Health conscious people often cite an old adage about water that says, “If you are not drinking filtered water, then you are the filter.” The same is true of the air that we breathe. If you are not breathing filtered air, then you are the filter. For facility management leaders, ensuring that air is filtered properly is largely dependent on the cleaning and maintenance of HVAC units. However, many use harsh chemicals that do not properly clean the unit, and may harm building occupants.

It’s a catch-22 for many facilities maintenance professionals. Without cleaning the HVAC units, indoor air quality will suffer. Yet, the cleaning products used to clean these units may do more harm than good.

The Hidden Cost of Chemical Cleaners
The problem is that the two-way foaming chemical cleaners that are often used to clean cooling coils within HVAC units can make their way into the aquifer and compromise the building’s water system.

The fact that many of these cleaners come with warning labels about the toxicity of its contents should be reason enough to not use them on such a critical system within a building. However, chemical cleaners can also compromise the integrity of the cooling coils. In some cases, harsh chemicals can erode the aluminum and copper and require facilities to replace parts of, or even their whole, HVAC unit.

What’s more, conventional cleaning products are not always an effective means of cleaning the high efficiency cooling coils found within HVAC units. While systems may appear clean on the surface, these products push dust and debris further into the unit, which can create blockages in the system and initiate mold and bacteria growth.
This can lead to excessive operating costs, comfort control problems, and unhealthy sanitary conditions that are not conducive to good air quality. As a result, building occupants may experience allergy-like symptoms, coughing, wheezing, watery eyes, asthma-type conditions, and other symptoms.

In some cases, poor indoor air quality can even affect an individual’s ability to perform specific mental tasks. The worse the air quality, the more likely that the building’s occupants are affected by these symptoms—and that is a liability to the organization and/or property owner.

A Better Cleaning Process
To safely and effectively clean HVAC units, facilities managers can consider a green steam clean process. One process uses steam heated to 350°F at 350 psi to deep clean cooling coils, which is a much more effective and safer cleaning method than topical chemical treatment.

While some have tried to duplicate this process with pressure washing systems, these typically operate at around 2,000 psi and can bend the fins of the cooling coils and negatively impact airflow. The key to the steam cleaning process is the more moderate pressure that pushes steam through the coils to clean the system without compromising its integrity.

While chemical cleaners may only penetrate a 1/2″ of the coils, the steam clean process can penetrate 8″ to 12″ into the coils, for deep cleansing that removes dust and debris, and kills mold and bacteria instantaneously.

In most cases, spore counts will drop by 99% (and sometimes 100%) in units that are cleaned using this process. The result is increased airflow, improved indoor air quality, and improved comfort for building occupants.

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