Challenges for Disinfectant Pumps Used with Harsh Chemicals
by Steve Babcock, VP of Engineering, on Aug 25, 2020
As a result of recent concerns over COVID-19 infection transmission, many public facilities have taken a cautious approach to reopening. In addition to implementing routine recommended cleaning practices, many facilities choose to use a disinfectant pump sprayer for large expanses and surfaces to protect their workforce and patrons.
Whether disinfecting grocery carts for shoppers or school buses and locker rooms for students, the demand for reliable disinfectant pump sprayers is at an all-time high. What many operators are discovering, however, is that the spray equipment used to dispense cleaning products often doesn’t stand up to the harsh chemicals found in most disinfectants.
Chemicals Found in Common Disinfectants
Before we distinguish the types of chemicals used in disinfectants, it’s important to distinguish the difference between disinfecting vs. sanitizing. Products used to sanitize a surface only reduce bacteria that’s listed on a product’s label, whereas disinfecting destroys or inactivates both bacteria and viruses on hard surfaces according to specifications on the label. As such, the applications and ingredients for sanitizer and disinfectants differ.
Common active ingredients included in EPA approved disinfectants include:
- Hypochlorous Acid
- Quaternary Ammonium
- Sodium Carbonate
- Sodium Hypochlorite (common household bleach)
- And other harsh chemicals
Once these products are properly sprayed and dry, the surfaces are considered safe and free of bacteria and viruses. While still in their liquid form, however, they may cause irritation and respiratory issues, which is why operators are often required to wear skin and eye protection, have proper ventilation, and follow other protective measures.
Preventing Pump Failure Due to Corrosive Chemicals
Not only can these chemicals pose risks for operators, they can shorten the lifespan of the pump sprayers used to apply them, leading to costly repairs or replacements.
Improper pump selection and maintenance can lead to corrosion and pump failure from harsh chemicals and repeated use. Other issues you may encounter include sprayers that can’t maintain consistent flow or adequate PSI to provide accurate and even coverage rates recommended by the disinfectant manufacturer, meaning the product may evaporate before killing pathogens. To ensure optimal performance from your pump sprayer, follow these guidelines.
Proper Pump Sprayer Operation
When operating your pump sprayer, ensure you have enough liquids for it to perform the way it should. While a minimal amount of dry running can be tolerated with some pump models, operating without any liquid for extended periods may damage the pump plunger and seals. It’s also important to not operate a pump in freezing conditions or dusty or excessively humid environments.
Proper Pump Sprayer Maintenance
Routinely check your pump’s flow control valves and maintain and replace them prior to malfunctioning. Just like when operating your pump, protect it from freezing conditions during storage.
Check filters to ensure they’re properly installed, are compatible for the fluids being used, and aren’t plugged, and make sure the hoses you use are right-sized for the unit, too. Don’t forget to inspect the spray nozzle for damage or corrosion which can cause uneven application. These conditions not only restrict fluid flow, they can potentially cause cavitation damage.
Proper Pump Sprayer Cleaning
After dispensing liquids, any pump should be flushed with clean water until the unit runs clear, and only clear water should be left inside until the next use. Chemicals left inside the pump can corrode and damage internal parts and surfaces resulting in rapid wear. Some manufacturers recommend the use of a neutralizer in addition to flushing out the system with water. If the tank is stored empty, be sure to rinse it again prior to use to remove any residue.
Don’t forget to also clean the outside of the pump sprayer to remove any exterior chemical residue on the tank, nozzles, spray wand, and other components.
Proper Pump Selection
Even when following a manufacturer’s recommended operation, maintenance, and cleaning guidelines to a T, some pump sprayers still fail prematurely when used with harsh chemicals found in disinfectants.
The materials used to construct a pump are what determine chemical compatibility, and choosing the right plastics and elastomers is critical to the pump’s reliability also. When a plastic or elastomer and a chemical aren’t compatible, the compound will essentially attack it and cause the structure to break down, making it more likely to crack or rupture. Some chemicals can actually absorb into a plastic or elastomer and cause the part to become soft or brittle, fluctuate in weight, and even change in dimension. Any of these issues can lead to lost pressure, poor flow rates and, ultimately, pump failure.
Corrosion, specifically, is only an issue that occurs with metal parts. Aluminum and stainless steel are typically the most reliable for use in commercial pump sprayers. For aluminum components, it’s important to ensure they’re protected by a layer of aluminum oxide which results from the anodizing process. Stainless steel is inherently corrosion resistant unless exposed to chlorides or acids.
In a best-case scenario, you’ll find a manufacturer that can configure their pumps with a combination of materials and components specifically designed to withstand the harsh chemicals you specify.
The type of pump also matters when disinfecting. A plunger pump, for example, provides even, consistent flow and can withstand higher PSI than a diaphragm or centrifugal pump. When the reliable performance of a plunger pump is combined with the right materials and proper maintenance, you can expect your disinfectant spray equipment to last for years, not weeks or months. To see how different pump types operate and the applications they’re best suited for, check out our Pump Comparison Cheat Sheet below.
See how a custom pump solution that’s made with materials and engineering specifically designed for your application can save you time, frustration, and money. More importantly, it can help you ensure the safety of those around you. Contact a pump expert today.