Each year, industry spends more than $1 billion dollars on task-specific wipers. No longer simply "rags," today's task-specific industrial wipers are available in many sizes, textures and selections specifically suited to maintenance tasks. While a mid-size plant might use 10,000 wipers per year, large facilities might use up to 100,000.

Choosing the right wiper for the job can determine if that job will go smoothly or not. Considerations include efficiency, safety and environmental, with regard to disposal. First determine whether disposable or rental wipers will work best at your site. While rental towels offer the convenience of pickup and delivery, their cleanliness cannot be guaranteed. Disposable wipers usually arrive clean and sorted according to task-specific uses.

Different projects require different wipers. For example, the rougher the surface to be cleaned, the more tightly woven the wiper fabric needs to be. Conversely, smooth surfaces like glass or plastic are cleaned best with a loose weave such as a cotton or micro-fiber.

The same is true for auto parts, electronic equipment, valves and gear parts. A soft cotton or non-woven fabric that is absorbent with low lint will ensure the best cleaning. For hot surfaces like welding operations, thick, strong weaves such as a ribbed corduroy, denim or terry towel fabrics provide strength and protection for hands.

When absorbency is important, few materials are more effective than traditional T-shirt type cotton or flannel. These materials open up (wick) to absorb and retain moisture.

For non-abrasive applications, polyester/cellulose blended hydro-entangled wipers ensure smooth pick-up of dirt and lint. For surfaces that have been prepared for paint and coatings by air blasting or sandblasting, lint-free or lint trapping wipes are an excellent choice for capturing micro-particles. For oily fluids and grease, a scrim-reinforced paper is the economic choice. Scrim is netting that is bonded between toweling stock for strength, which produces an efficient all-purpose wiper. Scrim is also good for glass and other smooth surfaces.

By selecting the right size wiper for the task, managers can improve safety and save time and money. For example, a small wiper for micro-machinery can save money and allow maintenance professionals to clean efficiently and comfortably. The same applies to bigger jobs. Large equipment surfaces can be wiped faster with a surface cleaning area that exceeds standard sized towels.

When comparing wipers to rental towels, there are several cost factors to consider. Task-specific wipers have one flat purchase fee, while rental-towel costs include weekly rental charges, as well as fuel and loss surcharges.

Also, rental towels now come under a new EPA ruling that places environmental clean-up responsibility on the user, just as with disposable towels. This means rental companies will also be adding an environmental charge.

For those unfamiliar with the EPA rules, they state that companies disposing of more than 250 lbs. of towels per month must adhere to the following:

•Towel waste sent for disposal through a licensed combustion waste facility or to a non-landfill facility must have "no free liquids," meaning they must have been wrung to eliminate dripping liquids. They can also have been pre-treated using centrifuging, microwave extraction or gravity draining methods. The EPA study which led to this recent rule change found that more than 87% of U.S. industrial laundries did not have proper equipment to pre-treat rental towels before laundering.

•Waste sent to a municipal or non-hazardous waste landfill must be in "dry" condition, meaning they contain less than 5 grams of liquid. Substances on the EPA list of "11 solvents of concern" (including nitrobenzene, MEK, methylene chloride, benzene, carbon tetrachloride and others) may not be sent to landfills under any conditions.

•Free liquid must be removed from rental towels before they're sent to the laundry. Wipers with solvents containing more than 5 grams must be stored in closed containers while at plant sites, not left in open bins where pollutants can escape. Wipers with solvents must be transported in closed containers.

•Wipers with grease and oil can be treated as regular solid waste if they meet the "no drip" rule. If being laundered, no special handling is needed.

With both rental towels and disposable wipers now under the EPA, multi-state plant operations can consolidate maintenance and cleaning policies, rather than adhere to various state laws. The rule is designed to encourage recovery and recycling of spent solvents. It's also meant to encourage facilities and industrial operations to develop and manage wipers and shop towels that focus on the needs of human health and environment