Which wiper to use where?

10th of August 2015
Which wiper to use where?

Wipers are used in a wide range of environments such as the food, mechanical engineering, electronics, automotive and healthcare sectors. But which types of cloths and wipers are best for which environment? ECJ finds out.

Cleaning, wiping, mopping up spills, polishing – these are just a few of the types of applications that require the use of a cloth or wiper. At home we use a few generic products for all these tasks. A dishcloth, a duster, a floor cloth and a kitchen roll tend to serve for the majority of household cleaning and wiping tasks.

However the picture is vastly different in the workplace where the tasks carried out may be highly specialist – in the case of automotive, engineering and pharmaceutical environments, for instance - or hygiene-critical such as in the food and healthcare sectors. We asked manufacturers to talk us through the wiper maze.

Tork manufacturer SCA offers tissue and non-woven products for cleaning, wiping and polishing. “We work with different combinations of fibres and processes to achieve capabilities for various applications,” said global brand communication manager Lena Söderholm.

“The range extends from multipurpose products to niche solutions such as extremely low-lint products; heat-resistant cloths for the food preparation sector and tissue products that combine high absorption with strong durability when wet.”

Breaking it down industry by industry, she says the food sector is driven by regulations and that all wipers and cloths here need to be food-contact approved. “In certain European countries, too, regulations demand that wipes used with food are coloured blue to allow staff to visually track the fibres and lint-dust,” she said.

“Almost all Tork paper and non-woven products are food contact approved and we also offer purpose-designed products for this sector.” Examples include Tork Kitchen Cleaning Cloth, a non-woven cloth with high absorbency and heat-resistance; and Tork Coloured Long-Lasting Cleaning Cloths which are colour-coded to avoid cross-contamination.

The healthcare sector is all about frequency says Söderholm. “Since healthcare staff need to frequently wash and disinfect their hands, paper towels need to be effective but also soft and gentle on the hands,” she said. “We offer a premium air-laid wash cloth for washing patients. This is made from paper but is designed to remain strong when soaked in water and soap.”

Absorbency and strength

For heavy-duty applications in mechanical engineering she claims non-woven cloths are the answer. “These offer a combination of absorbency, strength and low-lint properties that work well in mechanical engineering,” she said. “In the automotive industry you will need low-lint products to prepare vehicle surfaces for painting. And for bodyshop polishing tasks you would require a cloth that is not too absorbent, but that will both hold and release the polishing agent effectively to create a professional result.”

While the product choice may seem complicated, choosing the right wiper or cloth will save both time and money according to Söderholm.

“For most cleaning tasks, selecting the wrong product will not be the end of the world - it will simply mean you will do more of the work yourself rather than let the product do the work for you,” she said. “If an operative uses a generic product for a specialist wiping task, that operative will either have to work harder or use more product, or both. In the end this may be more costly and less efficient.

“However for certain tasks the capabilities of a product are more critical since they will affect the end result. For example if you use a cloth that sheds lint in a vehicle bodyshop you will end up with fibres or dust in the car paint and you will have to start all over again.

“So choosing the right cloth or wiper will save you time, effort and money and in many cases also provide a better result. However, there are multipurpose products for more generic tasks that work well across industries and different applications.”

Among the latest product from Tork is an anti-static, low-lint cleaning cloth for use on sensitive surfaces. Tork Industrial Low-Lint Cleaning Cloth is also suitable for environments where paper
products should be avoided such as in nuclear plants.

Sales director of Metsä Tissue UK and Ireland Mark Dewick agrees that choosing the wrong wiper can prove expensive for the customer. “Inexperienced buyers or those who buy online without sufficient research often make mistakes and their purchases can lead to problems,” he said. “The wrong type of product will quickly come to light in a sensitive environment, but perhaps not before a paint finish has been damaged for example. Customers can waste a lot of time and budget seeking out the most cost-effective solution – money they could have saved if they had sought the advice of an expert.”

Looking at individual industry applications, he says the healthcare sector is particularly complex since different types of cloths and wipers are required for specific applications.

“For wiping and cleaning purposes, for example, the products need to be highly absorbent,” says Dewick. “For anything touching the skin it is important that they are hypo-allergenically tested. Healthcare staff wash their hands repeatedly which means that occupational dermatitis is an issue. And patients’ immune systems may already be compromised in a hospital so they should be protected from unnecessary allergen exposure.”

He says colour-coding can be a good solution in healthcare. “This can help cloths or wipers intended for a specific function to stand out in a consistent way,” he said. “There are plenty of mobile requirements in the healthcare sector, too, which means that portable products are highly suitable. For example, a hypo-allergenically hand drying and wiping product such as the Katrin Easy Pick is a good solution for ambulances and paramedics.”

Difficult to differentiate

In the food industry, he says, both absorbency and colour are important. “Products that are either coloured blue or green tend to be provided in kitchens so that the product would immediately show up if it were to accidently fall into cooking environments,” he said. “Products in the food preparation industry also need to be highly absorbent since a spill here might involve an entire vat of fluid.

“Most importantly, products need to be food safe and all materials and production facilities need to have been checked to the necessary standards.”

He says it can be difficult for customers to differentiate between the various types of cloths and wipers on the market. “Not all technologies are suitable for all applications,” he adds. “For example, Through Air Dried products are environmentally demanding so they may not be acceptable to customers for whom environmental footprint is key.  Some products are abrasive which makes them highly suitable for strong wiping requirements, but inappropriate for polishing applications. And in certain environments a low-linting product is essential in order to avoid paper fragments interfering with the process.”

Vileda’s product development manager Joerg Dunkel agrees that different technologies are required to fulfil different needs. “For example there is a growing trend for shiny surfaces, mirrors, chrome and glass in facilities such as hotels and offices,” he said. “Here you need a product that reduces water release and produces streak-free cleaning.

“A microfibre cloth with a dense structure in which very fine fibres are equally distributed works well here since it will be particularly effective for streak-free cleaning.”

Vileda offers various microfibre products including a patented non-woven microfibre cloth with a coating of PVA - polyvinyl alcohol. This creates a product that is similar in structure to a chamois leather, says Dunkel. “This is ideal for drying cars since it is highly absorbent and easy to wring,” he said. “It will quickly remove moisture from the vehicle’s surface and provide a streak-free finish.”

He claims that knitted microfibre cloths work well in the contract cleaning sector for wiping down surfaces in facilities such as schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and offices. “Knitted microfibre is suitable for surfaces such as furniture and desks where a high shine is not required,” he adds.
A non-woven microfibre cloth would be required for cleanroom cleaning in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, according to Dunkel. “We laser-cut our products for these applications so that the edge is completely sealed and this prevents the shed of any fibres,” he said.

He adds that customers need to carefully consider the application in question before choosing their cloth or wiper. “They should first distinguish between disposable and reusable wipers,” he said. “For example: what are the hygiene issues? Would a reusable cloth be suitable and if so, do you have access to laundry facilities? Do you require a one-day wipe or even a one-use product? A one-day wiper may be appropriate in a kitchen, for example, whereas in an operating theatre you may need a product for just one wiping action.”

Disposable solution

Latest products from Vileda include PVAmicro, an all-purpose knitted microfibre cloth with a PVA coating said to allow sand and other particles to be washed away from the cloth more easily. This is suitable for streak-free cleaning and is claimed to reduce the risk of scratches. Also new are MicroOne wipes which come in resealable plastic bags that fit Vileda’s six-litre bucket. The wipes can be impregnated with a disinfection solution inside the bucket.

Greenspeed also offers a range of microfibre cloths that are suitable for use in various industries according to co-owner Michel de Bruin. “Our Heavy Duty Original and Double Use microfibre cloths have been specially developed for the food preparation industry, but our large Polishing Glass Cloth is another favourite,” he said. Greenspeed’s Double Use cloths are said to be capable of removing caked food remains and greasy dirt from kitchen surfaces while its Polishing Glass Cloth is claimed to provide a particle-free finish on glasses in the catering and restaurant business.

Greenspeed Original microfibre cloths are widely used in the pharmaceutical and electronics sectors as well as in hospitals, says de Bruin. However, he says the mechanical engineering sector holds different challenges.

“There are many different applications in mechanical engineering so it is important to evaluate the situation and ensure that the right advice is given,” he said. “The solution here could be disposable cloths and wipes since there might be a lot of grease dirt involved. But our Original microfibre cloths would also perform well in many mechanical engineering jobs. In fact we believe there is no application in which an absorbent and durable cloth is not appropriate.”

He says expert advice will prevent expensive mistakes from being made.  “The implications of using the wrong product could mean that a scrubbing cloth is employed for an application where it could leave scratches on the surface,” he said. “It would be like cleaning a highly polished car with sandpaper.

“A trained and well-informed cleaning contractor is key since directions for use alone would provide insufficient instruction. This is why we invest a lot of time and effort in organising instruction meetings, workshops and master classes.”


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