Magazine

Dirty Garage? Take Care in Selecting Cleaner

By Jim Gamble

How do you know if the company you hire for the deep cleaning of your parking garage is the right one for the job?
Say someone slips in your garage or you have seepage of oil dripping from the ceiling onto the cars below or, worst yet, you have the EPA snooping around checking for runoff from the oil and heavy metals that all garages have. What do you do?
Maybe you do a Google search for garage cleaning companies. You find a contractor, but how do you know if he is compliant? With prices ranging from 3 cents to 27 cents a square foot, how do you know what type of service you are getting for your money?
How do you really know you are getting the best value for the dollar? One way to choose is to follow some simple and basic guidelines.
First, whom should you hire?
This is like asking the difference between a physician and a dentist. Both call themselves doctor, but I would not hire a dentist to do a physician’s job. This is the same with pressure washers. Check for permits and how long they have been solely in business in the garage cleaning field. Ask how many continuous years of experience they have and whether garage cleaning to EPA specifications is its primary source of business.
More often than not, you will find companies that have equipment designed for multiple uses such as hood cleanings and now, because of the economy being what it is, entering other fields that they may not have the proper equipment for. This type of company may be the best choice for hood cleaning but may not for garage cleaning.
Ask about their equipment, procedures and plan of attack. Ask to see their equipment and filtration unit before accepting a bid from them. See if their equipment looks well-maintained or old and beat up. Their equipment is a representation of their company and how they clean.
Make sure their filtration unit is big enough for a cleaning of a parking structure as well. Most garages of 300,000 square feet will have more than 50 to 300 gallons of sludge. If their filtration unit has a capacity of 60 gallons, then most likely it is undersized for the job. That could be an issue during the cleaning process, resulting in clogged/full filters, thus creating multiple delays and possibly increasing your liabilities if it overflows.
Second, what type of equipment does it plan to use?
Some companies use sweepers and scrubbers as the sole method for garage cleaning, while others use pressure washers. Scrubbers and sweepers are perfect for weekly maintenance cleaning, but for deep cleaning, you need a hot-water pressure washer at 5.6 gallons per minute (GPMs), or greater.
Third, where is the cleaning going to be done?
If you were in, let’s say, California, the restrictions for discharge are much more restrictive than those in Alabama, where local enforcement is a little more lax. With this in mind, the pricing will vary across the country. The pricing for full reclamation of deep cleaning of a parking structure, with filtration units on the jobsite, certifications and permits is currently from 15 cents to 27 cents per square foot.
If you are to hire someone for less, check in on the contractor several times during the cleaning. Make sure they are following all requirements for reclamation and discharge into the local sewer. Ask your sewer district about the company to confirm that they have the necessary permits needed to discharge and to see if the contractor’s filtration unit has been approved for this type of cleaning.
This is very important, because most areas of the country make the owner of the parking facility side by side responsible with the contractor that did the violation and discharged incorrectly or ignored the procedures for correct environmental cleanup.
But how often should you deep-clean a parking structure?
As the country gears toward a “greener” environment, having your customers see that you also are caring about the environment makes everyone feel better. The recommended cleaning depends on the age and usage of the parking structure. However, the average parking structure should be deep-cleaned every six months to a year. This type of documented deep cleaning will also help ward off any potential lawsuits for any maintenance issues as a result of slippage.
How does this deep-cleaning work?
In the pressure-washing field, there are many different techniques for garage cleaning. In 22 years of cleaning parking garages, we have found that high-to-extreme heat with 4,000 PSI pressure is the best way to raise the oil out of concrete pores. Make sure the oil stains are scrubbed vigorously, then let that stand for about an hour, allowing the biodegradable detergent to emulsify with the oil.
How much heat, you ask? We use up to 325 degrees F. However the minimum we would use would be at least 250 degrees. Now, most pressure washers/manufacturers exaggerate their equipment’s heat specs. So how do you tell if your contracted washer is capable of hitting 250 degrees at 5.6 GPMs or greater flow?
To find out, the question needs to be rephrased: “How many BTUs does each of the boiler units have?” This is easy to confirm by asking for the manufacturer’s spec sheet on the boiler units. At least 580,000 BTUs would be the minimum one should have for deep oil removal.
How many GPMs should you require? The lowest we would go is 5.6 GPMs, with 6 or more GPMs being ideal. Remember, if your contractor has high GPMs, that means more water, which means that higher BTUs will be needed to heat the water to the desired temperature.
If your contractor is using 5.8 GPMs, that unit should have a minimum of 696,000 BTUs per pressure washing pump, for a temperature of 240 to 265 degrees. If fewer BTUs per GPMs than what’s listed above, it means­ the contractor’s equipment will encounter more difficulties in the removal of the impregnated oil. Much more time may be needed to perform a deep cleaning, thus a potential loss of use for the garage, and revenue.
Jim Gamble, CEO of Crystal Cleaning Co., can be reached at www.garagecleaning.net.

Article Abstract from December, 2010




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