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Welcome building occupants with effective cleaning

September 19, 2010
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Every task performed by cleaning technicians is important.

A clean, well-maintained facility is like an invitation to building occupants and visitors.

It welcomes office workers to their jobs and students to their schools.

And, for those entering health care facilities, a clean building assures them that they will receive first-class care and attention.

However, there is no aspect of a cleaning technician’s work that is more important than cleaning to protect human health.

A global concern
Since November 2002, when the first case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was diagnosed and reported in the Guangdong province of southern China, there has been a growing public awareness and concern about microbial contaminants in the indoor environment and how easily disease and illness can spread worldwide.

To complicate matters, there is a growing population of people around the world with compromised immune systems who are easy targets for germ-caused illnesses.

This includes an estimated 25 percent of the people living in the United States — such as people over 65, pregnant women and people with cancer, AIDS and other diseases — as well as about 75 percent of children under 5 years old in day care centers, according to Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D.

It is difficult to point out a positive side to disease outbreaks, such as SARS.

Some public health officials believe that if such an epidemic occurred today, a more organized and successful approach could be put in place to help minimize the consequences of the disease.

One of the most important of these includes the implementation of effective cleaning practices — using new technologies and systems that have the ability to scientifically measure how products, tools and cleaning systems can protect health.

Trails and terminologies
Before discussing how effective cleaning practices can help prevent illness and minimize the spread of disease, it is important to understand the trail that germs, bacteria and other contaminants take from one person (or surface) to another in the indoor environment.

Essentially, these are the components:
  • A potentially harmful pathogenic organism, such as bacteria, a virus, a fungus or a parasite, exists in the indoor environment.
  • The source or “housing” of the organism may be an infected person, a pet, food, an inanimate object, equipment and tools or surfaces, such as countertops, walls or floors.
  • The mode of transportation is either direct or indirect contact. Direct requires the transfer of microorganisms by physical contact between an infected person and a susceptible person. With indirect contact, a susceptible person may be infected from contact with a contaminated surface. Examples of such surfaces include a doorknob, restroom surfaces and tables.
Remove the threat, learn the terms
We now know that some organisms are capable of surviving on surfaces for extended periods of time.

And, we are discovering that there is really only one way to reduce or eliminate the transmission by indirect contact and that requires frequently touched surfaces be properly and regularly cleaned and disinfected through effective cleaning.

Additionally, some of the terminologies used in effective cleaning must be clearly understood.

For instance, the word “cleaning,” which has never really been officially defined by our industry, refers to the removal of visible and invisible soil through a manual or mechanical process.

Other terms we need to know include “disinfecting,” which is the process of eliminating nearly all recognized pathogenic microorganisms, but not necessarily all microbial forms, such as bacteria spores.

“Sanitizing” refers to physically removing and destroying, through effective cleaning, microbial contamination or to reduce it to levels considered safe for public health.

The key to effective cleaning is “hygienic cleaning.”

Hygienic cleaning describes the practice of removing soil and organisms from a surface and destroying microorganisms by using proper cleaning systems and procedures as well as cleaning chemicals that are designed to eradicate harmful microorganisms.

Putting effective cleaning into practice
The first step to incorporating an effective cleaning system is to make sure the actual cleaning tools and equipment are free of contamination.

When commonly used tools, such as cleaning cloths, brushes, buckets and mops, are soiled or remain wet for prolonged periods of time, they can become breeding grounds for germs and bacteria.

Instead of eliminating microorganisms, these tools actually transfer them from surface to surface.

Another concern regarding the cleaning tools and equipment selected for a cleaning regimen is whether they are effective at eliminating germs and bacteria.

For instance, studies measuring the cleaning results of microfiber mops versus conventional string mops showed that there is little difference in cleaning effectiveness and neither matched the effectiveness of a spray-and-vac cleaning system for removing harmful microorganisms from surfaces, especially porous surfaces.

Cleaning technicians, working with facility managers, must also determine which areas of a facility need to be regularly cleaned — the so-called “high-risk” areas for the growth of microorganisms — and which are “low risk,” needing less frequent cleaning.

Other variables
How the facility is used and by whom is another consideration of effective cleaning.

For instance, a school or health care center would be considered a high-risk facility for infection, while an office building probably would not.

Similarly, the people in a school or medical facility often have compromised immune systems, as mentioned above.

In these cases, entire sections of these facilities may be considered high risk and require more thorough cleaning.

Although the goal of effective cleaning is to maximize microbial risk reduction, it must not damage surfaces or harm the environment.

Effective cleaning also requires using chemicals, tools and equipment that are environmentally responsible, helping to protect the health of the user, building occupants and the environment.

A new direction
Some leading experts in the industry now believe that effective cleaning will become the next area of focus for the industry.

This will require that the effectiveness of cleaning products and systems be measured so that their usefulness in eradicating germs, bacteria and other contaminants can be scientifically proved.

Over the years, cleaning for appearance, as well as the use of green cleaning products, have played a key role in building value and respect for our industry and protecting the health of building occupants and the environment.

Effective cleaning combines the best of these, while adding science to answer the question of how effectively a cleaning product, tool or piece of equipment works.

This article is based on a presentation by Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., at the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) symposium in May 2007. Dr. Scott is assistant professor of biology at Simmons College, Boston, MA. Her talk was entitled, “Microbial Risk Reduction: The Benefits of Effective Cleaning.”

Robert Kravitz is a communications professional with AlturaSolutions Communications, Chicago, IL. AlturaSolutions works exclusively with organizations in the JanSan and building industries.

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