early 1900's, basic soap remained the primary cleaning product.

Cleaning Basics
According to many recognized sites, including the National Food Service Management Institute Keep Food Safe: Clean, Sanitize, and Disinfect document, three main cleaning practices are necessary for healthy environments:
Typical commercial cleaning set-up
photo courtesy of Rubbermaid
  • Cleaning - removes dirt & debris from the targeted area; sanitizing and disinfecting require clean surfaces.
  • Sanitizing - reduces harmful bacteria with high heat or chemical solutions.
  • Disinfecting - stronger than a sanitizer, a disinfectant solution kills bacteria and viruses on targeted surfaces.
Beyond quality solutions, consistent tools and practices are important for effective custodial programs. It is important to read product labels and follow the designated dwell or contact times required to disinfect surfaces. According to numerous sources, disinfectant dwell times may be as long as ten minutes.

Future articles will further address cleaning tools and practices.

Toxic-Cleaning Development
The 1916 development of synthetic detergent in Germany was a response to a World War I-related shortage of fats for making soap. Subsequently, chemical companies introduced a plethora of cleaning solutions designed to sanitize, disinfect, and sterilize. Though generally effective, many of the solutions were toxic when inhaled or ingested by humans or other living beings.

Published in September 1962, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is credited as the catalyst for the environmental movement. Though it addressed the devastating ramifications of DDT pesticide use, Silent Spring showcased the far-reaching impact of toxic-chemical use whether for pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, or cleaning.

The August 2015 Natural Resources Defense Council The Story of Silent Spring: How a courageous woman took on the chemical industry and raised important questions about humankind's impact on nature  explains Silent Spring's legacy:
Photo courtesy of Peter Scales 
“What if the birds all die? Rachel Carson 
and “Silent Spring””
"The most important legacy of Silent Spring, though, was a new public awareness that nature was vulnerable to human intervention. Carson had made a radical proposal: that, at times, technological progress is so fundamentally at odds with natural processes that it must be curtailed. Conservation had never raised much broad public interest, for few people really worried about the disappearance of wilderness. But the threats Carson had outlined—the contamination of the food chain, cancer, genetic damage, the deaths of entire species—were too frightening to ignore. For the first time, the need to regulate industry in order to protect the environment became widely accepted, and environmentalism was born."
As the environmental movement grew, awareness of toxic cleaning solutions' impact on the indoor and outdoor environments fueled the development of green cleaning alternatives.

Founded in 1989, Green Seal (GS) is a national non-profit dedicated to promoting a sustainable economy through their Environmental Leadership Standards. GS Standards address performance, health, and sustainability criteria. Cleaning products are one of many categories reviewed and certified within the rigorous Standards. In addition to the long-standing GS cleaning product certification standards, in July 2013 GS issued the GS Standard for Commercial & Institutional Services.

Similar to DDT applications, toxic cleaning solutions have long-term implications for cleaning staff and residents of the facility, whether a home or commercial building. According to the February 18, 2018, Newsweek Impact of Cleaning Products on Women's Lungs as Damaging as 20-a-Day Cigarette Habit: Study article, women who used the cleaning products regularly had a markedly decreased lung capacity along with increased rates of asthma. Decreased lung capacity is attributed to the damage that cleaning agents cause to the mucous membranes lining the airways.

Conscious Cleaning
Though they are an improvement over toxic-cleaning solutions, many green cleaning products are synthetic in nature and may pose harm to individuals and the environment. Conscious cleaning solutions cause no harm whether ingested via breath or swallowing or flushed into sewer systems. Vinegar and baking soda are two common household products that are excellent conscious cleaning solutions.

As stated in the Cleaning Basics section, beyond cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting are important to maintain a healthy, safe environment for children, employees, and community residents. Thus, Elemental Impact (Ei) embraces ECA as the commercial cleaning system of choice in the soon-to-be-announced Ei Conscious Cleaning Initiative within the Water Use | Toxicity platform.

ECA systems combine salted water with an electrical charge. By varying the mineral catalysts, the ECA system produces three distinct products: sanitizer | disinfectant | deodorizer, glass & general purpose cleaner, and heavy-duty cleaner | degreaser.

ECA cleaning products are generated on-site. Thus, transportation carbon footprints and cleaning supply packaging associated with mainstream janitorial systems are reduced. Supply inventory is drastically reduced and chemical-related injuries are eliminated.

After a two-year evaluation, Georgia Institute of Technology (Ga Tech) transitioned cleaning and disinfecting | sanitizing solutions to an ECA-based system. Ga Tech Building Services Director Tommy Little and his team performed extensive, detailed testing of the ECA system effectiveness, at visual and microbial levels. The results were impressive!
Over nine years, Ga Tech reduced their on-campus cleaning chemicals by 90.7%! 
Beyond the tremendous cost-savings experienced with the ECA cleaning program, according to Tommy, "Best of all ...MY STAFF LOVES IT!!" Why does the Ga Tech building services staff love the program? Here a few reasons:
  • The cleaners work as well or better than prior cleaners.
  • Solutions do not dry out hands or cause respiratory problems.
  • Sanitizers | disinfectants actually eliminate odors.
  • The system portability - solutions may be made anywhere on campus.
Tommy Little & Wendy Welker
by their GS Certification banner
Over the years, Ga Tech was recognized by The National Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers, Green Cleaning Award for American Schools & Universities, Princeton Review, and The National Wildlife Federation for their renewable green cleaning. In addition, Ga Tech achieved independent certification under the Green Seal GS-42 Green Cleaning Standard.

... and Ga Tech saves an estimated $300,000 per year by producing ECA solutions on-site versus purchasing cleaning solutions for the campus custodial program.

On March 6 Tommy and his team hosted the Ei Conscious Cleaning Demo & Tour. Facility & housekeeping managers from Atlanta's venues and businesses committed to pioneering the movement from sustainable to regenerative best operating practices attended the impressive two-hour demo and tour. The Ei FB album, Ei Conscious Cleaning Initiative, includes an event pictorial recap.

With industry pioneers like Ga Tech at the helm, standard commercial cleaning is staged to evolve from current toxic or green-cleaning practices to conscious-cleaning programs. After all, conscious cleaning benefits the environment, the community, and the facility's bottom line!

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