The Problem with Mopping

The Problem with Mopping

At one time when articles were written in publications serving the professional cleaning industry, the term “mopping floors” typically referred to cleaning the floor, removing soils, and helping to make the floor look its best. But in recent years, some writers in the professional cleaning industry now refer to mopping as “brush painting” the floor with germs; “soil spreading;” “the cleaning culprit;” and even the “Uber service for floor soils.”

So what’s this all about? How can we go from cleaning floors with mops to saying mops “paint brush” floors with germs? When did we discover the problem with mopping?

What’s happened, and as we will discuss in greater detail below, is that we have learned a lot more in recent years about what mops and mopping can do to floors. And if you are a hotel housekeeper who has been mopping floors for years, ever since you entered the profession, don’t be upset with yourself after you read what we discuss below. Instead, just tell yourself, “If I had known better, I would have done better.”

Very simply, if hotel housekeepers and administrators had known about all the health risks and problems that mopping floors can and do create, you would have stopped mopping and looked for alternative floor cleaning methods years ago. However, it’s never too late and just to help you, we will offer some alternatives that are not only more effective at removing floor soils than traditional methods, but clean floors faster. And because some of these alternatives eliminate much of the physical stress associated with floor care, they are much easier on your health and well-being use as well.

Getting Knowledge Under Your Belt

A study published in 2004 seems to get to the heart of the matter. While it dealt with soiled cleaning cloths, the same can and does hold true for soiled mops. The study, “Household Cleaning and Surface Disinfection: New Insights and Strategies,” published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, found that in situations where the cleaning procedure fails to thoroughly eliminate contamination from one surface and then the same cloth is used to wipe another surface, “the contamination is transferred to that [new] surface.”1

And this is not “new material.” One of the first studies on how cleaning tools can spread contaminants from one surface to another dates back to 1971.2 Conducted in a hospital, this study investigated microbial contamination of cleaning cloths and their potential to spread contamination. Once again, the researchers reported that wiping surfaces with contaminated cloths can contaminate hands, equipment, and other surfaces.

As to the spread of contaminants using mops specifically, part of this 1971 study reads:

Following the demonstration of massive spread of bacterial contamination throughout the hospital by the wet-mopping techniques in use, quantitative studies were undertaken to determine the source of contamination and to institute measures of control. It was found that mops, stored wet, supported bacterial growth to very high levels and could not be adequately decontaminated by chemical disinfection. Laundering and adequate drying provided effective decontamination, but build-up of bacterial counts occurred if mops were not changed daily or if disinfectant was omitted from the wash-water.

Very simply, what these studies point out is that in the mopping process, as the mop becomes contaminated with soils – which happens as soon as it touches the floor – it collects these soils in the mop fibers, which are then deposited in the mop water when the mop is rinsed. Then the contamination process takes on a life of its own:

• As the mop becomes more soiled, the mop water becomes more soiled.

• As the mop water becomes more soiled, more soils are collected on the mop.

Then two things happen: First, the mop becomes saturated with soils that begin to multiply, which are then spread on the floor, from one floor surface to another, as these studies indicate; but second and not noticed in the studies just referenced, as the cleaning solution becomes saturated with germs, bacteria, and other contaminants, it begins to lose its efficacy (effectiveness). Essentially, it’s a no-win situation for the floors, your hotel, and especially for your hotel guests.

Steps You Can Take

So now that we are aware of this serious “mopping problem,” what alternatives do we have for cleaning floors that are healthier and safer?

One alternative is provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),3 which suggests that contaminated, reusable cleaning cloths (and it is assumed mops) can often be effectively cleaned washing with detergents in hot water and drying for two hours at 176 degrees (F). This is about 40 degrees hotter than the drying temperature of most commercial and residential dryers. The CDC also mentions that some cleaning cloths may not hold up under this high heat setting.

Another option the CDC offers is to decontaminate cloths and mops during cleaning. Hotel administrators know that housekeepers are unlikely to decontaminate cleaning cloths and mops while cleaning. They are too busy cleaning the many guest rooms they are required to clean each shift, which essentially eliminates extra time for decontaminating during cleaning. Further, in many cases an industrial-type dryer would be necessary to dry these cleaning tools at a sufficiently high temperature, making both of these recommendations impractical.

What likely are the best options for hotel housekeepers using mops is to transfer to systems and equipment that do not spread contaminants from one surface to another. These include:

• No-touch or what ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, calls spray-and-vac cleaning systems

• Trolley buckets with dispense-and-vac systems that dispense cleaning solution directly to the floor; they do not use mops but a brush can be used on the floors to loosen contaminants, which are then vacuumed up

• What are called “autovac” cleaning systems, a streamlined version of an automatic scrubber that can be used in medium to smaller floor areas; as the machine is walked over a floor, solution is applied to the floor, agitated to loosen soils, and then vacuumed up by the machine…all in one process.

The benefit of all these systems is that no mops are used in the cleaning process at all. This also means no mops are placed into the cleaning solution, keeping it fresh and effective throughout the cleaning process.

While the no-touch cleaning system was available in 2004, none of the other floor cleaning alternatives were available in the 1970s when the first cited study was released. Even if that era’s cleaning workers had known better, they had few if any options to change their cleaning routines. Today we do know better, and we have no excuses for not keeping our hotel floors clean, which in today’s professional cleaning jargon, also means healthy.

About the Author:

Marc Ferguson is the international business development manager for Kaivac, manufacturers of floor, carpet, and restroom cleaning systems for all types of facilities including hotels. He can be reached through his company website at

1 Exner, M., Vacata, V., Hornei, B., Dietlein, E., Gebel, J. “Household Cleaning and Surface Disinfection: New Insights and Strategies,” Journal of Hospital Infection, 56, Supp. 2 (2004): 70-75.

2 Westwood, J. C., Mitchell, M. A., Legacé, S. “Hospital Sanitation: The Massive Bacterial Contamination of the Wet Mop,” Applied Microbiology, 21, no. 4 (1971): 693-7.

3 Rutala, W. A., Weber, D. J., and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC). Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008, CDC.

The Futility of Mopping

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