Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Developing A Cleaning Standard For Your Operation

September 19, 2010

In January, I commented that there is no uniform clean surface standard mainly because few really believe something as simple as cleaning requires anything as detailed and exact as a standard.

Is it true that cleaning is that simple?

It would be, if the cleaning of surfaces were as basic as sweeping dirt off a floor every morning after the family has crawled off their grass mats and started out to the stream to wash up.

However, we all know that the days of uncomplicated surface cleaning are long gone.

The indoor environment now features dozens — if not hundreds — of different surfaces, far more varied than a dirt floor and a grass mat.

This means that cleaning must be tailored to match the surface or it may cause damage, fail to remove embedded soils or take far too long and prove too costly in the long-term.

While architects often overlook the elements allowing for easy maintenance — like installing porous materials where they should not be and fragile surfaces in high-traffic zones — the cleaner is there daily to preserve these and keep them safe and attractive for building occupants.

Cleaning itself may be fairly simple work, but deciding what to do, how to do it and how often is not.

This is especially true when cleaning extends to microbial reduction efforts, often referred to as sanitization and disinfection.

We work in a service industry where quality is often judged by comparison to a standard.

Well, what is a standard?

The British Standards Institute (BSI), the world''s oldest national standards body, defines a standard in this manner: "Put at its simplest, a standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something. It is a published document that contains a technical specification or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline or definition."

Such a standard is usually the product of committees and may take many months to prepare.

Nevertheless, the BSI does say that, "Occasionally, a committee may commission a consultant to complete the drafting."

So, let''s use that approach here. That way, when we offend those who insist on a 10-year effort involving 50,000 people, we will have justification for doing so.

We do run a risk. On the one hand, we are saying the industry has no standard due to the widespread belief that the work is too simple and basic to need a standard.

On the other hand, we are saying that we can easily standardize it because it is so simple and basic.

You''ll just have to think about that until the apparent contradiction is resolved.

What Are We Standardizing?

Let''s begin with what we are not making standard.

  1. We are not going to standardize when the cleaning is done. The cleaning frequency specifications we so often see are not the way to go. There are too many variables, even from day to day in the same facility.

  2. We are not going to standardize certain products or procedures. Much of the foot dragging that has prevented the development of a sensible cleaning standard comes from the overly cautious element in the supply sector that fears its particular product or application will not be the one stipulated to be used. Let''s set that obstacle aside. Let the user determine what works and what doesn''t.

  3. We are not going to standardize production rates. There are too many variables here as well.

That leaves us with only one thing that has standardization merit, and that is the result or outcome of the cleaning effort.

The standard must be something that can be judged and evaluated — even measured when there is a need to do so.

To better understand this, let''s use a situation familiar to us all: Service in a restaurant.

What is it that engages your attention the most?

We judge a restaurant by its food — not the size of the kitchen, not the training of the cook, not the condition of the pots and pans and not even by the kitchen''s appearance.

In fact, after a long time of receiving good service at the same place, even the sanitation issue is forgotten.

Only the food and its timely arrival at a fair price, taste, quantity and visual appeal matters.

Only recently are we seeing people attending to details such as calorie count and trans fat avoidance, but the meal itself is still the standard for judgment.

Read your local food critic''s column.

What we need to standardize in our service work is the outcome of the cleaning effort, judged soon after the cleaning is done and before any re-soiling or recontamination has occurred.

With this in mind, we can define quality cleaning as the complete removal of any and all surface blemishes or cleaning indicators.

The "Universal Clean Surface Criterion" is this: "A surface is judged visibly clean if, upon examination soon after the cleaning effort is completed, no removable blemishes — cleaning indicators — are apparent."

This means that a surface is either clean or unclean.

If there are no visible unwanted substances, this means it is clean.

The presence of any unwanted residues — including cleaning chemicals — means it is still in need of cleaning.

Yes, it is clean. No, it isn''t clean. That is as simple as you can get.

The second part of this article will appear in next month''s issue.

Lynn E. Krafft is an ICAN/ATEX editor and a cleaning service operator. Krafft, who has written numerous industry-related articles, is a supporting member of ISSA and the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI).