Green cleaning - reducing water use

19th of April 2023
Green cleaning - reducing water use

Most cleaning tasks involve water in some form, but the use of this precious commodity needs to be limited where possible. What are the latest cleaning systems that reduce the use of water, asks Ann Laffeaty? 

WATER HAS A VITAL ROLE in cleaning. It is used for diluting chemical concentrates and is an important means of washing away dirt from floors and surfaces.

It can also be employed at high pressures to blast ingrained grime from buildings and driveways. And deionised water can be channelled through water-fed poles to clean windows and façades.
But water is a valuable commodity and should be used sparingly. So, how can companies keep their water use to a minimum while also achieving optimum cleaning results?

The world will be facing a 56 per cent freshwater deficit by 2030 according to Ecolab marketing communications manager Gaëlle Petit. “This means any measures the cleaning industry can take to reduce water consumption need to be encouraged,” she said.

“Ready-to-use cleaners are highly diluted and may contain more than 90 per cent water. This means transporting them requires additional vehicles and increases CO2 consumption compared with concentrated cleaners.”

She believes the use of water and energy consumption are very much intertwined. “Energy is required when moving, cooling, heating and treating water across a facility, so businesses can reduce both their energy use and their greenhouse gas emissions by better managing their water operations,” she said.

Ecolab is a co-founder of the Water Resilience Coalition, an industry-driven initiative of the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate. “Using our technologies and programmes we are helping customers to conserve more than 1,000 billion litres of water worldwide, which is equivalent to the drinking water needs of a billion people every year,” said Petit.

Ecolab’s Wash n Walk floor cleaner is said to reduce water consumption by 50 per cent because it requires no rinsing. The company also offers pre-impregnable microfibre cloths and mops as well as ultra-concentrated detergent blocks that dissolve in water. “And we offer regular training on products and procedures to help customers manage their water consumption,” she said.

It is practically impossible to prevent product residues from ending up in the hydrological cycle, according to Greenspeed’s digital trade marketer Eva Meerts. “All detergents should therefore be biodegradable and have a minimal impact on aquatic life,” she said. “It is also important to use water-saving cleaning methods in the right way.” She claims water savings of up to 90 per cent can be achieved by spray-cleaning using a microfibre cloth rather than employing the bucket method.

The use of concentrated chemicals reduces the need for transporting unnecessarily quantities of water, according to Meerts. “These products also require less packaging,” she said.  Greenspeed’s Probio Tabs are said to save 300 litres of water per 1,000 sprays while also reducing CO2 emissions during transport by 99 per cent.

Responsible approach

Every action that saves water can be helpful, says Meerts. “A great deal of water is used not only for cleaning but also during the manufacture of cleaning products,” she said. “For example, cotton fibres require 8,000 litres per kg of cotton which means its water footprint during production should not be underestimated.”

Industry players need to take a responsible approach to using the crucial resource of water, says cleaning products distributor Jangro’s ceo Joanne Gilliard. “There has been a great deal of innovation in terms of products and processes that minimise the amount of water required to keep spaces clean and healthy,” she said. “For example, a modern floor scrubber is much more efficient than a conventional mop and bucket while also using less water and achieving a higher quality clean.

“Similarly, many surface cleaning and sanitising solutions are now being developed to be rinse-free to further save on water use.” She says Jangro’s ntrl Foaming Washroom and Toilet Cleaner and ntrl Cleaner and Degreaser are examples of such products.

The use of concentrated chemicals can also help to reduce water consumption, says Gilliard. “They don’t just provide more uses from a single container, they also result in lower transport costs, lower emissions and a reduced need for storage space,” she said.

Kärcher is another company striving to reduce its water use, says sustainability and energy manager Katrin Schmuck.  “Water is becoming a critical resource and we are already seeing water restrictions in some countries,” she said. “So the cleaning and hygiene industry needs to become a role model for how society can be served in innovative and sustainable ways.”

She says Kärcher has been formulating concentrated products since it began developing detergents more than 40 years ago. “In this way we avoid having to ship water around the globe,” she said. “Another goal is to offer simple dosing and dilution solutions that make working with concentrates as easy as possible.”

She says a good microfibre cloth or mop will clean more effectively and using less water than a standard cotton or viscose textile. “A spray mop or a pre-impregnated system will also dramatically reduce water consumption compared with a traditional bucket/wringer system,” said Schmuck.

But all water consumption during cleaning needs to be taken into context. she adds. “For example, steam cleaners and hot water high-pressure machines are often able to remove dirt from surfaces without the use of chemicals which makes this method both resource-friendly and residue-free,” she said.

And she adds the importance of water conservation depends on the region in question. “There will be a strong focus on water-saving solutions in countries where water is scarce, whereas in other regions there is likely to be a greater emphasis on chemical-free cleaning or on energy-saving operations,” she said.

Kärcher’s B 110 R ride-on scrubber-dryer is said to save up to 50 per cent of water and cleaning agents compared with equivalent models because the inflow of water is controlled by driving speed.

Water is crucial to any hand hygiene routine, according to GOJO’s UK managing director Chris Wakefield. “Soap and water are a must for heavy soils,” he said. “But it is important to constantly re-evaluate our impact on the planet. And there has been much innovation to help conserve water during hand washing.”

He claims the company’s Purell Healthy Soap can save an average of 22 litres of water per refill because it rinses away the product efficiently.

Water is essential for dissolving and removing dirt during cleaning, says Werner & Mertz Professional’s communication manager Alisa Kitze. “It is also a vital element in the production of cleaning detergents,” she said.  “But water consumption can be minimised by using cleaning systems that prevent overdosage.”

She says cleaning concentrates are a sustainable option because they require less water during production. “They also have a reduced packaging weight which cuts down on transport costs,” she said. “Preparing the cleaning solution requires water, but water is everywhere and it doesn’t need to be transported. So concentrated products bring advantages in warehousing capacity while also facilitating a higher stock range.”

Werner & Mertz Professional uses water from its own 70-metre well during the production of its cleaning detergents. “The waste water is then purified in our own water treatment system so it can leave the site as clean as it was taken out,” she said.

Part of the picture

Service provider Cleanology’s head of marketing Kate Lovell says it is essential to reduce, restrict and monitor the use of water in all cleaning operations. “The average UK business uses 50 litres per day per employee which equates to 650,000 per year for 50 office-based employees,” she claims. “At Cleanology we only use 453,000 litres per year for our 50 head office staff, which is a significant reduction.”

The company also uses concentrated cleaning solutions mixed with water on site. According to Lovell, however, it is difficult to reduce the consumption of water in certain high-use applications. “For example, if you are cleaning external windows using a high-reach pole-fed system it will be impossible to recycle the used water because it will become contaminated once it hits the ground,” she said.

“But this will not be the case in a truck wash bay that would have a water interceptor designed to prevent contamination. The water there could be recycled.”

But is water use the key sustainability issue today? Or are other issues equally important?

Water savings are just a part of the sustainability equation, says Lovell. “At Cleanology sustainability is at the heart of everything we do and this includes minimising the use of plastics, packaging, paper, energy and fossil fuels as well as water,” she said.

Jangro’s Joanne Gilliard agrees reducing water use is just one aspect of being sustainable. “Businesses also need to adopt more environmentally-friendly processes and systems that cover products, packaging, transport, wellbeing and ethics as well as a corporate approach to emissions, waste, and water,” she said.

Water is undeniably a valuable resource - but so is the land and the planet’s biodiversity, according to Greenspeed’s Meerts. “The issue of air pollution is also important and must be minimised to avoid climate change and its effect on nature,” she said.

And while reducing water use is a praiseworthy environmental aim, the industry needs to look at the bigger picture says GOJO’s Chris Wakefield. “For example, it is also important to optimise our recycling capabilities and reduce our reliance on virgin plastics while working on other areas to reduce our collective environmental impact,” he said.


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