Building managers should become aware of some of the studies available on how the tools we use to clean surfaces—specifically, cleaning cloths and mops—can sometimes spread disease and cause cross-contamination.
For instance, a study published in 2004, "Household Cleaning and Surface Disinfection: New Insights and Strategies" 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 [or mop] is used to wipe another surface, "the contamination is transferred to that [new] surface."1
But going back a bit further, a study on how cleaning tools can spread contaminants from one surface to another dates back to 1971.2 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 as follows:
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 buildup of bacterial counts occurred if mops were not changed daily or if disinfectant was omitted from the wash water.
Steps You Can Take
These studies and numerous others are significant because they have been published and reported in prominent medical- and health-related journals in Canada, the United States, and around the globe. It is clear that a problem does exist when using cleaning cloths and mops.
Convincing your customers of this problem is the easy part. The studies speak for themselves, and most cleaning professionals realize their primary job is to clean for the health of building users. However, the harder part is offering alternatives.
One alternative is provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which suggests contaminated, reusable cleaning cloths (and it is assumed mops) can often be effectively cleaned by 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.
However, it's unlikely that cleaning professionals are going to decontaminate cleaning cloths and mops while cleaning. They are obliged to clean a given square footage per hour, 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.
Instead, managers and cleaning professionals should consider systems and equipment that limit the spread of contaminants from one surface to another. Solutions such as spray-and-vac systems (check out the video), trolley buckets that dispense cleaning solution directly to the floor without a mop, flat-surface cleaning systems, and even cleaning cloths that can be folded into quadrants can help to eliminate this problem altogether or reduce it significantly.
All of these alternatives can help stop the spread of disease by using appropriate tools to produce healthy, hygienic cleaning.
For more information on effective floor care systems and products, contact the company.
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.
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.