In days gone by there were virtually no dedicated cleaning products and people had to use a few key household agents to carry out almost every task. Early in the 20th century for example, dishes would be cleaned using a mixture of baking soda and water. Pots and pans would be scrubbed clean using a compound of eggshells and lemon – a powerful scouring agent.
Vinegar was employed as a streak-free glass cleaner and was routinely used on windows. When mixed with salt it became an effective brass and copper polishing agent. And carbolic soap was used extensively on household surfaces as well as on the body.
Meanwhile, enterprising salespeople would offer “miracle products” that were claimed to be able to remove any number of substances from a wide range of surfaces. But the market has become increasingly sophisticated and specialist products for bathrooms, windows, kitchens, floors and surfaces now abound.
However there are signs that the pendulum is swinging back again and that customers are preferring a ‘one product fits all’ solution. Diversey Care global marketing director Lars Bo Madsen confirms there has been a growing demand for all-purpose cleaners. “These products have shown a 13.3 per cent growth for our company in the last five years,” he said.
“This increase in demand is mainly due to the fact that customers are seeking to simplify the cleaning process with systems that are both easier and safer to use. Meanwhile building service contractors are looking to reduce the number of products they purchase since buying in several products for the same cleaning procedures has a direct impact on their working capital.”
Diversey Care’s European multipurpose offering includes Sani Calc, a washroom product for use in hard water areas and Sani 4 in 1 which can be used as a washroom detergent, descaler, deodoriser and disinfectant. “We are also launching the Taski Choice in Europe which will be a single product for use within an integrated daily cleaning programme,” said Madsen. “In other regions we also offer multipurpose products for cleaning and disinfecting glass, toilets, interior surfaces and floors.”
He says multipurpose products are not cheap from a formula point of view. “They have to be more robust in their chemical structure if they are to maintain their cleaning performance across all their uses,” he said. “But while the price per litre could be higher they can still be a very attractive proposition for end-customers since they can lead to productivity improvements as well as a reduction in working capital.”
Customers who need to clean small to medium-size sites with a standard level of soiling tend to prefer all-purpose products, says Madsen. “There is no risk that these products will jeopardise hygiene standards,” he said. “The customer’s only concern here will be to ensure that the dispensing and dilution platforms will remove any guesswork on the part of the operator when preparing the solution for each application.”
Specialist still popular
But specialist products remain popular and their use is growing, says Madsen. “The main reason for this is that specialist products are still required at sites where the soil challenge is medium to high,” he said. “And where all-purpose products are used for several applications at a large site, there may be a need for an adjustment in the concentration of the solution. If cleaning product consumption is high there will still be a place for dedicated products since these will help to standardise practices.”
He says specialist products will always be a better solution in areas where soil levels are high. “They are developed for this challenge,” he said. “And other products that have been adapted to cope with particular challenges – such as hard water, for example – will always coexist with multipurpose cleaning products.”
International business development manager of Werner & Mertz Matthias Scheuner considers all-purpose products themselves to be “niche products”. “However, public authorities are cutting down expenses in the public sector which means that customers are increasingly requiring products that can fulfil more than just one task while also being highly efficient and sustainable,” he said.
Werner & Mertz offers Tanex Allround, a multipurpose product for use on all types of water-resistant floors. It can be used as an intensive cleaner; a maintenance cleaner and a top-stripper as well as for cleaning prior to handover and for removing production residues on new floorings.
“Customers can save twice on an all-purpose cleaner that fulfils most of the required tasks,” said Scheuner. “The fact that they need to buy fewer products means they not only save on purchasing costs, they also save on storage costs.”
According to Scheuner receptiveness to multipurpose products depends entirely on the customer’s willingness to try new solutions. “You run the risk of being perceived as accrediting the product with too many attributes and applications – and this can have negative impact on a product’s trustworthiness,” he said.
“We believe the best way of convincing the customer of our product’s benefits is by demonstrating its performance in each of the tasks.”
While he believes that specialist deep cleaners and emulsions will always be in demand, he feels that one-use products have some disadvantages other than those of cost. “The combined use of different products can be inefficient from a time perspective,” he said. “Also if they are used incorrectly there can be serious application errors.”
Head of standards and solutions cleaning at UK-based building service provider OCS Yvonne Taylor agrees with the consensus that there has been an increase in the use of multipurpose cleaning agents. “This has been driven by client demand for cost savings along with the need to limit environmental impact and to support sustainability goals by reducing the number of products and chemicals in use,” she said.
“The recent change in CLP regulations has also driven chemical manufactures to look at the make-up and ingredients of their chemicals.”
OCS uses a four-in-one product that cleans, disinfects, sanitises and descales. “However the success of this product can depend on water type since hard or soft water can create different reactions in chemicals,” she said. “My preference is for a combined use of multipurpose products and specialist products to meet specific demands.”
She believes that specialist products will continue to be needed, however. “Not all carpets can be cleaned with a normal foaming chemical and some need to be powder-cleaned for example,” she said. “You also need to use different floor products for stripping and sealing. And you can’t use the same product in a cleaning machine as you would in a high-speed scrubber.
“Then there are ‘troubleshooter’ products that address special requirements such as chewing gum and graffiti removal. And there will always be a need for specific healthcare products in order to meet consistent market demand.”
Dr Schnell Chemie’s marketing executive Franz Felbermeir has also noticed an increase in demand for multipurpose products. “These products are both economical and easier to apply which makes maintenance cleaning more cost and time-efficient,” he said. “From the point of view of the cleaning staff too, it is easy to learn how to use these products and this increases safety enormously when they are used correctly.”
He adds that multipurpose products are highly versatile for maintenance cleaning as well as in process technology. “In addition they have the advantage of high material compatibility and a wide range of uses,” he said. “However the customers – particularly those in the professional sector – will expect high performance from a multipurpose product.”
All-purpose products in the Dr Schnell range include Milizid, a sanitary cleaner and descaling agent; and Forol, a universal cleaner.
According to Felbermeir there will always be a market for specialist products as a problem-solver for the professional user. “They will continue to be necessary for tasks such as coating, graffiti removal and industrial cleaning,” he said. “However an increase in this area is not anticipated since specialist products are not generally required to cope with the type of dirt that accumulates on a daily basis.”
As for the customer’s preferences regarding multipurpose products and specialist alternatives, Felbermeir says: “Customers prefer products on which they can rely. They need to be efficient, effective and safe both for the environment and for the user themselves.”
He adds that niche products for ‘sensitive’ users will remain important. “There is an increasing number of allergy sufferers today which means this market has a large potential for growth,” he said. “Our best-known niche products are an integral part of our sensitive series.”
The company’s Milizid, Forol and Floortop products all come in a Sensitive format that are free from preservatives, fragrances and dyes. These products are used in dermatology clinics, rehabilitation clinics for respiratory diseases, allergology surgeries and nursery schools.
“Products that can be used on all surfaces and that require no expertise in terms of ingredients or materials science have never been so relevant,” said Felbermeir. “All-purpose cleaners earn brownie points for their uncomplicated application and the demand for multipurpose products will continue to grow. I believe the use of specialist products will also inevitably continue, but due to the shortage of skilled professionals this is likely to remain constant rather than increase.”
Diversey Care’s Madsen is more optimistic about the outlook for both specialist and all-purpose products. “Multipurpose products will keep growing significantly, but specialist products will remain very important for professional cleaning,” he said. “They will evolve in parallel with the technical evolution which results in the market increasingly seeking the right solution for the right need.”