Is it possible that cleaning workers may unintentionally spread disease because of the cleaning tools and equipment they use? Here’s a case study that provides some answers.
In 2010, children attending a preschool started coming down with hand, foot, and mouth disease. Although this is a common childhood disease, for those of us not familiar with it, hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by viruses, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A person infected with one of these viruses is contagious. As to the symptoms, the most common are elevated temperature, rashes, and mouth sores.
The pathogens that trigger hand, foot, and mouth disease mainly spread by inhalation. However, in this preschool, it appeared the virus was also spreading by children touching contaminated surfaces. The contaminated surface most frequently touched was the floor where preschoolers spent the bulk of their day.
But were the floors the culprit? Did touching the floor spread disease? School administrators determined that the only way to find out was to conduct a study. If the floors were the problem, the administrators could then take appropriate actions to stop the transmission of the disease.
Uncovering the Causes
Once completed, the study revealed many things. Staff cleaned floors with string mops and buckets. However, the string mops were not regularly washed and sanitized, nor were they changed as frequently as they should be. The mop buckets were also not cleaned and sanitized regularly. Then staff used the same mops and buckets to clean many floor areas in the school. The problem here is that if the mop or bucket is contaminated with pathogens, the mopping process can spread those pathogens to other areas.
Overall, floor-cleaning best practices were not being observed. These include regular dust mopping or vacuuming of the floors; regular or daily cleaning to remove spills and soils; interim cleaning to remove surface-level embedded soils on a set basis; and restoration – stripping and refinishing floors one to three times per year. The cleaning solutions used for floor cleaning were purchased in grocery stores and not designed for professional use. Surface areas such as counters were not being cleaned effectively, and often, the same cleaning cloths were used repeatedly.
Addressing the Challenge
The study confirmed what school administrators suspected: the floors were contaminated, and these contaminants likely included the pathogens that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease. In other words, yes, the floors did spread disease.
To address the challenge and protect the health of the children, the following steps were recommended:
- Avoid mopping floors. We have known from studies dating back to the early 1970s that floor mopping can spread disease. This is just one more example.
- Replace the mops and mop buckets with floor-cleaning alternatives. One such alternative is the Kaivac AutoVac Stretch™. This system replaces mops and mop buckets, preventing the spread of contaminants. The AutoVac removes soils, pathogens, and contaminants from surfaces as it moves over the floor. It’s perfect for medium to larger floor areas.
- Use microfiber to clean counters and similar surfaces. Microfiber captures and traps soils and contaminants for fast, hygienic cleaning.
- Another option is the KaiFly™. This system combines microfiber, a window squeegee, and chemical injection technologies. Applied to surfaces, it rapidly removes potential disease-causing bio-pollutants from desktops, chalk and dry erase boards, tabletops, stalls, partitions, and windows.
Case studies like this tell us that mops can collect pathogens and viruses and spread them to other floor surfaces. And we all know that mops and mop buckets are not cleaned, sanitized, or changed as frequently as necessary to stop the spread of germs.
Cleaning must not spread disease. If our goal is to keep building occupants healthy, the mops have got to go.
Case Study Source: Robert Shor, formerly a practicing physician and a cleaning consultant based in Florida.