Human health and safety considerations, as well as a growing concern for the environment, have propelled the acceptance of steam cleaning across a wide range of facilities. In this definitive guide, Giulio Franchini, Junior Export Manager, TECNOVAP SRL lists and explains each factor that should be assessed while selecting a steam cleaner for a particular application.
Type of cleaning
When a surface is being cleaned for the first time in months or years (for example, machinery used in a mechanical factory, which is rarely ever cleaned), we must perform a deep cleaning first. We have to provide high-temperature steam, as well as more effort and mechanical action with brushes to thoroughly steam clean the surface and possibly combine detergents or overheated water to remove stubborn dirt.
After a deep cleaning, dry saturated steam can clean the surface during maintenance cleaning operations that can be done at regular intervals. This process does not need detergents, since steam at high temperature, combined with the mechanical action of the tools, can easily remove many types of dirt. This helps considerably save on water and chemical usage.
Type of dirt
As an example, let us take a food factory that produces confectionery products. The equipment or surfaces we would have to treat will surely be sticky due to sugar, dusty if flour is involved and greasy if oil is used. In this type of industry, an industrial steam cleaner with an integrated vacuum is the best advice.
Initially, dirt can be detached from the surface thanks to a combination of high-temperature steam. If certain encrustations are particularly persistent, we can use overheated water or detergent functions on the lance to provide more cleaning power on the surface. After that, when the surface has been thoroughly cleaned, the steam generator can be employed to perform maintenance cleaning operations on the area with different frequencies, according to need.
Area to be cleaned
The choice of steamer also depends on the width of the area to be cleaned. If we have to clean a floor, we need to channel the power of steam to a wide floor brush with an appropriate insert for the floor (e.g. squeegee insert for smooth flat floors, or an insert with hard bristles for tougher floors).
Integrated vacuum cleaner
Industrial steam cleaners are usually equipped with a wet & dry vacuum cleaner that allows one to pick up the steam-dissolved dirt. These usually have double- or single-motors and have a power output that ranges from 1 to 3 kW. The drum capacity of the vacuum can vary from 7.5 to 43 litres. They can be equipped with either an induction turbine or a brush motor.
The power output of the steam generator should be chosen based on cleaning task, type of dirt, width of area, cleaning frequency and availability of electricity. Normally, in industrial environments, we often find three-phase sockets, so a steam cleaner with a three-phase plug 400 V is ideal. In HoReCa environments, steam cleaners may have a simple single-phase plug.
Industrial models can consume up to 36 kW of energy, while professional ones can consume around 2.4 or 3.6 kW of energy.
The boiler output gives an idea of the relationship between power and steam production. As an example, a professional boiler of 3.75 kW generates about 6 kg of steam per hour, while, at the other end of the spectrum, an industrial boiler of 36 kW creates 58 kg of steam per hour. Some models are equipped with a power switch regulator, that allows one to choose and switch to the desired power.
As a general rule, the higher the power of the boiler, the higher will be the steam production and quicker will be the cleaning.
The part of the boiler that heats the water and generates steam is subjected to wear over time due to water hardness. An interchangeable heating element (which Tecnovap uses) preserves the boiler for longer use, while a heating element welded directly on the boiler – once defective – cannot be replaced. This results in a necessary substitution of the whole boiler.
The higher the temperature of the steam, the better its dryness and therefore the better the cleaning will be. Steam created in the boiler has a temperature of 160-180°C; the temperature of the steam on the surface being cleaned will of course be lower (around 80-100°C), which is still high enough to sanitise surfaces and kill bacteria through thermal shock.
The temperature of steam when it reaches the surface varies, depending on the length of the steam hose; the longer the hose, the longer it takes to heat up the hose and eliminate condensed water, and the more the temperature will drop on its way from the boiler to the exit nozzle. Always choose a hose of adequate length.
We usually advise starting with a 6-bar boiler to generate good quality steam and clean more quickly. In industrial environments, with bigger spaces and needing quicker cleaning, we need higher pressures at 10 bar.
A steam generator with a high boiler output (from 10 to 36 kW) will need tanks of 10-20 litres to have sufficient autonomy. Some models – especially those used in factories – have a direct connection to water mains. It avoids the need for manual refills, the tank remains always full and continuous flow of steam can be guaranteed.
The heating element must be built with a material that can last. Other components like pressure switches, lances and brushes can wear with time, especially when subjected to frequent use. The biggest enemy of a steam generator is poor water quality, which can decrease the lifespan of the steamer.
Stainless steel boilers are preferable in terms of quality and durability, since they can last for decades compared to aluminium ones. Conventional boiler stamps are usually kept together by gaskets, whereas the two stamps that compose a Tecnovap boiler are welded together with a special TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) technique, creating a single-body boiler, which ensures a perfect seal.
We mount two safety valves on each steam generator, which open if the maximum allowed pressure is exceeded. The boilers are tested to resist pressures higher than the normal operating pressure to avoid explosion and injury. Other features include the pressure switch which monitors the boiler pressure, and thermostats which control the temperature of the boiler and heating elements; if overheating occurs, the latter will shut down the heating element.
They provide mechanical action during steam cleaning, helping steam to detach dirt from the surface. Depending on what needs to be cleaned, different accessories can be used.
We have over 100 accessories for our steam cleaners. For instance, we have different kits based on operating pressure (6 bar, 8 bars or 10 bars). We offer specific steam & vac and only-steam accessories to clean upholstery, smooth or rough surfaces, carpets etc. Using a stainless-steel brush is perfect for grills or ovens, while a nylon brush is ideal for delicate surfaces, which are easier to scratch.
Others include stainless-steel or plastic scrapers, brushes with different inserts and shapes, lances, plungers, steam mops for floors, window cleaner tools, microfibre cloths and buffers. Customised accessories like semi-automatic and manual conveyor belt cleaning tools are tailor-made for different companies, especially in the F&B sector.
The accessories have to be built with good-quality materials that can resist the high temperature of steam and be suitable for intensive use by cleaning operators.
Tecnovap’s True Temp Technology
On the boiler, we install a float that detects water level inside the boiler and automatically refills it when the water is low. The float oscillates when the water boils, keeping it clean from scale deposits and allowing it to always detect the right water level inside the boiler.
Tecnovap’s Automatic Water Refilling System
In conventional systems the water is filled directly into the boiler, meaning that when the water is finished, the user has to turn off the machine and wait for the boiler to depressurise before putting in more water and continuing to clean.
Instead, most Tecnovap machines use a pump to send water from a cold water tank to the boiler when the water level is low. This allows the water tank to fill up safely even during usage, without having to stop the steam cleaner, thereby having continuous steam flow.