Seven swimming pools, large deck surfaces and over 600 passenger cabins. Keeping a cruise ship the size of Birka Paradise in good condition requires a lot of chemical products. New equipment has reduced the quantities needed and given better control over handling the products.
High wire baskets filled with laundry are lined up in the narrow aisle. At the end of the aisle is the cleaning store. In the right hand corner there is a set of white painted steel shelves containing everything required for daily cleaning, including different soaps, scale remover and many other cleaning agents.
“Most of what we use is pretty harmless stuff, and we don’t need visors and so on. But we use gloves, of course,” says the cleaner, Nina Nylund.
Most products are delivered in concentrates and are mixed onboard to the desired strength. To make handling easier, the management has recently purchased dosing devices that are fitted next to the cleaning store.
“They work very well,” says Nina Nylund, and puts a hand on the dosing device on the wall. “When you mix them yourself it’s only roughly right – you don’t exactly stand there with a deciliter cylinder and measure things. But with this, you get exactly the right mix as in the instructions.”
The cleaning and washing of passenger areas is carried out 24 hours a day in principle, and there are large areas to take care of. The most difficult task, says Nina Nylund, is to get rid of the chewing gum that gets trodden into the thick carpets that are spread out in various places.
Hydrochloric acid and chlorine
“Sometimes you spend an entire morning on your knees scraping it off. In the past we had a spray that was very effective, but we can’t use it anymore because it is not good for the environment.”
The passenger cabins also need a lot of work sometimes.
“This is my vomit machine”, laughs Nina Nylund and points to a grey appliance that looks like a vacuum cleaner parked in the storeroom. “We fill it with carpet cleaner – it is quite strong and we mix one decilitre with 10 litres of water. When you have to clean a cabin that is covered with vomit, you’re really happy to have this!”
In the engine department, the cleaning products used are generally stronger than in the hotel trade. The ship has seven pools of different sizes and to maintain them requires large amounts of Poolclean, hydrochloric acid and chlorine.
“We don’t feel that handling them is a health problem, but of course, they are strong and you have to be careful,” says the first ship’s engineer Henrik Michelsson, who has just sat down in the control room. “You can see straightaway who works with the pools and who works in the cabins, because the poolmen’s trousers are bleached by the chlorine.”
Full gas mask
Chlorine is refilled at the treatment facilities located next to the pools.
“We always wear a full gas mask, like the ones used in smoke diving, and gloves when we handle chlorine. To keep the waste pipes clear you need even stronger stuff, like P55 and Descaling,” says Henrik Michelsson.
Finding more user-friendly products is not completely straightforward. The high workload on the ship means that effective cleaning agents are needed. At the same time, they must be good for health and the environment, and be reasonably priced.
“Recently, we tested a product that the salesman said could replace chlorine. But it wasn’t good enough and if it doesn’t get things clean, it’s not worth it,” says Henrik Michelsson.
Alternative products are occasionally tested, often after wholesalers have contacted staff on the ship.
“The salesmen are very pushy and call often,” says Henrik Michelsson. “Sometimes they make it sound really good, but the quality is just not there.”
“No, and we get no guarantees either,” says Carl Rögård, the second ship’s engineer. “We often get a sample bottle, for sure, but sometimes you don’t see the effect until you’ve used it for a while. But I have to say that the system of safety data sheets works well. It is clear and shows what protective equipment you need.”
Hot water pressure washing
According to Henrik they have not had any problems with ill-health due to chemicals used in the department. Wearing the right protective equipment and dosing accurately is important for safe handling.
“You tend to make the mix too strong because you think you don’t need to scrub so hard then. But it doesn’t work like that. If you mix in too much concentrate it could even have the opposite effect, such as paint coming off.”
“New employees in particular have a tendency to mix in too much – I did the same when I started. Of course, you can tell them to follow the instructions, but it doesn’t help. You have to learn from experience as well and because we have fairly high staff turnover, that is a problem.”
In the deck office inside the bridge, chief mate Henrik Andersson is sitting down. He also sees a tendency for cleaning staff to make mixes too strong.
“But it is not just about this ship, I think that in general more chemicals are used than needed. What we can do is to train staff and new employees how to dose the products. All new employees are given a basic introduction to the safety approach on the ship, then they get more detailed instructions at the department where they are going to work.
Just like in the engine department, the deck department is often contacted by salesmen who want to market their products, and sometimes they try out new cleaning agents. “But,” says Henrik Andersson, “you can also influence chemicals management by other equipment that is used. In spring this year we bought a hot water pressure washer that we use for the exterior surfaces of decks and bulkheads. It is much more effective than a standard pressure washer, and thanks to that machine we use quite a lot less chemical cleaners than before.”
Jan-Eric Qvarnström is the union man onboard. He has been with the company for 14 years and says that many things have changed in chemicals handling since he started.
“In general, people are more careful. For my part, I have got older and more experienced, and I think about myself and my colleagues in a different way.”
He believes that chemicals handling works well, but adds that using them safely means that they must follow the rules.
“You must read the safety data sheets, get the dosage right and let the products work for a while to get good results.”