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Management And Training

What Can Be Done About Cleaning Specifications?

September 19, 2010
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We''ve all seen wacko cleaning specs in requests for proposals (RFPs).

Here are some taken directly from actual spec sheets:

  • Floor area will be swept daily with a treated sweep-mop
  • Clean all water coolers and polish to a shine
  • Spot wash all glass
  • Burnish tile floor surfaces and recoat with finish
  • Damp dust all telephones with an approved germicide cleaner
  • Clean carpet wall to wall, pile lift, then use wet extraction process
  • Flush all floor drains with one gallon of disinfectant solution
  • Annually strip and reseal tile and stone floor surfaces
  • Wax tile
  • Wash and wax floor weekly
  • Buff all corridor walls where tile is installed
  • Polish all service stairwells.

As the service provider, you must put together a proposal to do all of this.

If you don''t know what a treated sweep-mop is or know how to buff a tile wall, and if you don''t use wax weekly or on any other schedule or don''t think recoating tile after just burnishing is a sound practice, then you are not alone.

If you think it is wasteful to pour a gallon of disinfectant solution into a drain trap that holds less than a quart or an even greater waste to strip and reseal all floors in all areas annually, and if you have no idea what it takes to polish all the service stairwells in a building, then you are in good company.

There are hundreds of thousands of cleaning people who, upon reading unclear specs, have to guess: That polishing a water cooler means to damp wipe and buff dry; that spot wash really means spot clean; that damp dusting is dry dusting followed by a damp wipe with a disinfectant solution treated cloth; and that an upright vacuum cleaner is used to pile lift the carpet because these cleaning people have never even seen an actual power pile lifter.

Since the industry has not commonly used wax on tile floors for over 60 years, it is obvious that the spec writer has no idea what is current practice and is simply copying outdated material.

"Wash" sounds as if it would get things clean, but the procedure is only used in certain cases because it demands a volume of solution and rinse water as opposed to a simple damp wipe with its rapid drying capability.

What do you do with contract specifications that stipulate unintelligible or just plain misguided actions?

The Basics

All cleaning specs can be summarized by:

  1. You are responsible for Areas A, B, C, D, E, F, G, M, O and P
  2. Keep them clean
  3. Keep tile and "bright-work" shiny.

Simple, but it covers the cleaning people''s job very nicely.

No one would expect an auto repair shop''s customer to supervise the mechanic as he replaces a defective alternator or headlight, nor would the mechanic view such an attempt as a compliment to his expertise.

Yet, in the cleaning industry, it is normally expected that the customer will provide detailed instructions for what the cleaners are supposed to do and when they are to do it.

Often, the cleaning company will leave a log or comment book so the client''s people can give further directions as the service period progresses.

Even if you, as a cleaning expert, are not offended by this strange arrangement, there is a more pressing problem created by the widespread notion that all cleaners need such babysitting and handholding by their clients.

Many clients are poor babysitters.

They provide weird, often unclear and sometimes damaging directions, such as the examples above.

How do you put together a proposal with such inane requirements?

Bad Options, Real Solutions

You could ask the client to clarify what is meant, but in doing so, you risk appearing confrontational or devious since clients may view the contractor who questions the specs as one looking to get around the responsibilities they outline.

You certainly don''t want that.

You can openly challenge the stupid and wasteful things, such as waxing dirty floors once a week, but then you risk offending the person who is advocating the specs. Still not the best move.

Instead of trying to accommodate bad procedures and guesswork frequencies, focus on the basic requirement — a clean building — and use the specs to find the client''s primary areas of concern.

If they ask for the tile walls to be buffed on whatever frequency, you know they are seeing spotted and/or dusty wall tiles way too often.

If the spec says to polish the stairwells, you can be sure the stairwells are not clean.

A request for burnishing means the client wants the floors to shine and the finish to look clean and clear.

The solution to keeping these and all other surfaces acceptably clean does not lie with telling the cleaner when to perform the service.

Obviously, no one knows in advance when the need for cleaning will arise, so specifying cleaning too often will be wasteful, while specifying action too infrequently will lead to unsightly buildup.

The simple solution is to check surfaces for spots, dust, grime and other clearly identifiable cleaning indicators daily — or whenever area service is required — removing whatever shows up when it shows up and only where it shows up.

This is termed indication cleaning; it conforms to no set schedule.

The custodial staff is trained to look for the various indicators showing that cleaning is necessary.

Since you have no way of knowing when someone will leave a handprint on the wall tile, detecting and removing it when it happens is, by far, the best method of keeping the tile wall clean.

When a handprint on a wall surface appears, it is removed by a damp wipe and buff dry procedure.

The whole corridor isn''t cleaned, just the affected area, which is likely to be small and easily restored.

Time and money are conserved.

As for the stairwells, no one is really going to polish them, by hand or otherwise, but they should be kept free from cleaning indicators, such as dust, lint, litter, spots and grime.

The client wants a clean stairwell. Give it to them.

Shiny floors are desired. Calculate what you need to do to maintain them.

What is required on the ground floor will not be needed on the third floor.

You are the expert, so do what an expert does to produce the desired results.

Never follow a bad procedure or schedule just because it is in the specs.

If the result is what is expected, no one will ever question how you did it and even if they do, the results speak for themselves.

Sometimes the spec frequencies have escalated.

A few years ago, the requirement was to put a quart of disinfectant solution down the floor drain every month.

The odors were still there, so the volume was upped to a half gallon.

Still odors persisted.

The next RFP showed a gallon added each month.

That will surely fix the problem.

It won''t, of course, because no one was putting even the quart down the drain until the smell became offensive and someone complained.

Increasing the scheduled frequency or magnitude of a task does nothing to remedy a problem if the task is being skipped or ignored entirely in the first place.

Watch for this sort of thing in specs you are given and solve the problem by acting at the first indication.

We will probably never see the end of the frequency spec as a means of babysitting the cleaning contractor, but no matter.

Use the specs to find concerns, and then base your proposal on keeping the building surfaces clean and the shiny portions sparkling.


Please be aware that indication cleaning demands the custodian be unusually attentive to detail and constantly focused on the surfaces encountered.

This is very demanding and requires special training and effort, but it is worth it.

Indication cleaning is fast, efficient and effective.

Apply it and you will not be concerned about faulty, foolish or unclear specifications.

Lynn Krafft is an ICAN/ATEX associate editor and a cleaning service operator. Krafft is also a supporting member of ISSA and CIRI.

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