Nearly all industries benefit from using colors to clean, including medical centers, hotels, restaurants, schools, daycares, and nursing homes. A color-coded cleaning program is intended to help you identify different colored cleaning products such as rags, towels and cloths and mops for specific tasks or areas at the facility you clean and/or manage. Within the professional cleaning industry, there are many advantages to developing and integrating color coding into your existing program, including to:
- Control infection
- Prevent cross-contamination
- Differentiate for specific tasks or jobs
- Identify between departments
- Help bridge the language barrier
- Simplify employee training.
Infection Control And Preventing Cross-ContaminationA fundamental of color coding in the professional cleaning industry is the emphasis on infection control and preventing cross-contamination between different departments and wiping applications. Over the past couple years, we have experienced increased public awareness regarding serious outbreaks surrounding various strains of influenza, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella and more. With this awareness comes the responsibility to make sure that you are not a factor contributing to the spread of infection.
By making sure you have a color-coded cleaning program in place, you and your staff will help prevent cross-contamination by using different colored cleaning products when sanitizing a restroom than you would a common area or a food preparation station. It is recommended, for proper infection control when cleaning specific departments, that you always begin with the cleanest areas and finish with the dirtiest. For example, if you plan to use the same colored cloth in the restroom, it would be strategic to start with either the sink or shower and finish with the toilet.
Differentiate For Specific Tasks And Departments
Typically, a small handful of colors are used to clean different departments in a facility or for specific tasks or jobs.
Although there technically is not a "color standard" in the U.S., there are general trends that have emerged, which many have come to observe:
- Red: Used in areas with a higher risk of cross-contamination and spread of infection — most commonly for cleaning restroom areas including toilets and urinals
- Yellow: Used for cleaning objects and surfaces in rooms and lower risk areas of restrooms including sinks
- Green: Used in areas where food is handled and prepared
- Blue: Used in lower risk areas such as common areas and for general purpose cleaning of surfaces such as glass and mirrors.
Other colors can be used in place of or in addition to the aforementioned colors, including pink, orange, purple, grey, black, and white.
When implementing your color-coded program, you may want to consider matching the color of your towels and cloths, rags and mops with the color of the chemicals or bottles you are using to clean. For instance, if you are cleaning windows using a blue spray bottle, consider matching them up with blue cloths.
Bridge The Language Barrier
Color, for all intents and purposes, is a universal language that is recognized by anyone — regardless of one's native tongue. By applying color to your cleaning program, you are breaking down any language barrier that may exist between you and your staff. This is extremely important because it removes the degree of uncertainty, resulting in consistent cleaning from your entire staff.
Implementing a color-coded cleaning program using different colored towels and cloths, rags and mops to represent each task, job or department will help to eliminate confusion among your staff while also simplifying their training. Moreover, having a poster with illustrations representing your color-coded program can be very helpful and beneficial for training employees as well as ensuring the consistency of your program.
When it comes to setting up your color-coded cleaning program, there are several different towel and cloth, rag and mop options available depending on the application and the departments on which you wish to focus. Some of the most popular choices for cleaning programs include microfiber cloths and mops, terry towels and huck towels. All of these options are made of different materials, which can further help to distinguish what to use for a specific task.
Microfiber Cloths And Mops
Microfiber is a lint-free synthetic material that has been around for nearly a decade and has become one of the most preferred cleaning materials used in the professional cleaning industry. Microfiber is constructed with millions of microscopic hooks that attract, absorb and remove all kinds of dirt, dust and bacteria from surfaces. Microfiber traps the dirt, dust and bacteria until it is washed, so the same cloth or mop head can be used for a longer period of time — in the area of hundreds of washes — when compared to traditional cleaning cloths and mops.
Microfiber is also popular because of its versatility and ability to clean with or without the use of chemicals. Cloths and mops are safe on most surfaces from counters, floors, walls and windows to electronics, wood, stainless steel and stone. Microfiber cloths and mop pads are available in many colors, sizes and styles.
Terry cleaning towels are often popular because they are professional looking, 100 percent cotton absorbent towels. For general cleaning, towels that are approximately 16 inches by 19 inches are most popular and are often referred to as a bar towel within the industry.
Terry towels are usually available in an array of colors and styles, including white or white with a colored stripe down the middle. Using a colored towel or one with a differentiating stripe will also help to prevent mixing cleaning towels with guest hand and bath towels if you are in the hospitality industry. Terry is a material that is ideal for general cleaning of walls, counters and bathrooms, but is not recommended for lint-free cleaning.
Huck towels are durable, lint-free, 100 percent cotton towels. Hucks also make an excellent choice for general cleaning and work well on glass, furniture and many other cleaning applications. These towels are also a good choice for food preparation areas because of the texture of the material. Huck towels are usually available in a wide variety of colors.
There are several janitorial and wiping companies that will help you customize a color-coded program to fit you specific needs and applications. Some companies will even provide you with customized posters outlining the specific color-coded program that you specified. Whether designing a color-coded program yourself or with your supplier, keep in mind that it should be simple and easy to learn, understand and use.
For more infection control information, click here.
Article originally ran January 2014; reviewed and updated March 2018.