Technology Revolutionizes the Cleaning Process "Cleaning for Health" is the New Mantra

By Wm R. Griffin, President

Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc.

Originally Published in Distribution Sales and Management Magazine, May 2003

Over the last 50 years, changing technology has impacted almost every aspect of our personal lives. The microwave, cell phone, fax, VCR, Walkman, color TV and CD’s are just some of the most common examples that come to mind.

At the same time, the cleaning industry has pretty much stood still, we still use corn brooms, string mops, and brushes for many of our daily cleaning tasks. Certainly some things have changes, we now have synthetic detergents, high-speed floor machines and polymer floor finishes to help us in our work.

Compared to other industries, big changes have been slow to come to the cleaning field and I believe that is about to change. Just as we have seen major technological advances in our personal lives, we will now see radical changes in how we clean homes, offices and other types of facilities. What we are seeing today is the beginning steps of an evolutionary process that over the next 20 years will revolutionize every aspect of professional cleaning.

This rapid increase in the speed of change is brought on by several factors, including: societal trends, demographics, economics, environmental awareness, consumer activism, and ready access to information as well as the ease of communication between groups and individuals with like interests.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the trends that are already and will continue to have an impact on how we dump the trash, polish floors and clean the restrooms over the next 10 to 20 years.

Scientific Testing:

In the past, we often went through the motions, exerted energy and called it cleaning and that was good enough. Today cleaning for appearance alone is no longer acceptable. “Cleaning for Health” is the focus of today’s cleaning effort. We now know that what we can’t see is more hazardous to our health than what we can see. The realization that looking clean and being safe don’t necessarily go hand in hand has caused the cleaning industry to change its focus from cleaning for appearance to cleaning for health and sanitation.

Through independent scientific testing we are beginning to get the facts that we need in order to determine which equipment, chemicals and processes are actually effective in removing soil and which are not. Some of the processes, equipment and products that have been relied on for years are now coming under intense scrutiny with many falling by the way side as we find out that they actually contribute to resoiling or cause other cleaning problems. Examples include detergents that leave sticky residues on fibers and surfaces that attract and hold soil instead of releasing it. All too often we go through the motions of cleaning, to find out that we are simply moving soil around to make it visibly less offensive, but not actually removing it.

Today tests are being conducted on carpet cleaning equipment (IICRC) and chemicals (Shaw Industries), vacuum cleaners (CRI) and water damage processes (ISCT), it won’t be long before test results will be just as available as marketing hype and propaganda.

Standards, Definitions and Expectations:

The IICRC and other industry groups have written and are researching, writing and establishing industry standards for carpet cleaning (S100), upholstery cleaning (S300), water damage restoration (S500) and mold remediation (S520). Along with standards come universally accepted definitions and terminology for all aspects of cleaning.

At the same time, customer, consumer and public expectations regarding cleanliness are on the rise. Out of personal concern for health, safety and comfort, odorous, unkept and unsanitary facilities and surfaces are no longer acceptable or being tolerated by an informed, connected and litigious society.

Environmental Concerns:

Sustainable development, life cycle costing, green products, waste stream reduction, indoor air quality concerns and recycling are all having an impact on purchasing, procedures and how we go about our daily cleaning tasks in homes and commercial facilities. As a result of presidential directives, corporate citizenship initiatives and environmental stewardship and awareness, the interest in these issues are expected to continue to grow in the future. The result has been 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, seed esters, soy based products and low and no residue chemicals.

Jeff Hayder, Vice President of Sales and Operations for Sunshine Makers Inc. in Huntington Harbor, CA, the makers of Simple Green told me that governmental regulation regarding VOC limitations is what’s driving major changes in the cleaning industry.

Hayder said, “ What California does regarding environmental legislation will have a major impact nationwide on chemical formulations in the future. The state requirements are getting much tighter and we as manufacturers are constantly working to improve our products so they do a better job and are environmentally preferable.”

Coatings and Finishes:

Anti-microbial impregnated surfaces, semi-permanent floor coatings, manufacturer applied aluminum oxide wear layers on floor coverings and polymer coatings used to repel and prevent penetration of soil and facilitate cleaning are in their infancy, yet show tremendous potential for future applications that will improve the cleaning process.

Self Cleaning Buildings and Surfaces:

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 are able to greatly reduce the need for cleaning in any facility.

Titanium dioxide coatings are being applied to window glass, urinals and ceramic tile that will oxidize soils and kill germs when exposed to the ultraviolet rays found in florescent lighting or sunlight.

Training Opportunities and Methodology:

On line classes, CD’s and DVD’s, steaming video, interactive digital training programs, and formal certification classes are all part of the growing selection of training materials and programs now available to cleaners, supervisors, managers and business owners.

With wide spread availability and the low cost of color copiers, digital still and video cameras and training development software, customized training programs and materials are within reach of basically anyone with a camera, a computer and a little time.

Ten years ago, information and training materials related to the technical and managerial aspects for cleaning were few and far between. Today independent companies, associations, manufacturers and distributors are all providing training materials and programs for professional cleaners. Over 25,000 individuals have been certified by the IICRC and over 5000 firms now hire only employees who have the certification program. (


We are communicating like never before in the world and the cleaning industry. Most workers and basically every supervisor have access to a cell phone. Most customers communicate via email, with portable email devices (palm) becoming common with larger employers and contractors. Today, the beeper and fax are basically outdated technology, with internal and external communications being normal and expected as part of any substantial service contract. To better serve our customer’s needs, we need and are expected to be available whenever and wherever we are needed. The pace and speed has picked up and the result is better service.

Vapor Cleaning:

Small, compact, inexpensive and highly effective low moisture vapor cleaning machine are now hitting the market for use on a wide variety of surfaces from hard floors and carpeting to fabric partitions and toilets. These little steamers are a great tool for delicate and intricate cleaning that in the past was time consuming and tedious work when done by hand and with a brush.

Vacuum Cleaners:

Tremendous advances have been made in vacuum cleaner design, function and productivity. Today we have light weight backpack vacuums with HEPA filtration that remove 99.999% of the soil picked up, with a production rate that is triple that of a standard upright on both carpet and hard floors. Other advances include battery power, vacs up to 56? for wide areas, rider sweepers and robotic units that will basically work on their own.


Here again, major advances have been made in design, functionality and productivity. Once thought of as equipment for only wide open areas, today’s auto-scrubbers can be low profile, multi-functional, easy to operate and have a zero turning radius that allows them to be used in all types of facilities and locations.

Other enhancements include multi-functionality, robotics, riders, self diagnostics, simplicity of design and operation, sweeping capacity, high filtration, water recycling, low moisture foam, and quick charging interchangeable battery packs. Auto-scrubbers are truly an overlooked and underutilized piece of equipment in today’s battle to reduce costs while improving the cleanliness of a facility.

Kyle Strait, Product Manager for the Tennant Co. Commercial Products Div. told me that Tennant’s new “FaST Foam Scrubbing Technology” auto-scrubber reduces water usage by as much 70% because it uses foam instead of liquid. Strait said, “The real impact of this technology is that an operator doesn’t have to stop to refill or empty the tank as often. Our tests indicate a 30% increase in production because we eliminate the 30 to 40 minute dump and refill cycle that if often repeated several times per shift. Other benefits include a reduced waste stream, less packaging, and a greatly reduced risk of slip and fall accidents due to wet floors.” (

Strait added, ?Our customers love it. People can see the benefits right away. What’s even more amazing is the amount of time and money that is saved on the job because equipment operators are now freed up to do other tasks. This is especially important when markets are highly competitive and budgets are tight.

Restroom Cleaning:

Users want cleaner facilities and manufacturers have responded with new systems to increase production and effectiveness. Examples include the use of micro-fibers, flat mops, squeegees, and restroom cleaning carts that incorporate a pressure washer and wet pick up vacuum.

Chemical Use and Waste Stream Reduction:

Chemical dilution systems and concentrated products are helping to reduce waste and assure the accurate measurement of cleaning solutions.

The latest cleaning systems on the market for carpets, fabrics, and hard flooring incorporate low moisture processes and reduced chemical usage. Due to environmental and economic concerns, waste stream reduction is fast becoming an issue for manufacturers, governmental agencies and end users in all market segments. Such products and systems are good for the environment, surfaces and the bottom line.

Marty Jelinski, President of Bay City Supply in Bellingham WA told me that he has seen a lot of interest in a new auto-scrubber from Nobles Inc. that incorporates a dilution control cartridge right on the machine. “ This eliminates the need for an employee to measure or in any way come in contract with the chemical. Jelinski said, All the operator has to do is refill the machine with water and keep going. My customers like the concept because there are no messy chemicals to mix or measure.”

Microfibers and Flat Mops:

The broom, dust mop, feather duster and string mop that we have used for many years are headed for the museum. Personally, I expect that over the next 5 to 10 years all of the above will be replaced by micro-fibers and vacuum cleaners. Other advances in this area include bucketless mopping and self-contained high production finish application systems.

Floor Care Systems:

Over the last 10 years burnishing has replaced polishing and spray buffing and almost eliminated the need for stripping which has been replaced by more frequent scrubbing. The next major trend on floor care appears to be the use of semi-permanent high solid coatings that don’t require burnishing, stripping or recoating. Such coating may be applied on-site or by floor covering manufacturers.

Other advances include propane burnishers, positive vacuum dust collection systems, the crystallization of stone surfaces, the use of color coded equipment, along with strippers and finishes that change color to indicate that renewal is needed.

Cleaning Processes Evolve

Even how we go about cleaning buildings and homes is changing. In the past, an employee would have an assigned area or building for which they were responsible. Today team or specialist cleaning is fast replacing the zone cleaning process. Team cleaning brings organization and scheduling to a previously haphazard and disorganized process. The result is higher quality, production and accountability. The process has each worker performing specific tasks for a set period of time on a predetermined scheduled.


Basically all aspect of managing the cleaning operation are now being computerized in one way or another. Some of the most common functions to be impacted by computerization include: word processing, training, time keeping, labor management, inventory control, bidding and estimating. On the distributor side of the industry computerized functions often include: word processing, accounting, order entry, inventory control, electronic catalogues, Internet access, electronic banking and bill paying.

Marty Jelinski, President of Bay Side Supply in Bellingham, WA told me that a number of his contractor customers are now using computer software programs to prepare bids and track their labor costs. Jelinski said, ?Such programs, once they are set up, enhance the ability of the contractor to prepare an accurate bid on basically any type and size of property much faster than if they had to do all the calculations by hand.?


Although this is a new field of science, I believe nano-technology hold tremendous potential for the cleaning industry in that through it, cleaning can be built into surfaces and areas making them truly self cleaning.

Universal Impact

No company, individual or segment of our industry or the customers that we serve can escape the impact technology is and will have on how cleaning is performed in all types and sizes of buildings. Distributors and manufactures can and should play a key role in helping their customers evolve from outdated methods and products to safer and more effective cleaning processes and systems. A great opportunity exists, however only those who are aware of the latest changes and advancements will be able to benefit from the changes that will take place in the years ahead.

No Free Ride

Opportunity will not come to those who sit back and wait or look for the easy way out. Keeping up to date with the latest changes taking place in our industry and the industries of the customers that we serve is a job in itself. Research via industry publications, trade shows and seminars must be an ongoing process that never ends if you want to be on the cutting edge and a real value to your customers. This takes time, energy and money. Some will prepare and prosper, others will complain and talk about how thing used to be in the good old days. It’s a choice and a commitment that every individual and company has to make in order to survive in today and tomorrow’s competitive business environment. One thing is for sure, those who do not quickly evolve and adjust, will not survive.