Cleaning Manufacturing Facilities

Cleaning Manufacturing Facilities

By Diane M. Calabrese / Published September 2021

Photo by iStockphoto.com/yanik88

Rinse as necessary. Simple and dangerous.

     Regulators that monitor cleaning of manufacturing facilities like pharmaceutical plants want specifics. They especially want to know how the contractor determines a rinse is complete.

     The onus is not just on the owner of the facility. Procedures for sanitation in drug-making plants, which are established in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 221.56 and CFR 211.58, apply to contractors, too. The documentation of cleaning must include schedules, methods, and equipment. Records must be kept.

     Rules for pharmaceutical facilities may be among the most stringent, but they are generally representative. Specifics about cleaning tools, cleaning steps, chemicals, quality of water, and even more may be expected as part of protocol. 

     The requirement for contractors to validate outcomes—rinse has met its objective—acknowledges the exactitude with which plants operate. Beyond pharmaceuticals, high technology, and aerospace, the precision of the operation in manufacturing plants means that the last thing an owner needs is an incomplete job or one that leaves contaminants or residues.

     Chemicals, computers and electronics, and food (beverage and tobacco) are currently the three biggest contributors in dollars to manufacturing output in the United States. Motor vehicles and parts, fabricated metal, machinery, aerospace, and petroleum and coal products also make significant contributions. 

     With more accurate cleaning tools and methods, the tolerance for any contaminants in plants is vanishing. A corollary: tight tolerances benefit safety. Dust might not have impeded cloth-cutting or stitching machines in 20th century garment factories, but it was a fire (spark) hazard.


     Members of our industry—manufacturers, distributors, and contractors—get involved in cleaning manufacturing facilities in multiple ways. Manufacturers often supply plants directly with systems and system components for cleaning.

     “We provide our all-electric hot-water systems to manufacturing plants that require no open flame or fumes,” says Jeffrey K. Burros, VP sales at Alkota Group, Alkota Cleaning Systems in Alcester, SD. “We also provide our conveyor sanitation systems for food processors.”

     The conveyor sanitation system both in-creases belt life and reduces labor cost, explains Burros. And the system is tailored to need. “Each unit is designed to fit the company’s unique processing application.”

     Getting to know the requirements of manufacturing plants allows members of our industry to refine systems that facilitate cleaning in those plants. Burros’s company developed a multi-gun system with a variable speed drive. Used with multi-gun applications in manufacturing facilities, it provides extended pump and motor life, thereby reducing maintenance costs. 

     The multi-gun system is also smoother and quieter in operation than alternatives. “As the demand for more spray wands comes online, the multi-gun system will speed up automatically and slow down when spray wands are reduced with no bypass, improving the system life and saving on electrical costs,” says Burros.

Daily Schedule

     Frequency of cleaning in manufacturing plants may match that in hospitals and other care settings. “With many plants, daily cleaning is a requirement, if not before every new shift or product run,” says Linda Chambers, brand and sales manager at Georgia Chemical Equipment in Norcross, GA.

     “Keeping machinery and any manufacturing facility clean is a constant need,” explains Chambers. “Dirt and debris contaminating the manufacturing process is always a main concern for plant managers.” 

     Chambers’s company often assists customers with developing approaches for cleaning. A customer who makes plastic molds had been using a petroleum lubrication product to allow the molded plastic parts to slip out of the molds. “But this lubricant, after a year, had gotten all over the machinery and was gumming things up,” she explains. 

     “The customer needed a cleaner to remove the caked-up, dirty, gummy lube from where it dripped off onto the machines and floor,” says Chambers. And it had to be a cleaner that would not harm the plastic molds.

     “We had them use a soybean-oil-based solvent,” explains Chambers. The oil breaks down the residue but does not alter the plastic molds.

     Manufacturers of all sorts routinely turn to Chambers’s company for cleaning products. They include those in the food industry.

     “We have a number of customers who use our combination of organic butyl and metasilicate cleaner that is USDA approved to wash food-processing areas,” says Chambers. “They use it to clean chicken and hog houses as well as to clean the transportation trailers taking these animals to processing.”

     Water and pressure are typically used in conjunction with other methods when cleaning manufacturing plants. In many settings, such as packaging of dry food stuffs, great care must be taken when using water.

     Not a drop more water than necessary can be used in certain settings because some bacteria (e.g., salmonella) capitalize on an “ideal” growth medium in combinations like grains and moisture or nuts and moisture. In food plants that process and package such goods, minimizing water use is the objective. Wet cleaning is subordinated to dry cleaning methods. 

     Controlled use of water in food plants means that following only-as-necessary use of water, a sanitization step is used. Sanitizing reduces bacteria carried in water. Similarly, in dry food plants, barriers to water include sealing drains when they are not in use. Filters on air-circulating systems, vents, and other components must also be kept clean and free from condensation. 

     Cleaning in manufacturing facilities is about much more than components of the assembly line. Every part of the facility must be cleaned. Products must also be clean—free of cutting fluids or other ancillaries used in their making.


     The cleaning challenges for manufacturing facilities encompass every area. In addition to the production line, there are workstations, restrooms, dining halls, offices, warehouses, loading docks, and parking areas. There are also delivery fleets, culverts, drains, and trash receptacles. 

     Cleaning contractors of any size may find opportunities at manufacturing facilities. The fourth largest industrial sector in the nation, manufacturing accounts for more than 10 percent of the gross domestic product. 

     Every company in our industry can find opportunities in meeting the cleaning needs of manufacturing facilities. Some of the possibilities might be a surprise. They include components made outside the United States that may require washing before they can be used. 

     Contained parts washers are needed for immersion. In some cases, manufacturers contract out their parts cleaning. One reason for doing so is to limit the need for storing and using solvents (hazardous substances) on site. When hazardous materials are in use, they add another layer of concerns for a manufacturer in terms of worker safety. 

     The analysis manufacturers undertake before constructing a new facility includes not only layout that eases workflow but also a design that simplifies cleaning. Large manufacturers in our industry often consult on how to best integrate cleaning systems. 

     So do distributors.

     Beverages, paper, textiles, plastics, rubber, machinery—a manufacturing facility for one or more products is likely to be within a workable reach of every contractor in our industry. For contractors not yet serving manufacturing facilities, there are some solid tips for how to get started. 

     The tips are adapted from those originally provided by Todd Turner (who was president of ATP Results in Monroe, LA) in the fourth revision of the Power Washer’s Guidebook (1993). First, realize that working at a manufacturing facility, even if outside the building(s), will require demonstration of certification, insurance, quality of equipment, etc. Contractors must usually be prepared to meet the same regulations as the facility owner.

     A contractor capable of meeting conditions for bidding or providing an estimate should try to contact the facility through the purchasing agent. Before doing so, learn everything possible about the product and how it is made. Think about services that can be offered. Be realistic. A contractor should have sufficient staff to meet a contract before seeking it. 

     And be prepared to document—and follow exactly—protocols for cleaning. The facility owner may give them to a contractor, or the owner may approve those a contractor develops. 

     Any rule that applies to employees of a manufacturing facility will almost always apply to a contractor. Safety lockout/tagout procedures must be followed. Drug testing may be done. And so on. 

     OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] monitors not only the interplay between workers and machines but also the overall environment for workers. A manufacturing facility must be kept clean beyond the specific area of production lines so that workers are not exposed to slip hazards, volatile chemicals, dust, vermin, etc. 

     An excellent product and worker safety are the two big incentives a manufacturing plant has for investing in the best cleaning techniques and tools. There are other incentives, though.

     Employees work more efficiently and harmoniously in clean and well-organized settings, so productivity gets a boost. Routine cleaning allows the “little things” to not build to problematic levels. And the image projected by the plant is a good one.

     Images carry. (Consider the investment manufacturing plants make in landscaping.) A manufacturing facility esteemed in its community will get many positive word-of-mouth reviews. It clearly is not just a matter of “rinse as needed.” All actions are purposeful and planned. 

     Bottom line: A good, trusted product must be made there.

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