The ISSA Clean Standard For K-12 Schools

What the standard includes, and why it is a game changer.

As many school boards reduce cleaning efforts in light of mounting budget cuts, the Clean Standard, due out in summer, sets a high but practical bar for cleaning in educational facilities.

According to ISSA, the goal of the Clean Standard is to provide schools with a useful tool that will help them objectively assess and control the level of cleanliness in their facilities.

The Clean Standard establishes a “range of clean” as measured by adenosine triphosphate (ATP) bioluminescence, and is a non-prescriptive way to select processes that help schools get into the “clean and healthy” zone: Lower ATP levels — based on desired Relative Light Unit (RLU) ranges of leading devices — mean less bioload, equaling less risk of infectious organisms, in most cases.

As a seminal work, the Clean Standard scientifically but indirectly informs the marketplace about the hazards within our schools and emphatically tells us how to effectively reduce many infectious risks.

This is done through measured cleaning, or removal of key soils that may compromise hygiene, rather than just poisoning microbes and accepting the consequences of indiscriminate disinfectant use.

Just as the green manifesto, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, changed the way we deal with pests in the outdoor environment, the Clean Standard will change the way we deal with microbial pests indoors, all to the benefit of children, teachers and communities.

As Silent Spring informed the public about the hazards caused by human intervention using DDT to kill pests in the outside environment, the Clean Standard shows us there is a better way — i.e., through cleaning, not necessarily poisoning.

How It Helps Public Schools

There is a downward spiral in the way public schools budget for cleaning, and why.

A public school has an obligation to the taxpayer to be transparent in all its transactions; therefore, when cleaning is outsourced, anyone can find out how much the winning janitorial bid was for last year’s cleaning contract.

The “smart” new bidders often just place a bid less than last year’s and may be rewarded with the business to the detriment of better cleaning and health.

Low-bidders may cut costs by cleaning less (reducing labor) and sometimes by “bombing” environments with more toxic products to kill germs, resulting in a dirty environment on several levels.

The result over time is often disastrous and can be germ-ridden, chemically-polluted and dusty student and staff spaces created by not having the proper resources and staffing to do the job right.

As I travel around the country working with school districts implementing Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools, I see school district after school district suffering the same problem: broken custodial budgets forcing schools to either outsource or reduce staffing to the point of inadequate custodial services.

We owe it to our children to protect them from this dangerous trend and I can see no other solution then to lobby state and local school boards to adopt the same principle they use to measure student achievement through national standardized testing scores.

We need — and they deserve — a national “Clean Schools Standard.”

ISSA — and the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) — have helped us to get to this point.

The Clean Standard identifies the need for better cleaning, not necessarily more chemistry, miracle cleaners or lower prices.

It raises the bar, makes possible a much-needed National Clean Standard, and finally defines cleaning properly as the removal of potentially harmful substances, not the addition of them, or the rearranging of soil, through misguided efforts.

It gives cleaning professionals who invest properly in the right labor and processes to actually prevent or remove soils the ability to compete in the open market.

What’s In The Standard?

Without a standard, who can say what a clean and safe school house is?

That’s where the Clean Standard helps.

“The goal of the Clean Standard: K-12 Schools is to provide schools with a useful tool that will help them objectively measure and monitor the level of cleanliness at their facilities. The clean standard establishes a framework to assess the cleanliness of a school’s interior high touch surfaces by employing survey methodology and quantitative measurements to determine what is biologically soiled and to what extent, and the level of biological contaminant removal when cleaned for the ultimate purpose of improving the quality of the indoor environment for the benefit of student and staff in K-12 facilities.” (Part 1 Introduction and Overview of the Clean Standard.)

ISSA has shown us a way to measure how much “germfood” is on high-touch surfaces, or Critical Control Points like door handles, light switches, desk tops, cafeteria tables, restroom stalls, sink fixtures and more, then asks that we remove it to safer levels.

ATP measurements can help determine pre-cleaning conditions, and more importantly, post-cleaning goals in a safe range — not using some arbitrary or magic number.

What the Clean Standard will do for K-12 schools is set the acceptable level of biological contamination left on a surface.

That is the goal: To find a safe level and hold our schools accountable to achieve it, and then to purchase tools, supplies and contract cleaning services based on this standard.

A National Clean Schools Standard — like a new Constitution or Bill of Rights — will help to foster an indoor environment that is not dangerously affecting our children’s education.

Through sound emphasis on high-performance cleaning, and measured, healthy processes, it will positively transform our educational spaces, enhancing the learning potential and future of every child in our schools, as well as the entire professional cleaning industry.

The ISSA Clean Standard A New “Constitution” and “Bill of Rights”

There are watershed moments in the history of the cleaning industry, notably those that affect our children attending public schools, and the Clean Standard for K-12 Schools is a mile marker.

As stated by CIRI and ISSA with the Support of the Clean Standard Development and Stakeholder Committees: “The goal of the Standard for Measuring the Cleanliness in K-12 Schools (hereinafter referred to as the Clean Standard) is to provide schools with a tool that will help them objectively measure and monitor the level of cleanliness at their facilities thereby contributing to the quality of the indoor environment for the benefit of students and staff.”

With these words, the cleaning sector has a new and powerful set of “founding beliefs” — a virtual Constitution and Bill of Rights providing structure to a “clean for health” philosophy in education facilities.

Posted On July 3, 2013

Rex Morrison

President of the 501c3 Nonprofit Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS) Group

Rex Morrison is president of the 501c3 nonprofit Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS) group. He helps school districts across the nation implement the PC4HS program to save money and jobs while enhancing the health of the indoor environment. Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS) is “schools helping schools” gain mastery of maintenance budgets, improve cleaning processes, health and the bottom line. Visit for more information.

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