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Cleaning chemicals - the case for dilution systems25th of June 2014
A chemical dispensing system may require some initial outlay, but manufacturers argue that these are offset by their enormous safety, cost, and sustainability benefits. Writing for ECJ, Brightwell Dispensers looks at factors such as employee safety and reductions in chemical use and finds out whether these are sufficient to persuade companies to invest in chemical dispensing systems.
Chemical dispensing systems have been around for the past 34 years. Recent growing societal-driven pressures for sustainability and staff health and safety, together with increased cost control awareness from businesses have put chemical dispensing under the spotlight.
The numerous formats of cleaning solutions available on the marketplace have brought apparent confusion as to which systems are best adapted to businesses. Promotional messages will all argue their system is the best suited for the end customer, usually regardless of their business model.
What are chemical dispensing systems? What alternatives are there? And what benefits relate to business requirements on a day-to-day basis?
There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ format. It all comes down to particular needs, each company expressing its own. There does seem to be a solution that ticks most boxes in terms of costs, environmental considerations and health and safety. This article will review formats and aim to encourage smarter, educated choice for end customers.
Chemical dispensing formats
A chemical dispensing system is a piece of equipment which enables the dosing or diluting of chemical at point of use, by the end user. It compares to pre-diluted solutions usually sold in usable packaging formats – such as spray bottles for instance. These are the types of cleaning chemical formats typically found in households, whereby there will be a different spray bottle for each use (windows, oven, anti-bacterial...) – with maybe an extra bottle in stock in the case of organised households. Spray bottled chemicals for professional use are generally slightly more dense in active ingredients, and stock management in businesses using such formats might be slightly better managed.
The other alternative to chemical dispensing systems is the absence of actual equipment while still using concentrated chemical. In these cases, a person is the dilutor/operator, and they choose the dilution by manually pouring chemical into a bottle, before adding water. This is called the glug-glug method.
Shift to concentrated chemicals
Until the 1970s-80s, the only chemical format available was pre-diluted, ready-to-use solutions. The emergence and expansion of big conglomerates, chain stores, franchising networks, etc across various industries – all large consumers of cleaning chemicals (hospitals, hotels, fast food/QSR), coupled with impetuous economic crashes at the time, increased both buyers’ power and cost awareness. Large corporate companies, who spent hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars on cleaning products per year, started looking at ways to cut costs.
Active ingredients make up 12-15 per cent of the composition of ready-to-use cleaning products – the rest being water. This means that large corporations were basically spending a significant proportion of their cleaning-related expenditure on simply shipping water around the world. In most developed countries, water is considered a readily available, cheap – or free in some cases – commodity. So the solution lay in pushing up the concentration of active ingredients – which is what chemical manufacturers did by introducing concentrated chemicals, with a ratio of one-third active ingredients (30-40 per cent of the solution).
Benefits and limitations of concentrates
This shift to concentrated chemicals presented major benefits:
Packaging - Typically, a one-litre pouch of concentrated chemical is equivalent to 75 ready-to-use spray bottles. Concentrated chemicals may also be sold in larger containers (five, 10, or 20 litres for instance), multiplying the equivalent of spray bottles saved at time of purchase. In addition, operators will usually reuse the same spray bottle to refill with concentrated chemical,
which reinforces the idea of less packaging. This has obvious positive environmental implications.
Transport - The transport of smaller volumes of greater concentrated chemical impacts on both costs and environment:
• Less fuel, manpower and logistics draw costs down
• Less frequent deliveries and fuel consumption impacts on the carbon footprint.
At the present time where there is an increased pressure from society for companies to provide more sustainable systems and account for their environmental impact, concentrated chemicals are a hot topic in the industry. Businesses try to associate themselves with responsible partners, race to achieve ISO 14001 and other certificates to make it into their customers’ tick list. The will might come from within the company or from customers requesting greener solutions – either way, concentrates are in the spotlight.
Storage - Storing one pouch of concentrated chemical versus 75 spray bottles really speaks for itself and the benefits are obvious.
Cost-in-use - The most prominent of all benefits has to be cost-in-use. Because of its density, a container of concentrated chemical will be an investment – which small businesses might be reluctant to do at first. The cost comparison between that container and its equivalent in
ready-to-use spray bottles is as ‘pennies versus. pounds’.
The limitation of using a concentrated chemical speaks for itself: by removing water from the chemical formulations, these products require dilution at the point of use to bring them back to a usable concentration. To do this, there are two solutions: either dilute manually (the glug-glug method) or use chemical dispensing equipment to do so.
Manual dilution: the glug-glug method
Glug-glug is a method by which the operator manually dilutes a chemical at point of use, by pouring a certain amount of concentrated chemical into a spray bottle or other usable packaging format before adding water to the mix. Because of the apparent simplicity of the concept, operators (owners of corner shops, local bars, etc) will tend to feel confident that they know the right process. Users feel they can relate to previous experience – isn’t it just like pouring orange squash into a glass?
The big difference between squash and concentrates is that the right amount of chemical concentrate is not relative to personal taste or preference. People might like their drink a bit sweeter or more diluted. People might try pouring the same amount as last time but it might be slightly more or slightly less. This has implications for the business:
Misdosing, whether it be overdosing or underdosing - Have you ever almost entirely epilated your elbow on a bar counter, and were bemused when the waiters assured you they has just cleaned? Or walked into a local restaurant and had really sticky soles on your shoes? Or on the contrary, have your ever noticed smears on a tiled floor, making it appear like a design print of misplaced dirt?
Over- and underdosing are a huge source of costs for companies, as well as potentially being a health hazard with, in some cases, legal consequences.
Health and safety - What are the odds of missing the funnel when aiming for the narrow trigger bottle when pouring from a larger container? Spillages are a serious matter: concentrated chemicals can cause burns and harm the operators, or at the very least, they will distract you from your business activity.
Pilferage - Just like a spray bottle, concentrated chemicals are easily accessible for people to use – and abuse (product goes missing, pilferage...). However, spray bottles represent less of an investment than concentrated chemical containers so what might be a temporary inconvenience in the first instance might become a real costly impediment to your business. Concentrated chemicals are an investment: protect it.
All in all, the glug-glug method becomes a false economy.
Chemical dispensing systems
The next step is to introduce equipment between operators and chemicals. There are various types of chemical dispensing systems around on the market, and the choice will be dependent on your company’s needs. The most simplistic version will be the pelican pump, whereby a pump is screwed to the neck of the chemical container, enabling dosing which is somewhat less prone to misdosing and health and safety hazards, but which does not put aside risks of pilferage for instance.
Other equipment includes wall-mounted dosing and diluting systems. According to the needs of the final environment, including water pressure, staff training opportunities, maintenance opportunities etc, a dosing system or a diluting, venturi system will be more appropriate. Both of these provide benefits to the end customer which cannot be disregarded:
Precise dosing = cost control - With a shot size or a ratio which is either factory-preset or determined by the installer, the equipment will dispense chemical in a precise, regular, homogeneous fashion, avoiding all risks of misdosing. Some systems include additional delay functions to avoid accidental extra dosing in the same container for instance.
Centralised - Mounted on the wall, the dispensing equipment is easy to find – no searching around to locate the ready-to-use spray bottle.
Safe - Dispensers usually offer a lock-in option whereby chemicals are locked away, avoiding all risks of contact between the operators and the chemical – including spillages or pilferage. An additional option of exclusivity is present on certain systems, allowing only the agreed chemical to fit into the cabinet – this can help the end customers ensure they are conforming with their regulations (HACCP for instance).
Organised - Apart from being neatly organised on the wall, chemicals and dispensers will often come colour-coded with clear signage and wall charts on how to use which chemical for which application, helping the cleaning staff operate safely and smartly.
The only real point to consider with chemical dispensing systems is the initial investment in terms of training. In many cases, the cost of the equipment and its installation is absorbed at least partially by the chemical manufacturers, who provide it as a package service to end customers. For large companies, the cost associated with the equipment is ludicrous compared to the enormous savings in cost-in-use observed on a daily basis. However, it is crucial that the staff are given appropriate training on the equipment and chemical usage, as well as instructions/wall charts.
Before choosing any chemical dispensing format, it is important for the end customer to analyse their business needs and determine which system they would benefit most from. A simple cost-in-use analysis will in many cases prove the financial benefits of having a chemical dispensing system – as well as the equipment’s environmental and health and safety benefits – all future-proofing the company in their daily cleaning needs.