Cleaning industry myths debunked – part 2
PAUL AGAR of Agar Cleaning Systems exposes more common misconceptions about chemicals and the removal of soil and bacteria.
Following on from the first part of this article, Cleaning industry myths debunked – part 1, I will continue to debunk some common misconceptions about chemicals and the removal of soil and bacteria.
Cleaning is more technical than some may realise, and the formulation of chemicals that are effective, safe to use and harmless to the surface being cleaned involves a significant amount of science, research and testing.
Chemicals will continue to play a role in cleaning in some form, and in order to ensure that the best products are used most productively and safely, with minimum impact on the environment, it is vital to get the facts and to take note of qualified independent testing.
MYTH 8: Electrolysed water cleans better than detergent
Electrolysis of water causes hydroxide ions to be concentrated at one of the electrodes. If salt (sodium chloride) is also present, the process makes a weak solution of sodium hydroxide. This is also known as caustic soda. It is commonly found in oven cleaners, drain cleaners and paint strippers, but also is used in many products for pH adjustment.
Electrolysed water ‘detergents’ do not contain any detergent surfactants or associated builders and buffers – they are simply a solution of caustic soda. Sodium hydroxide solution on its own is a very one-sided material as a cleaning agent. It does not contain the detergent ingredients that are in commercial products for very good reasons, namely to provide wetting, to emulsify oils and fats, to suspend solid particulates, to disperse hard water ions and to prevent re-deposition of dirt onto the surface.
By using a weak caustic soda solution instead of a finely tuned detergent, cleaners will miss out on the good properties of the detergent. They will have to rub harder, rinse more effectively and resort to a proper detergent when the films of soil that the electrolysed water doesn’t remove have to be cleaned up.
MYTH 9: Dirt will migrate up through a floor onto the surface
This myth comes into play when a floor gradually turns dirty, even when it is cleaned every day. The reality is that you can ‘clean’ a floor every day, but if you don’t use enough detergent or use a poor quality product, a small portion of dirt is left on the floor after the process. Over a period of weeks, this will develop into a black floor. The dirt comes onto the floor via foot traffic, trolleys, airflow and external factors. It does not migrate up through the floor.
MYTH 10: Dirt will just disappear
Cleaning chemicals and machines will ‘loosen’ the dirt from a surface, but rinsing and extracting are necessary to make the dirt go away. It must be physically removed, so that it doesn’t just dry back on the surface again. Many new cleaners do not understand the importance of the flow rate of liquid coming onto a floor from a scrubbing machine. They also think that by dragging a damp mop across the floor, the dirt will just disappear. This is not true. Professionals know that the flow of liquid is vital to getting a good result.
MYTH 11: The presence of any amount of a corrosive or poisonous ingredient will make the product corrosive or poisonous
A corrosive or poisonous ingredient at a very low concentration may not make the product corrosive or poisonous. Safe Work Australia has provided a list of criteria that are used to classify products based on their composition. Each ingredient is assessed and then an overall rating is given to the final product.
MYTH 12: Anti-bacterial products kill all germs
All products labelled as ‘disinfectants’ must comply with the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA’s) requirements, which include controlled testing against specific bacteria. The TGA is the government authority that regulates all medicines and medical devices to ensure that they work effectively and are good for people’s health. Some products are labelled as disinfectants when, in fact, they do not comply with the TGA’s specifications. This is illegal and usually the result of ignorance on the part of the people making these products.
Some other products marketed for killing germs are labelled as ‘anti-bacterial’. These products only need to contain an active ingredient capable of reducing the number of viable microorganisms. There is no requirement to meet or exceed any specific kill rate. This is not very helpful when you consider that a small lump of soil can contain millions of bacteria.
If you want to be certain about killing germs, use a reputable disinfectant that passes the TGA tests. Always dilute the product according to the label instructions and leave the solution in contact for the specified dwell time, usually between two and 10 minutes, to achieve the claimed bacterial kill rate.
Paul Agar is the chief chemist and joint managing director at Agar Cleaning Systems. Agar graduated from Melbourne University with a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) in 1975 and subsequently obtained a Diploma of Education. He has over three decades of experience in the formulation, development and manufacture of chemical products for use across a wide range of applications in building care, healthcare, hospitality, laundry, transport and industry. Agar has developed a vast knowledge base in numerous areas of product formulation, including acrylic floor sealer coatings for Australian conditions and the selection of surfactants for detergents to meet high performance and environmental criteria.