Cold Steve Austin is Stone Wrong. ICE T has never cleaned the carpet in a pizza restaurant. Drew Brees might want to check out the smelliest part of those football uniforms after they have been cleaned. You might have seen the television commercials by a leading washing machine detergent company highlighting the “alleged” money-saving and climate benefits of switching to cold-water cleaning when doing laundry. The use of all these celebrities: a famous wrestler, an actor, and a football player all lead to the conclusion that you are a better citizen and more planet friendly if you clean with cold water, plus you will save money.
This argument is not a new one, even with the most recent emphasis on climate change and the increased discussion on the use of resources to heat up the water. Tide ran a similar ad series all the way back in 1996. The argument sounds rather convincing – their detergent is good enough to get even the greasiest and dirtiest laundry clean with cold water. This of course brings up a longstanding debate in the cleaning industry. Do you really need hot water to effectively clean carpet and hard surface floors? One well known trainer on green cleaning in the janitorial industry has long pushed for “cold water” cleaning, even when it came to commercial carpets and hard surface floors. So, what does a planet conscious carpet cleaning professional do? Should you turn off your heater when cleaning carpeting and hard surface floors?
As far as the criticism that heating up the water uses limited resources, there are several arguments against this concept. First, using only cold water, particularly on carpets and hard surface floors that have been exposed to a higher level of oil and “sticky” based soiling, will increase the amount of time it takes to clean the floor. It will require the use of a larger volume of cleaning chemical. It will require multiple passes of the cleaning wand across the carpet, increasing the likelihood of over-wetting the carpet and extending drying times. Secondly, admittedly, In the case of portable extractors, the use of electricity to heat the water does use additional resources through the consumption of electricity. This fact led several state attorney generals to propose rules for government buildings specifying “cold-water” cleaning. Dr. Michael Berry, a well-known research scientist who was with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and later a Research Professor at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill wrote against these proposals. In his written response to proposed New York state guidelines for cold water cleaning, he stated “I suggest it is for more important to heat and use water in the pursuit of health protection than it is to reduce energy use and to increase water conservation.”
Several scientific investigations have confirmed the value of heat in the carpet cleaning process to reduce chemical usage. Hotter cleaning solution increases the chemical molecular activity of the cleaning chemical you are using (including water). According to an article published in Chemistry World, “a growing body of research reveals that to hurry reactions along in water and replace reagents all that’s needed is some heat.” Even key concepts from a middle school chemistry training program reinforce this:
- “Adding energy (heating) increases molecular motion.
- Increased molecular motion competes with the attraction between solute molecules and tends to make them come apart more easily.
- Increased molecular motion causes more solvent molecules to contact solute molecules and pull on them with more force, usually resulting in more dissolving.
- Since different substances are made from different atoms, ions, or molecules, increased temperature will affect their dissolving to different extents. “
Increased chemical activity means you will need to use less chemical to clean. Dr. Michael Berry, in his book Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health, found that “heat simply improves cleaning’s effectiveness. “Even without soap, small amounts of grease will dissolve in water, [but] the amount increases in hot water, sometimes ten-fold,” he says.“
A third point specifically related to the use of “resources” by your truckmount to clean carpeting and hard surface floors that seems to get completely overlooked by organizations writing policy that affect our industry has to do with the way that most modern truckmounts work. The fuel consumption used to power a truckmounted carpet cleaning machine, whether it be a slide-in or direct drive unit is going to exist to operate that unit. In most cases, it runs on gasoline. The heating of the water in a heat exchanger equipped truckmount works by capturing heat from other sources (engine, blower, radiator, etc…) that are being powered anyway. The hot water created by a truckmount does not require the use of any additional resources beyond those required to run the truckmount. Using the fuel source for dual benefits – what could be greener than that?
As far as the “climate change argument against hot water” goes, lets dive just a bit deeper. The use of cold-water to clean oil-based soiling requires a massive increase in the use of cleaning solutions, often including petroleum-based solvents, to break down and emulsify the oil-based soil. With each cleaning “pass” across the floor trying to get it clean, additional water is used, additional chemicals are used, and the drying time for the floor is extended. I do not proclaim to be an “expert” on the causes and concerns of climate change, but I don’t think more water consumption, a higher use of chemicals, and more chemical introduced into the sanitary sewage system fits very well with the “climate change” narrative.
Perhaps the most perplexing and confusing part of the “clean with cold water” narrative comes in an often-overlooked benefit of the use of hot water in cleaning; i.e., the sanitizing benefits of hot water. We know that water temperatures above 130º F have been demonstrated to have sanitizing effects on surfaces, including carpeting and hard surface floors, reducing the level of germs, bacteria, viruses, and other unwanted matter. It could be mandated that restaurants use cold water in their dishwashers also, but my guess is that health department regulators would tell you the resources used to heat the water are worth the added protection to public health provided by the sanitizing effects of the extremely hot water. Hotter water in virtually all cleaning applications plays an incredibly significant role in the reduction of germs, bacteria, viruses and other unwanted material without the use of harsh chemical disinfectants. Shaw Industries, the world’s largest manufacturer of flooring recently completed testing that shows the potentially harmful effect on many indoor surfaces and floors of the repeated use and application of common household and commercial chemical sanitizers and disinfectants. Some of these effects have included yellow discoloration and pitting of the surfaces and permanent damage to the texture. All one must do is put “the overuse of chemical disinfectants” into any computer search engine to find a growing body of studies questioning how much chemical disinfecting is being done, and its potentially harmful effects on surfaces and occupant health.
Simply put, hotter cleaning solution contributes to a healthier indoor environment. Let’s look at some independent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies that support this statement. We know that from Dr. Michael Berry and his associates, who on behalf of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, did two groundbreaking studies measuring the impact of deep restorative carpet cleaning (utilizing hotter cleaning solution) in 1991 and 1994. The “Denver” Study in 1991 and the “Frank Porter Graham” Study in 1994 advanced our understanding of the interaction between cleaning and the indoor environment. The “Denver” Study looked at whether they could even measure particulates, gas phase organics, and biological contamination in carpeting before, during, and after carpet cleaning. The “Frank Porter Graham” Study was a collaborative effort that involved participants from the cleaning industry utilizing “best industry practices” and deep cleaning methods for on-going cleaning and maintenance in a Child Development Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Airborne dust contaminants were reduced by 52%. Total Volatile Organic Compounds decreased by 49%. Total bacterial was reduced by 40%, and total fungi declined by 61%
We know from studies conducted by the Airmid Health Group in 2014 on the allergen and bacterial effects of truckmount hot water extraction cleaning of massive reductions in allergens from carpeting following cleaning. Their conclusion: “Incorporation of a hot water extraction cleaning procedure in a home allergen avoidance strategy significantly reduces the levels of bio-contaminants to which occupants are exposed.”
Having just evolved into the third year of the “COVID -19” pandemic, the focus on using hot water and detergents as a critical first step in creating a safer and healthier indoor environment has never been more important. We will conclude our discussion of the fallacy of cold-water cleaning by simply reviewing the definition of cleaning originally stated and expanded on by Dr. Berry:
“Effective cleaning is the process of extraction and removing unwanted matter to the optimum extent to reduce exposure to unwanted matter. Most people clean carpets when they look dirty. Rarely does anyone recognize that their carpet needs to be cleaned for health protection. Yet every time pollutants are extracted from the carpeting; the quality of the indoor environment is enhanced by reducing exposures. A high-performance carpet cleaning process that focuses on nine steps using a wet, high temperature, high flow, high extraction system”
The proponents of “cold water cleaning” need to look deeper into the scientifically defined meanings for clean. It is not just about improving appearance. It is about the extraction and removal of unwanted substances. Hot water does that better, and in the end reduces the contribution of chemicals and activities that can directly affect “climate change.”
Berry, Dr. Michael A, “Characteristics of High Performance Carpet Cleaning”, The Journal of Cleaning, Restoration, and Inspection, Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification, Winter 2017, pages 20-26
Berry, Dr. Michael A, Protecting the Built Environment, Cleaning for Health, Tri-Comm Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 1993
Indoor Air Quality Monitoring in Carpeted Environments, Environmental Criteria and Assessment Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, NC, 1992
Indoor Environment Characterization of a Non-Problem Building; Assessment of Cleaning Effectiveness, Environmental Criteria and Assessment Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, NC, 1994