A 2004 study 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.” The same thing can happen when mopping floors.
An even older study on how cleaning tools can spread contaminants from one surface to another dates back to 1971. 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.
What these studies point out is that when mopping floors, as the mop becomes contaminated with soils – which happens as soon as it is applied to 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 added to the mop.
Then two things happen: first, the mop becomes saturated with soils so it starts spreading them 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 and the health of building users.
Steps You Can Take
So now that we are aware of this serious problems that can arise from mopping floors, what alternatives do we have to cleaning floors that are healthier and safer. One alternative is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which suggests 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.
Cleaning professionals are unlikely to decontaminate cleaning cloths and mops while cleaning. They are too busy 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 to 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 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, which are then vacuumed up by the machine
The benefit of all these systems is that no mops are used in the mopping floor process at all. And this also means no mops are placed into the cleaning solution, keeping it fresh and effective throughout the cleaning process.
For more information on floor care and floor care products, contact Kaivac.
Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, having owned, operated, and then sold three contract cleaning companies in Northern California.
He is the author of two books about the industry and continues to be a frequent writer for the industry.
Robert is now president of AlturaSolutions Communications, which provides communications and marketing services for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.