Managing Warehouse Cleanliness
We love to discuss warehouse cleanliness with our customers, as environmental quality control concerns can be some of the most prolific yet easily solvable challenges found in modern warehouses. Every warehouse gets dirty from all imaginable sources of soils and debris, and while most do an acceptable job managing their cleanliness, almost all of these warehouses have room to improve. As end-customer expectations and regulatory scrutiny naturally increase over time, the pressure to raise the bar on warehouse cleanliness increases as well, ultimately motivating material handling center managers to get ahead of the curve by finding new technologies and practices. To that end, we’d like to present a case for introducing periodic deep cleaning to your warehouse environmental quality control program.
Let’s begin with a few definitions to guide our discussion:
- Environmental Quality Control in a warehouse describes managing all potential risk factors that may present physical hazards to the health, well-being, and safety of your employees, as well as the physical integrity of your handled products.
- Routine Cleaning in a warehouse is made up of all the usual (often daily) janitorial tasks that you likely already perform. This may include tossing out trash, floor sweeping, employee area cleaning (such as break rooms and bathrooms), and wiping down forklifts.
- Deep Cleaning in a warehouse is a newer and growing cleaning practice that specifically targets debris and hazards that are missed in routine cleaning, and are typically not addressed until they cause a direct problem. With deep cleaning, we are looking to identify and tackle specific hazards in a proactive fashion.
With the above definitions established, we can see that our goal is to point out that normal routine cleaning is not enough to address all risk factors involved with proper environmental quality control in a material handling center. Whole areas or specific soil types may go neglected for long periods of time, either degrading in condition indefinitely, or allowed to turn into a substantial hazard that presents immediate, elevated, and direct risk to health and safety. But, with a little awareness and a commitment to getting ahead of such problems before they occur, warehouse managers can easily bridge the gap by creating a deep cleaning plan.
Warehouse Deep Cleaning Targets
Perhaps the best way to conceptualize deep cleaning is to point out the types of concerns we’re addressing that are usually missed by routine cleaning. These concerns include:
- Limited Access Areas – the most fundamental target of deep cleaning is to tackle areas of the warehouse that are difficult to access, or that are for any other reason not addressed in normal routine cleaning. Most often, we find these areas to be skipped for routine cleaning because they take extra effort, equipment, or work interruption just to get to, and so are written off as not worth the time.
- Biological Soils – microbes, bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms pose health risks to employees and end-users, which often grow out of sight, out of mind in our warehouse spaces. Such contaminants enter the warehouse by air, water, physical contact, or are carried in by critters.
- Mold and Mildew – as a specific variant of the above biological concerns, mold and mildew are fungi that can cause serious respiratory, allergy, and other physiological problems in exposed personnel.
- Ingrained Soils – in areas of heavy traffic, dirt and debris can be worked into a porous surface so forcefully that it cannot be removed with normal sweeping or mopping. Interestingly, the same situation can occur in areas that receive no traffic (such as in a dead corner of a warehouse or deep within pallet racking). Layers of dust and moisture can cake together and chemically bind over time with concrete, steel, plastic, carpet, and wood materials.
- Airborne Soils and VOCs – ambient outside air carries a host of contaminants, from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by industrial or commercial activities, natural pollens, combustion engine exhaust fumes, ozone, to many more. These materials can be deposited as films anywhere inside a warehouse and tend to be concentrated near dock spaces (coming from truck engine exhaust).
- Rodent, Insect, and Pest Soils – here we’re concerned with animal and insect remnants, ranging from excrement to deceased organisms, all of which could be found virtually anywhere in the warehouse, floor to ceiling. Mammals, reptiles, and birds are often addressed differently than insects, as both their dwelling habits and risk factors take distinct approaches.
- Spilled Products – whatever the materials are that you’re handling, at some point they’ve surely spilled out of their packaging. Organic products present a particular concern if spilled within the racking system, as residue could have flowed into, down, and around the racking structure well out of normal reach and over time, turn into biological concerns as they spoil. Similarly, inorganic materials can also be harbored out of easy access range and lead to chemical reactions or exposure risk.
- Other Specific Soils – your business, and the types of goods stored within it, will surely present additional unique concerns that are not addressed in your routine cleaning practices. Some unique cleaning challenges relate to geography and climate. For example, the Midwest experiences significant seasonal changes, including harsh winters with snow and ice and hot, humid summers. These extreme weather conditions can lead to challenges maintaining a clean warehouse. Snow and ice can be tracked into the facility during winter, while humidity can promote mold and mildew growth during the summer.
Other concerns relate to contributive product handling (such as lingering aromas stemming from scented products); and still others relate to regulatory interests (such as specific disinfection procedures needed in food handling warehouses).
When to Perform Warehouse Deep Cleaning
There are two schools of thought regarding when to perform deep warehouse cleaning.
The first approach is to pick a regular schedule that aligns with an operational reporting period in your business, based on the presumption that the end of a reporting period will include extra staff on the warehouse floor taking inventory or re-organizing turnover. This is a great time to add in extra cleaning activity. Many of our customers end up on a quarterly or monthly deep cleaning schedule using this approach.
The second approach is to derive a deep cleaning schedule through a quantitative assessment of actual environmental quality conditions in the warehouse. Our customers that leverage this approach typically will engage an industrial hygienist to perform this assessment, taking physical samples and performing tangible research around risk factors found in each given facility in order to arrive at a technical recommendation. The benefit here is that a balance between actual risk factors and the frequency of deep cleaning can be reached in terms of cost and operational disruption, and is most appropriate for warehouses that are heavily regulated, very large scale, and / or mitigating specific recognized hazards (such as in protecting food products).
How to Perform Warehouse Deep Cleaning
We’ll conclude our article here with a short list of the most common deep cleaning processes and equipment used by material handling customers of all types. Your specific deep cleaning regiment will likely only need a few of these items (or others not on the list) – we suggest engaging a qualified warehouse management resource such as Fairchild Equipment to discuss your needs before implementing a deep cleaning program.
Cleaning Vehicles – automated cleaning vehicles help clean and sanitize your warehouse floors. Sweeper vehicles round up dust using rotating brushes and vacuums, whereas Scrubber vehicles add pressurized buffing pads, heated water, and chemical solutions to forcefully scrub up debris. Both vehicle types come in walk-behind and ride-on styles, serving both small and very large floor areas respectively. For deep cleaning purposes, scrubber vehicles are most beneficial when paired with high-temp heated water and appropriate chemicals, providing disinfection and sterilization for organic, inorganic, ingrained, and biological soils found on open floor areas where the vehicle can travel.
Central or Mobile Industrial Vacuums – cleaning around racking legs, bollards, traffic guards, and other equipment where access is limited can be achieved with a properly selected industrial vacuum. Mobile vacuums are most common due to their versatility, whereas central vacuum systems are ideal for higher volume soils that occur frequently in predictable locations.
Aerial Access – you can’t clean what you can’t get to, and since most warehouses today are built around high pile storage, this calls for owning or renting aerial access equipment in order to get employees up to elevation in a safe manner. Boom lifts, scissor lifts, scaffolding, and forklift man baskets are all examples of aerial access equipment that will be vital during warehouse deep cleaning.
Foggers – handheld spray foggers are pressurized canisters that spray out mists of chemicals selected to address biological, mold, mildew, rodent, pest, and special soils all throughout the warehouse. These units are especially useful for vertical deep cleaning, where owners may wish to fog disinfect racking, building walls, and ceiling structures.
Forced Air Heaters – drying out excess moisture, evaporating mop residue, and heating areas for better cleanability are all good uses of owned or rented forced air heaters during warehouse deep cleaning. In addition, heaters can be strategic tools used to root out pests, insects, rodents, and larger animals so that they can be dealt with. For unique challenges, check with a qualified resource first before applying heat, as some biological, fume, and chemical soils may be fueled by heat instead of destroyed.
Pressure Washers – high pressure, forced water jets from a pressure washer can be very useful for dealing with ingrained, biological, and other water-soluble soils. Because pressure washers pose a potential risk of injury and damage to structures, we recommend limiting the use of pressure washers to dock, yard, and other exterior locations, with plenty of signage and traffic control so that employees are protected.
Elbow Grease – suffice it to say that in many cases, deep cleaning in limited access or scattered locations across a large warehouse comes down to manual mopping, scrubbing, sweeping, and wiping tasks. Employees should be given ample safety gear, work in teams, protected from traffic and material movement, and rotate deep cleaning duties to avoid over-exertion or chemical exposure.
A Word about Water – moisture can be a fuel source for many biological soils, and can even be the source of introducing new contaminants into a building. Before using water in your warehouse, make sure that you have a surefire method of cleaning up and drying out all water added, and also check the water quality for mineral, bacterial, and microorganism activity. Well water is notorious for bringing in microbes from groundwater sources. Some warehouses choose to perform a complete wet-wash once a year, spraying down walls and floors, and then drying thoroughly. Where possible, it is advisable to try a dry deep clean process first, and only introduce flowing water if absolutely necessary, and even then, only after a water quality check and a drying plan are vetted.
A Word about Chemicals – check chemical compatibility with the materials they’ll be applied to before use. Chemicals are great for disinfection, sterilizing, and breaking down soils, but may have negative reactions with certain materials that will lead to unintended issues. And make sure to use all appropriate personnel protective equipment.
We hope that this discussion has been helpful to your commercial material handling needs. Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and 11 locations in 5 states ready 24/7 to serve your needs. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please visit one of our locations, send us a message, or give us a call at (844) 432-4724.