Once upon a time, the cleaning of industrial spaces was a simple matter. That all changed when lockdowns began in the first half of 2020. Businesses now are faced with the problem of satisfying local ordinances about workplace cleanliness as well as demonstrating to employees that they can return to a safe environment.
Early efforts to comply largely involved throwing manpower at the problem — long hours of scrubbing and disinfecting. But better solutions have emerged.
Do it yourself
Organizations opting to sanitize their own spaces are advised to purchase a sprayer or fogger. This slashes the time required to clean a space while providing a far cleaner overall environment – if done correctly.
There are plenty of products out there. An online search reveals dozens of consumer-level devices. These range from small bottles suitable for cleaning a small room to sprayers with larger capacity that can be wheeled around the premises with capacities of around 2.5 gallons of fluid. These larger consumer-grade devices are fine for a large home or small office. But they don’t cut it for industrial or commercial quarters larger than a couple of thousand square feet.
Why? Products designed for home use are likely to break down when forced to sanitize much bigger spaces. Their components won’t be able to take the pounding. Nozzles clog, sprayers seize up, and they consume too much employee time as they output a small spray plume.
In many ways, it is like trying to make do with a home vacuum cleaner in a 10,000-square-foot-plus premises. It just isn’t built for the demands of that environment. What is needed is a commercial-grade sprayer. Online search again reveals plenty of choices, but buyer beware. Many lack the power and robustness needed for commercial or industrial use. They may be fine for smaller spaces. But beyond 5,000 square feet, many of them suffer.
The parameters to look for in candidate selection include price, tank capacity, pressure, and hose length. Anything priced below $1,000 is unlikely to be of much value in a commercial setting. Hoses should also be longer than 30 feet if they are going to provide the range needed for rapid cleaning. They should also offer mobility via wheels in order to be moved around the space easily.
Tank capacity of five gallons should be enough. But, again, it depends on the model. An inefficient sprayer will consume far more water in disinfecting a space than an efficient, heavy-duty machine.
Perhaps the most important parameter, though, is pressure. Avoid anything less than 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Those operating at pressures of less than 200 psi tend to compensate by having much larger tanks. This makes them more unwieldy. In any case, low psi is a contributing factor to larger droplets, high water consumption, and more time needed on the job.
The higher the pressure, the greater the coverage area will be per unit of time spent spraying. High pressure, though, can be squandered if the nozzle is lower quality. High pressure combined with an inferior nozzle provides something akin to a pressure washer. You end up spraying water as opposed to a fine mist or fog.
The output reveals nozzle quality. If surfaces are drenched and janitors have to mop up the floors afterwards, pressure and nozzle quality are not only inadequate — equipment and office spaces could be damaged by excessive moisture.
Assuming that a decent spray is produced, pay attention to droplet size. The smaller the droplets, the better the nozzle quality when combined with high pressure. Droplets of 20 microns or more (a micron is a millionth of a meter or 0.00004 inches) cause over wetting. Drops of that size or larger will tend to pool together and fall out more rapidly. Excessive water residue on floors and surfaces will be apparent. Chemical consumption will also soar. The tinier the droplet, the more disinfectant is carried per cubic foot of space. Thus, a high-pressure, small-micron fogger will cover a larger space much faster and more thoroughly than a lower-pressure, larger-micron mister. An ideal spray will cover surfaces with a thin film of chemical solution. This is accomplished with a system that produces very small droplets.
One last factor bears mention — heritage and history. A company that builds industrial-grade equipment is more likely to produce a good sanitizer for large spaces compared to a company operating in the consumer space or one that historically produces cleaning solutions. It is the understanding of machine design, pressures, valve operation, nozzle configuration, and materials that combine to make a device that can withstand the rigors of industrial or commercial usage.
Let’s look at an example of an organization using a sprayer to clean its facilities. Altadena Town & Country Club has been a mainstay of the San Gabriel Mountain foothills since 1910. Only about 15 miles from downtown L.A., the clubhouse sprawls over 27,000 square feet, providing members with gourmet dining, social, and family-friendly events as well as tennis, swimming, and other fitness-related activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered club doors for many weeks. As the lockdown eased, the club could reopen at limited capacity with only outdoor dining — if it maintained social distancing and adhered to strict cleaning and sanitization practices.
Initially, members were hesitant to return. Club staff went to great lengths to sanitize spaces and make members comfortable enough to resume on-site activities. It took a team of employees many hours per day to disinfect and wipe down all surfaces and touch points.
The large pool deck represented a particular challenge. Sized at 135-by-85 feet, the standard procedure was for staff to clean the whole area at the end of the day. To ensure safe operation and comply with governmental rules related to the pandemic, the country club instituted a variety of measures.
“When COVID hit, we were forced to amend our operations by limiting the number of members on the deck at one time,” said Craig Sloane, general manager, Altadena Town & Country Club. “We removed more than half of our pool furniture and set up a reservation schedule.”
To maintain social distancing, the reservation system allowed members to book a limited number of places in one of three daily slots by the pool. Cleaning and sanitization took place during half-hour breaks scheduled between each slot. It took four people to clean, wipe down, and sanitize the entire area.
After experimenting with some consumer-type misters, Altadena Town and Country Club tried the Mobile-Mee High Volume Fogger by Mee Industries. It comes with a 5-gallon solution tank, a 50-foot spray hose, a 1-horsepower motor, and has a flow rate of 0.75 gallons per minute. Its industrial-grade design and powerful pump pressurizes water to 1,900 psi. In conjunction with a multi-nozzle design, it produces a fog composed of droplets averaging less than 10 microns. Its 20-foot spray plume provides high penetration of water-based disinfectants.
As a result, Altadena Town & Country Club reduced the number of pool deck cleaners from four to one. This person brings out the fog sprayer and covers the entire pool deck with fog in minutes. The cleaner then wipes down all showers, changing rooms, dining tables, lounge chairs, and other surfaces in the 11,500-square-foot pool deck to complete the sanitization process.
“Using the Mobile-Mee HVF every day for the past few months has reduced the time employees invest in sanitizing and wiping down our indoor fitness center and pool area by a factor of four,” said Sloane. “This saved us thousands of dollars this summer and provides a level of comfort for our members that the club is maintaining a safe and sanitary environment.”
Sloane added that the fogging process attracted plenty of attention.
“Kids would ask their parents to stick around when their pool session was over so that they could see the fog being sprayed,” he said. “Our members were pleased to see careful consideration given to their health and safety.”
Outside Sanitization Help
Not everyone wants to conduct cleaning and disinfecting themselves. Those hiring outside cleaning crews or with already overworked janitors might prefer to draft in outside help for the extra labor required in a post-COVID world.
Again, there are plenty of choices available for sanitization and disinfecting. SafeClean Los Angeles, for example, offers services throughout Southern California. SafeClean can either spray the premises with a sanitizing solution (Hydrogen Peroxide or Sodium dichloro-S-triazinetrione), or alternatively, wipe and disinfect heavily touched surfaces to ensure they are clean and dust-free.
Richard Didcoate, founder and CEO of SafeClean, said his company is hired when an office is about to reopen after having been closed for some time due to restrictions during the pandemic, by clients seeking to protect employees and customers on a regular basis as a precautionary action (typically weekly or bi-weekly), and when a business has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 or a positive test result from someone on the premises.
“In order to meet local government protocols and to reassure people that their premises are completely safe, they require full sanitizing,” said Didcoate. “It takes about an hour for one technician to wipe down and spray 1,000 square feet and the premises are safe to re-occupy within 30 minutes of our treatment.”
A large metal fabricating plant in Santa Fe Springs, California, for example, had an employee test positive a few months ago.
“After the news got out, none of the staff wanted to be there; there was an almost audible sigh of relief when we arrived to sanitize,” said Didcoate. “That led to a contract for weekly sanitizing of common areas. There hasn’t been a single positive test amongst a staff of hundreds since we started the regular treatments.”
He said companies hire his firm as they have a proven track record across hundreds of sites and are competitively priced compared to national chains. Rates are roughly 10 cents per square foot for spraying, 10 cents per square foot for wiping down, and 10 cents per square foot for a new microbial surface protectant treatment that provides long-lasting protection.
His advice: Don’t wait until you have a positive test result. Be proactive and get preventive treatments done. Your staff will appreciate the fact that you care about them enough to take steps to prevent them catching the virus, and it will actually save you time and money by preventing lost production.