For the professional cleaning industry, the current recession has forced many facility service providers (FSPs) and managers to postpone large equipment purchases, making do with older equipment that may be past its life expectancy.
In addition, several facilities have had to scale back hiring and, worse, let cleaning professionals go due to severe financial circumstances. Yet, at the same time, facilities around the country, especially schools and universities, are concerned about the spread of swine flu at their facilities. Essentially, FSPs and facility managers are being forced to do more with a lot less while still maintaining health standards.
For more than 100 years the accepted knowledge has been that soils harbor germs; that these germs cause disease; and that disease and other health-related problems can be minimized or eliminated through proper cleaning. And germs are especially present in restrooms. Public restrooms have more "high-touch" contamination points than any other area of a facility.
Not only are counters, walls, doorknobs, and fixtures a concern, but so are the floors. Experts say that people have as many as 50 direct and indirect contacts with floors every day. Therefore, if the floors are contaminated, the possibility for cross-contamination is much greater.
In light of these issues - the tough economy, doing more with less, grave concerns about swine flu, and the many contamination points in restrooms - cleaning professionals and managers must step back, reevaluate their restroom cleaning systems, and see how they can keep standards high throughout this difficult period.
Some business consultants refer to this as a "cleansing process." As it applies to cleaning, this cleansing process allows a facility to determine which tools and procedures protect health and improve the appearance of restrooms - keeping those that do and eliminating those that do not.
Oldie But Still a Goodie?
Mops are one of the oldest cleaning tools available. String mops, essentially as we know them today, were invented by Thomas Stewart back in 1893. Although there were other types of mops before his invention, Stewart's mop allowed for replacement of just the mop head, and not the handle, when needed. This innovation made restroom floor cleaning much easier and more cost effective, but did it make floor cleaning healthier? Jumping forward to the present day, we now realize the answer is likely no.
In 2006, Dr. Jay Glasel, professor emeritus of the Department of Microbial, Molecular, and Structural Biology at the University of Connecticut Medical/Dental School, and colleagues conducted a series of tests evaluating soil-removal capabilities of string mops and flat mops versus spray-and-vac (no-touch) cleaning systems. The study found that:
String and flat mops left 30 times more urine residue on hard-surface floors and grout compared to spray-and-vac systems.
On smooth floor surfaces, as much as 13 times more urine residue remained after cleaning with a flat or string mop.
Facilities cleaned with only a mop had nearly as much urine residue present on hard-surface floors after cleaning as before cleaning.
In effect, conventional restroom mopping processes spread contaminants as much as or more than they remove them from floor surfaces.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Fortunately, restrooms can be kept hygienically clean and healthy in a manner that is also cost effective. Some ways to do this include:
Turn to modern tools. Advances in restroom cleaning technologies and equipment such as no-touch cleaning systems have been scientifically proven to improve restroom sanitation.
Train, train, train. Many custodians are self-taught, which is one reason cleaning quality, times, and performance can vary. Custodial training should be viewed as an investment in protecting the health of a facility, and training has a financial return on investment as well, by improving cleaning procedures and efficiency and thus reducing overall cleaning costs.
Test and evaluate. Relatively inexpensive equipment is now available, such as a hand-held ATP meter that allows FSPs and managers to measure whether a surface is clean and healthy.
Improving restroom cleaning effectiveness and protecting the health of a facility is a top-down process. It involves not just FSPs or facility managers making a difference. It starts at the top, with high-level administrators setting the tone for overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges to help foster a healthier, more hygienically clean facility.