Balancing the Elephant

“Chemical” is the elephant in the room. Sales reps are told to avoid the word or risk losing the sale (1). Let’s get real! Manufacturing cannot happen without chemicals. Manufacturing product involves removing soil, or matter out of place. To do so involves using chemicals. The issue is not whether “safer” chemicals can replace supposedly “bad” chemicals. All chemicals have inherent risks. To classify a chemical as inherently good or evil is a simplistic, even dangerous notion. In our most recent column, we explained that critical cleaning is a process, a process that includes chemical forces and physical forces (2).

The problem (another word that is forbidden in sales and in business) is that manufacturers must balance

Harming people
Destroying the environment
Compromising product quality
Becoming unprofitable

Profit is not a four letter word. Worker safety, neighborhood safety, environmental protection are all important issues. When clients ask us to design a new critical cleaning process, they often provide us with a laundry list of permitting and safety/environmental regulatory issues that they must meet in order to survive – to simply stay in business.

We suggest a more enjoyable, productive, profitable approach: don’t just survive, thrive! This means not simply achieving compliance but actually designing a better process.

Critical cleaning must be a value-added activity. Unless you are contractually obligated to do a cleaning step, consider why, where and when cleaning is necessary. All cleaning processes must be practical, rugged, and effective. Cleaning processes must contribute to surface quality and to product quality. Understanding the options, planning and evaluation are essential to achieve a great cleaning process. In our experience, up-front planning, comparison shopping, and evaluation can yield increased profits and higher-quality product, even where the impetus for process change is a “have to” notice from a regulatory agency.

So, if a client comes to us demanding that we replace a cleaning agent or help them purchase a more well-contained cleaning system, we look to see what the process options are and where they can get the best return on their investment in capital equipment and time. In addition to achieving compliance, we encourage clients to look at the full process impact, including energy savings (which can translate to cash savings). One example is choosing well-contained, well-insulated cleaning equipment. In comparing cleaning chemistries, factoring in the full cost includes not only initial costs but also in-use costs and disposal costs. An initial investment in chemical monitoring leads to a longer life for a process bath. Filtration and on-board recycling can be good investments.

More cleaning is not necessarily better. Any manufacturing activity, including removing soil, has the potential to damage the product. Materials compatibility tables consider the interaction of a chemical with the product. However, materials compatibility is not just about the chemical – it’s about the process (3). The wrong cleaning process can damage the product. A cleaning chemical may have a favorable worker exposure profile; it may dissolve the soil; and it may be relatively simple to achieve environmental compliance and permitting. However, if the temperature and cleaning force needed to remove the soil are such that the product is deformed or the surface is damaged, that’s the wrong chemical in the wrong process! When we work with manufacturers, we help them to take a dispassionate look at their choices in cleaning chemicals.

There are requirements to train employees in proper chemical handling. It is effective to combine safety training with technical training/education. The general rule is that engineering controls are more effective than trying to get people to avoid exposure to chemical or physical hazards. However, every process; perhaps every activity, comes with risks. Of course, people have to be trained to follow protocol. Training is not enough! In our courses, consulting, and publications, we discuss education (4). With the right education, employees become alert to unanticipated issues that could affect their exposure or exposure of the surroundings or effectiveness of cleaning.

Safety and environmental requirements are “have to” activities. Sustainability is an “ought to” activity. A profitable and sustainable critical cleaning process minimizes the resources it consumes and minimizes the external impact of using those resources.

(1) Lenny Gray, “Door-to-door Millionaire: Secrets of Making the Sale,” CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

(2) Barbara Kanegsberg, “Elephants and Cleaning Agents,” Clean Source, September, 2017.

(3) B. Kanegsberg, “Compatibility: You Can’t Rely on Eye-charts,” Clean Source, July 2013;

(4) B. Kanegsberg and E. Kanegsberg, “The Value of Educated Employees,” Clean Source, January 2015;

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1 Comment

  1. Great article! I appreciate your non-demonization of cleaning chemicals in our modern world. If more folks took the time to investigate their options and total cost of cleanliness, they might find the products that try to sell their solutions as simple and safe, are often times just watered-down concentrations of a once-effective, appropriately-formulated chemical.

    This can contribute to issues of ineffective cleaning, corrosion of parts and equipment, and omissions of true product safety and handling regulations. This has been demonstrated as products are regularly diluted to a level that allows them to skirt shipping as a hazardous product.

    End-users who purchase these versions can end up paying much more for a less-effective product over the life of their cleaning process. A waste of product, energy, and labor costs.

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