Three Myths of Healthier Cleaning

How cleaning additions may be doing more harm than good

Cleaning, like other professions, faces its share of myths that may cost your organization money and impact the health of building occupants. It is helpful to understand these erroneous views and related truths to benefit your operation.

Here are three misconceptions about healthier cleaning that can affect facilities you clean:

1. Cleaning and health care are totally separate functions.

Although you would not call your cleaning company for help if you broke your arm, it is a myth that cleaning and health care are mutually exclusive processes. This is because cleaning is proven to help prevent illness and disease.

For example, hard surfaces are known to harbor pathogens, and proper cleaning and sanitization can remove or inactivate them. Airborne dust escaping from improper dusting tools or poorly filtered or maintained vacuum cleaners can aggravate or cause respiratory issues, while capturing dust using a damp microfiber cloth or a Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI)-approved vacuum helps to keep dust out of the air and the lungs of building occupants, including the professionals who are doing the cleaning.

According to the 2013 book, Lifestyle Medicine, written for doctors and health care professionals, “It is known that janitors, maids, and other professional cleaners who use certain cleaning products may be at higher risk for asthma.” The book recommends reducing unhealthy chemistries whenever possible as part of a healthier lifestyle.

Additionally, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, persons who receive a doctor’s note stating they have substantial disabilities in connection with exposure to chemicals in cleaning products may need special accommodation from their employer. According to a 2011 report from ISRN Nursing, “Physicians’ Perceptions and Practices Regarding Patient Reports of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity,” 13 percent of people are chemically sensitive.

2. Healthy cleaning is addition, not subtraction.

Sometimes crews and customers expect indoor environments to smell nice, so cleaners will add a fragrance to cleaning processes or use product ingredients that leave an orange, pine, or other fresh scent. This form of addition may be unhealthy, as natural fragrance additives, such as essential oils, are costly and may trigger reactions in persons who are chemically sensitive. Moreover, synthetic fragrances are harmful to routinely inhale.

Remember: Cleaning is about removing unwanted substances from the indoor environment, not adding them.

3. All-natural cleaning is healthier.

Cleaning products containing natural ingredients are considered healthier by many sincere persons, but substances such as d-limonene (orange oil), pine, and essential oils consist of organic compounds that are known to react with airborne pollutants in smog—or ozone from office equipment—to create substances such as formaldehyde. Adding these to the breathing zone is unhealthy, according to a 2006 article from the journal Indoor Air, the international journal of indoor environment and health.

The Truth

Adding contaminants to the indoor environment by redistributing soils, such as dust, or applying heavily fragranced solutions can be costly and unhealthy in terms of building occupant well-being, labor, and productivity. It can also have an impact on your organization’s reputation if word gets out that your cleaning may actually be polluting or harming building visitors.

Posted On August 8, 2016

Allen Rathey

Principal of Winning Environments, LLC

Allen P. Rathey is an educator specializing in healthy facilities, and provides advisory and consulting support. He is past-president of The Housekeeping Channel (HC), The Healthy House Institute (HHI), and The Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI). He is the principal of Winning Environments, LLC, promoting best practices that enhance the living environment. Email for more information.

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