The Connection between Floors and Health
Some cleaning professionals might be shocked to learn about the results of a study conducted by Canada's University of Ottawa examining floor contamination—despite the fact that it was first published by the American Society of Microbiology in 1971.*
This study found that traditional floor cleaning methods, specifically mopping, were actually responsible for the contamination of floors. This fact surprises many people—cleaning professionals and laymen alike—since it is generally assumed that mopping not only cleans floors, but also helps to remove germs, bacteria, and other contaminants. Apparently, however, this is not the case.
In fact, according to the report, "One hundred and thirty-four floors [were tested] before and after mopping, [along with] the mops and cleaning materials before and after use, [and all] showed that the ‘cleaning' procedures were in fact spreading gross contamination throughout [the floors]."
A related British study came to the same conclusion, finding that "Mops can be a serious potential source of contamination. Even when soaked in phenolic disinfectant overnight, contaminants could still be detected."**
These studies have serious implications for all types of facilities, but most especially for schools, food-service locations, and medical facilities, where keeping all surfaces clean, healthy, and sanitary is of paramount concern.
A Closer Look at Floor Surfaces
Unfortunately, it isn't only traditional cleaning methods that can cause contaminants to be present on floors. In fact, the specific types and ways many commercial floors are designed and installed make them a welcome setting for bacteria. Quarry tiles, tile and grout, and other hard-surface flooring materials typically used in commercial settings are porous. This means soils, grit, germs, and bacteria can find their way into the pores of the flooring material, making them difficult to remove. Also, many floors may not be as flat as they appear. Slight irregularities are common, and these increase the chances of bacterial growth.
An even bigger problem is grout. According to Dr. Jay Glasel, founder of Global Scientific Consulting, "Grouting is usually softer and more porous than tiling, and because the grout line is often lower than the surface of the tiles, making them harder to clean . . . there is increased chance for bacterial contamination."
To combat these issues, facility managers and their cleaning personnel should consider cleaning systems or methods that do not spread contaminants and can reach deep into surface pores to actually root out germs and bacteria. Fortunately, new cleaning technologies are now making this possible.
A cleaning technology developed by Kaivac, Inc., known as the No-Touch® Cleaning System is proving to be a valuable tool when it comes to stopping the spread of contaminants on floors and other surfaces. The way these systems work is as simple as it is thorough. The operator applies a cleaning agent to the floors and other surfaces to be cleaned. These same areas are then rinsed to loosen and remove soiling. Then the cleaning professional removes the moisture, cleaning solution, and contaminants on the surface via the machine's built-in vacuum system (found on more advanced models).
John Richter, the technical director for Kaivac, reports that tests comparing traditional mopping techniques and a Kaivac no-touch system showed favorable results. To conduct the tests, two similar, equally sized grouted floor areas were cleaned, one using traditional mopping methods and the other a Kaivac system. Researchers gathered bacterial counts after each cleaning.
For the first test, no cleaning agent was added to the water. For the second test, a multipurpose cleaning agent was added. The results were as follows:
- With just water, the mopping system removed about 50 percent of the contaminants, according to bacterial counts; the no-touch cleaning system removed almost 90 percent, and there was no indication that contaminants had spread to other floor areas.
- When the cleaning agent was used, the traditional mopping system was only slightly more effective than in the first test; the Kaivac system, on the other hand, was able to remove 99 percent of the bacteria on the floor.
It is interesting to note that at one time, the key floor care concern of most facilities was that their floors shine. A high-gloss, "wet" look was considered critically important.
Today, things are different. Effective sanitation and cleaning for health are now considered key aspects of proper floor care. Facility managers and their cleaning personnel in all types of locations should consider choosing new cleaning systems or methods that do not spread contaminants and can reach deep into surface pores to remove germs and bacteria. No-touch cleaning systems can help facility managers ensure that their floors are hygienically clean, reducing the risk of contamination and protecting human health.
*John C. N. Westwood, Mary A. Mitchell, and Suzanne Legacé. "Hospital Sanitation: The Massive Bacterial Contamination of the Wet Mop." Applied Microbiology 21, No. 4, April 1971, pp. 693–97.
**"A survey of disinfectant use in hospital pharmacy aseptic preparation areas." The Pharmaceutical Journal, Vol. 264, No. 7088, March 18, 2000, pp. 446–48.
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