Chemical Free Cleaning: Is this the future?

Is the cleaning fraternity shifting its focus towards using chemical-free, greener products? Rashmi Karanjekar speaks to the stakeholders from different industries to understand their views… 

People across industries are becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect and safeguard the environment, and companies are looking for ways to reduce or eliminate the impact of harsh chemicals by using sustainable manufacturing practices and naturally derived, safe, non-toxic, and biodegradable ingredients that don’tnegatively impact the environment.

According to a study conducted in 2018 and published online in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, “Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean.” In Cleaning at Home and at Work in Relation to Lung

Function Decline and Airway Obstruction, researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway analyzed data from 6,235 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. The participants, whose average age was 34 when they enrolled, were followed for more than 20 years.

The impact of chemical cleaning

“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” stated Senior Study Author Cecile Svanes, MD, PhD – a professor at the university’s Centre for International Health. “We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age.”

The authors found that the accelerated lung function decline in the women working as cleaners was “comparable to smoking somewhat less than 20 packyears.” That level of lung impairment was surprising at first, said lead study author Øistein Svanes, a doctoral student also at the Department for Clinical Science. “However, when you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all.”

The authors speculate that the decline in lung function is attributable to the irritation that most cleaning chemicals cause on the mucous membranes lining the airways, which over time results in persistent changes in the airways and airway remodeling. “The take home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs,” Øistein Svanes said. “These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”

He added that public health officials should strictly regulate cleaning products and encourage producers to develop cleaning agents that cannot be inhaled. We spoke with leading professionals in the industry regarding their views on chemical-free cleaning and its impact. One of the most common chemicalfree cleaning products, something that Tatjana Ahmed, Housekeeping Manager, Functional Specialist Housekeeping, Grand Hyatt Dubai finds to be effective, is the micro fiber cloth.

She says, “Several products that are available in the market are very harmful to the environment. Our communities must be better educated to use chemical-free cleaning solutions. We follow a colour-coding system while cleaning our guest rooms and public spaces. Apart from this we use Green- Seal approved cleaning solutions from our provider. In the recent years we have been using special floor pads to polish our marble floors. These pads contain industrial made diamonds and polish the floors to a very high gloss without using any chemical. This method has saved us hundreds of gallons of marble polish and stripper.”

Growing concern

We asked Faisal Fitriansyah, Soft Services Manager, Concordia, about greener cleaning methods like salt-based split stream water technology and steam cleaning, etc. and whether they will ever replace the conventional powders and bleaches. He states that, “Practical green cleaning technologies are still emerging across the world. Various options have been introduced in the past but have failed to reach mass usage or commercialisation due to the initial high costs and/ or compliance requirements in many countries. Besides, varying environments that include residential towers, commercial buildings, occupied space, hotels, schools, hospitals, industrial sector and malls etc. require different approaches and may have very specific regulatory and safety requirements.”

“We firmly believe that chemical free cleaning will be a necessity in the near future due to the various environmental challenges. Various regulatory authorities and government bodies are working on initiatives that would enforce elimination or limited usage of chemicals such as phosphates and nitrates that directly impact the environment. Today, many such products are available in the market, some are permanently used in our operations and other are still being tested on sites,” he adds.

Probiotic cleaning products are a large part of the growing chemical-free cleaning products industry. In the Middle East, InnuScience offers such products. The company’s ethos revolves around ecofriendly alternatives to traditional cleaning chemicals. “We probably have a complete range of functional eco products. Our environmental policy is far stricter than even the most stringent international green benchmarks. The feedback has been overwhelming and positive; we have a very low rate of attrition across our client base and healthy referral numbers. Of course we would always like to see a much faster penetration rate across the market, but we are on a solid trajectory and committed to run the course,” says Ali Mohri, CEO, InnuScience Middle East.

Concordia, which manages the maintenance of multiple lakes and water bodies for the communities they service, includes the use of organic products and micro enzymes for treating the water bodies. “This helps reduce and eliminate phosphates, nitrates, phosphorus, oil, ammonia and suspended solids. Another example is steam cleaning, which we have incorporated in our cleaning processes more than a year ago. Steam operated gum busters have shown better results over chemicals aside from their positive environmental impact,” adds Fitriansyah.

Effective cleaning

Ahmed exclaims that it is surprising how well chemical free or green products clean. She finds that it is therefore imperative to educate the end user on how effective chemical free cleaning can be. These products and chemical free practices are also beneficial for the health and wellbeing as exposure to toxic chemicals is reduced. This is especially important for people with asthma attacks caused by chemical allergens. Even the air quality is improved as well as airborne chemical gases are reduced. “Green products reduce the impact on the environmental footprint of your property – this alone is a reason to switch to greener cleaning products or chemical free cleaning,” states Ahmed.

The alternative

Apart from biotechnology and enzymatic or probiotic cleaning agents, there is a wide range of alternatives to chemical cleaners, although these are proven to be less versatile. “For instance using UV rays, Ozone, ionized water, or even machinery with powerful mechanical action such pressurized and/or steam washers or even the combination will not give the desired results as compared to traditional chemicals. This calls for a look at something like biotechnology and enzymatic or probiotic cleaning agents,” avers Mohri.

Finally, on asking about the effectiveness of these greener cleaning products, Fitriansyah says, “We are closely monitoring the results of those products, and we believe that they need to be tested in different environments in order to be able to come up with a general conclusion on their performance. When we started using steam operated cleaning machines, they were constantly connected to generators, which were loud, required two personnel to operate and needed diesel. We have replaced these generators with effective and powerful battery packs. We believe that like solar power, which started off as being prohibitively expensive but is now being adapted worldwide at as a viable alternative as more affordable source of power, cleaning products will see more affordable and effective options in the near future.”

With the growing concern towards environment and to reduce carbon footprint and harmful emissions, sustainability remains a key objective amongst major businesses world over. “When we talk about cleaning with traditional chemicals, which are considered toxic and incredibly dangerous for both environment and humans, then the current trend of shifting away from them is absolutely right and long overdue. Of course I would not expect use of these toxins to drop to zero, everything has an application and its place, but all indicators point to a desperate need to cut down consumption of these agents to more sensible levels and applications,” concludes Mohri.

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