From shopping malls to hotels to airports to commercial and residential buildings, we have come to terms with the fact that each surface that we see or touch may contain harmful viruses and bacteria. We owe the rising wave of awareness in terms of hygiene to the COVID-19 pandemic, which reinforced the need for constant disinfection, cleaning and above all, technology. As stricter and more elaborate cleaning procedures emerged, the industry saw a dire need for new, innovative and effective means of cleaning. This wasn’t about cleaning anymore. It was about cleaning for safety.
Absolutely nothing stops particles (including viruses and bacteria) from spreading due to things we touch browsing or going about our days. Not only has this difficult time been an eye-opener in best practices for cleaning, but it has also fueled a search for more efficient options. Here are some of the top cleaning and disinfection technologies that have helped facilities to overcome the pandemic pressure.
- UV radiation
UV radiation is known for its deadliness to kill viruses. Research suggests that germicidal ultraviolet disinfection products can kill up to 99.9% of viruses and bacteria on surfaces without the use of harsh chemicals.
These UV-C disinfecting products are not just for hospitals. Any commercial building like hotels, banks, and offices can benefit from UV-C disinfection. During the pandemic, many different facilities began to implement UV light as a cleaning and disinfection solution. Take for instance the clothing retail industry - a retailer with 1,000 brick-and-mortar locations began experimenting with UV technology as an alternative to steam cleaning, which can cause problems with HVAC systems and make stores hot and muggy. Many facilities are looking to install LEDs that emit ultraviolet light because they are cost effective and easy to install, operate and maintain. There are still development hurdles but researchers are now working to make them more powerful, more robust, and cheaper.
Pros of UVC
Mobility – You can move them to the areas you want to disinfect. The mobility factor is the biggest pro of UVC units.
Operate on any schedule – Instead of using ceiling or wall mounted UV disinfecting products that operate on a schedule, mobile UV units can be used when it's convenient for you. This is beneficial for frequently touched surfaces.
Adjustable equipment – There are many variations of mobile UV disinfection units. Some are robotic, some are pushcarts, and some are built on stands. Most involve adjustable equipment to make sure you are hitting the areas you want to hit with germicidal UV light. That leaves little room for hiding spots for germs.
Easy to use – With proper training, it's easy to operate mobile UV units.
Cons of UVC
Labor requirement – In mobile UVCs, someone has to man the system, and move it from room to room.
Time constraints – While some mobile UV disinfection products operate on a timer, you may want to use your unit in an area that's frequently occupied. The room should be empty while the system is running to limit exposure.
Multiple cycles – UV rays disinfect by line of sight, meaning any area that UV energy does not hit will not be disinfected. Also, UV does not penetrate through furniture or other objects. You will probably need to run multiple cycles in a room to make sure all areas are disinfected.
- Internet of Things
An important part of cleaning is to keep track of things and smart tools go a long way to ease that. They reduce the time needed to complete cleaning tasks, provide data for analytics, and simplify operations. And so, smart tech in the cleaning industry includes systems like touch-free dispensers that can track compliance.This is only the tip of the iceberg. There is plenty in the realm of smart technology for cleaning that remains unexplored. There are softwares that provide detailed records of facility cleaning, for example, or repurposing robotics technologies to automate the cleaning of high-touch surface areas.
Pros of IoT
- Efficiency - Needless to say, IoT technologies help cleaning supervisors and management with analytics that make their processes more efficient.
- Real time problem solving - IoT based technologies and softwares have shown to significantly lower the lead time in solving cleaning related problems
- Smarter decision making - With proper smart tracking systems in place, decision making is more data driven and better.
Cons of IoT
IoT might not fit every facility’s budget. The cost of setting up smart technology is still very high.
With the immense real-time, data collection capabilities and opportunity for better decision making also comes user adoption and training.
- Robot custodians
Places such as hospitals, shopping malls and airports are increasingly looking for fully-functional cleaning robots, while also leaving room for a hybrid model, popularly known as cobotics. The underlying factor is to achieve time efficiency in the cleaning operation. A robotic cleaner, equipped with UV light, is capable of disinfecting an operating hospital room in approximately 12 minutes. Manually, this task would take approximately 90 minutes or more. In fact, every facility with a large area is looking for similar solutions, underscoring the way the pandemic is accelerating the drive toward automation across the economy. Not only can machines be more efficient, but they can also be used to eradicate germs and limit human contact that may pose a public health threat.
Pros of robotic cleaners
- Increase productivity and reduce accidents - This is the biggest perk of using a robotic cleaner. It significantly helps facilities to achieve time efficiency in their cleaning operations. It enables cleaning crews to work faster and more efficiently, allowing them to service more facilities faster, upgrade their level of service, and keep customers happier.
- Minimize accidents - Robots can also play a role in making work environments safer by reducing accidents and mistakes due to human error. Overnight cleaning crews, for example, can get tired and make mistakes in judgment or lose focus. This can lead to accidents and damaged equipment, structures, or products. Some of these mistakes can be costly. Robotic cleaning machines, on the other hand, are programmed to be reliable and consistent. Many have built-in safety features that protect against accidents, whether they’re used independently of, or collaboratively with, human workers. Through the use of sensors, lasers, and cameras, robots limit the exposure to damage.
- Better allocation of human resources - When skilled workers are freed from redundant tasks, they can invest more time in aesthetics.
Cons of robotic cleaners
- Cost - Robotic cleaners require high initial investment. In a time when budgets are very restricted, they might not be the most feasible option.
During the pandemic, drones were seen in many parts of the world covering large areas with disinfectant spray.
Facilities with really large spaces often pose a challenge when it comes to cleaning. Airports, arenas, public roads, etc are particularly challenging. What we saw during the pandemic was a spectacular use of drones to disinfect these spaces. Drones can navigate indoors and outdoors and can cover up to 23,000 square feet in an hour. Still, some professional cleaners can be wary of high-tech methods, saying that while drone cleaners can be useful for covering large areas, the human touch is essential.
Pros of drones
- Cover large spaces in less time - Drones work faster than robots in terms of disinfection. They cover larger spaces in less time.
Cons of drones
- Cost - The cost of drones is relatively high as compared to UVC and other alternate technologies.
- Human element lagging - Many cleaning professionals are of the opinion that drones cannot fully achieve what a human touch can, in terms of cleaning.
- Self-cleaning surfaces
Even if surfaces are cleaned regularly, there is room for contamination in between two rounds of cleaning. It is not possible to manually clean a surface (especially frequently touched surfaces) every time they are touched. This is where self cleaning surfaces come in handy.
Since the length of time viruses can live on a surface is dependent on the surface material, scientists experimented on changing the material properties to increase safety. On plastic and steel, the novel coronavirus can live for up to 72 hours while silver and copper are known to kill viruses within four hours. Even the best surfaces take too long to eliminate the danger of human-to-surface contact. Self cleaning surfaces have features like tiny, spikelike particles that puncture and kill viruses within minutes. This material can be added to desks, walls, and other surfaces to rupture anything with a membrane that lands on them.
Pros of self cleaning surfaces
- Reduce the need for frequent cleaning - Because self cleaning surfaces are capable of killing viruses on their own, the cleaning frequency can be relaxed wherever they are installed.
- Frees up time of cleaning staff - With self cleaning surfaces, workers can focus on other tasks and activities and assume more responsibility.
Cons of self cleaning surfaces
- Limited availability - Self cleaning surfaces are great but they still have limited application areas.
- Transparent coatings
Where a self cleaning surface is not feasible, transparent coatings can be added to surfaces to break down microbes as a less permanent method of cleaning. These coatings make surfaces more virus-resistant. Most transparent coatings react when illuminated by light to break down microbes. The coatings last up to a year, but the effectiveness rests on how much light is available and needs about 8 hours of light to activate.
The coating uses titanium dioxide to turn natural oxygen into free radicals. These free radicals continuously decompose bacteria and viruses. This could be an interesting solution for hotels, which can have a longer turnover time before rooms are needed for new customers.
Pros of transparent coatings
- Protect surfaces - The biggest advantage of transparent coating is that they make surfaces a lot safer. While the need for cleaning is still there, the frequency can be largely reduced.
Cons of transparent coatings
- Limited application areas - Transparent coatings are great for hotels but they might not be the best solution for airports, shopping malls or other large facilities.
- Efficiency concerns - Their efficacy is still under the scanner.
- Last only for a year - The cost incurred on transparent coatings is annual. These coatings only last up to a year and they have to be renewed.
The number of new technologies and solutions that emerged during the pandemic is overwhelming. These solutions will forever transform the way the cleaning industry operates. It’s hard to single out the best technology but with the right analysis of your requirements against the pros and cons of these will help in choosing the best.