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Wintertime's Impact on Facility Air Quality

Ensuring healthier air and facilities during inclement months

Man vacuuming in airport Image courtesy of Hoover Commercial

If recent studies looking into the way we work and live are correct, there’s a good chance you’re reading this article from inside an office building, a hospitality space, or another indoor location. In fact, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we “spend approximately 40 hours a week in office buildings,” in addition to eating, drinking, and sleeping in enclosed environments.

According to some estimates, Americans now spend, on average, up to 90 percent of their time indoors. Because of the amount of time we spend interacting with our indoor environments, roles within the cleaning and maintenance industry have never been more important, especially when it comes to commercial spaces.

In particular, during the winter months, it’s more crucial than ever to think about the quality of the air we breathe, particularly in cold locations. This time of year, dirt, dust, slush, and grime increase, while our exposure to cleaner outside air diminishes.

It may seem counterintuitive, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) basic information on indoor air quality, indoor air levels of many pollutants may reach at least two to five (or even up to 100) times higher than they do outside. Though we associate outdoor air quality with cars, trucks, factories, and pollution, the air inside contains more of the things that have a negative effect on our health.

One reason for this is carpet. The carpet we walk on every day actually serves as a giant filter. This filter can hold up to twice its weight in dirt while still appearing clean, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). This can be quite a problem in high foot-traffic areas because large quantities of pollutants can be disturbed and spread or waft throughout a building, especially if they enter the forced-air ducts. During winter months in colder locations, this problem can become demonstrably worse as facilities combat increased contaminants like slush, snow, and salt, along with the usual substances we face all year long.

By recognizing the main causes of indoor pollutants and engaging some simple strategies and tools to combat wintertime buildup, we can all maintain a clean and healthy facility for those who come to our locations to visit and work.

Target the Entrances and Exits

Whether your facility houses commercial or hospitality-based activities, it has entrances and exits—and these are a cleaning crew’s greatest challenges. High foot-traffic locations like these are the entry points for virtually all dirt, dust, germs, and allergens, and, if they go unchecked, they are where contaminants begin their journey toward every square foot of your building.

Because pollutants spread quickly in high-traffic areas, it’s important to build multiple cleanings into your daily routine. An aggressive cleaning strategy will not only improve the visual aesthetics of your location, but it will also help you capture incoming dirt and dust before they have the opportunity to spread. Ignoring this foundational step invites possible liability, not only from slips and falls related to moisture and puddles, but also from the unseen health risks that concern visitors.

Each building has its own set of challenges, but poor indoor air quality is one thing many of them share. According to a report by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “20 to 30 percent of commercial buildings suffer from indoor air quality problems.”

This alarming number means workers and visitors are at risk of developing short- and long-term health issues due to unsanitary air.

Slush Zones

To improve the air quality in your space, and make your carpet or hard floors more sanitary, you must start where pollutants enter. During winter months, your entrances will be full of snow, slush, and salt. To keep these slush zones clean and dry, the first thing you’ll need are high-quality, soil-removal mats. These mats separate dirt and grime from shoes and are the first and most basic step you can take to combat messes in your space.

But mats are only the first line of defense, and without more aggressive strategies and higher-powered tools, they will not prevent winter-specific messes from spreading. Therefore, each facility or building crew should adopt a three-level approach to cleaning and maintenance. Those levels are: routine cleaning, interim maintenance and, finally, deep cleaning.

Level One

Routine cleaning means just that: cleaning multiple times a day at regularly scheduled intervals. Routine cleaning is even more important in hard floor areas as puddles and moisture from slush and snow can increase the risk of slips and falls.

Scheduling is a big part of any routine cleaning strategy. As David Moisa—a category manager at Edward Don & Co., a distributor of food service supplies and equipment—says, a routine cleaning strategy means you’ll have made “a well-documented plan geared specifically towards winter months. This means that the end user must have timeframes and areas of focus…walkways, entrances into the facility, as well as most common areas. Cleanup crews need to be aware of the times that are best to clean each specific area.”

As part of your routine cleaning strategy, it’s also recommended you incorporate several tools. If you don’t have the resources to purchase a full line of products, a commercial grade upright vacuum will go a long way toward cleaning problem areas quickly, while also meeting a number of other needs. However, a more robust line of products—including a commercial upright, a cordless backpack, a wet/dry vac, and a blower—can help maintain entrances, exits, and stairwells easily.

When you’re looking at building your cleaning strategies, it’s important to first and foremost find products that are equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system. Along with HEPA filtration, another way to ensure you capture particles is to use self-sealing bags; they trap dust before it can escape your vacuum and waft throughout the facility, promoting healthier disposal. Also consider products with activated carbon, as it neutralizes odors during the vacuuming process, creating a more pleasant experience for cleaning crews and visitors.

You may also want to consider products that have been approved by CRI. Because CRI is one of the few independent organizations within the cleaning industry, its bronze, silver, gold, and green seals mean something important.

Levels Two and Three

For interim maintenance and deep cleaning, also use a heavy-duty extractor and a one-gallon steam vacuum with clean water reservoirs. These enable you to clean every part of a carpet or hard floor effectively, whether you’re dealing with dirt, slush, snow, or salt.

These strategies and tools can make your job easier and keep your day-to-day operations functioning more efficiently. Whether you have carpet, hard floors, or a combination of the two, these tried and tested tools and strategies will help make your buildings and facilities cleaner and more sanitary places.

Running the cleaning and maintenance programs at a large commercial or hospitality-focused facility is no easy task, but these easy solutions can make a positive difference in the way you work and the way your visitors spend their time in your space.

 

Posted On January 28, 2016
Sherlon Kauffman

Sherlon Kauffman

Senior Product Manager for Hoover Commercial with TTI Floor Care N.A.

Sherlon Kauffman is senior product manager for Hoover Commercial with TTI Floor Care N.A. Hoover Commercial products are designed to drive productivity and empower the cleaning professional to keep the commercial environments they maintain clean, safe, and productive for the patrons and employees who depend on them.

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