Is There Such a Thing as “Too Clean”?

A report released earlier this week by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), a London-based independent, multi-disciplinary charity dedicated to the improvement of the public’s health and wellbeing, affirmed that the there is no such thing as being “too clean.” According to an article in the Telegraph, the report came after organizers of a prominent festival encouraged attendees to conduct “strip washes” rather than take full showers in order to reduce the environmental impact of the festival. 

So, is there such a thing as being “too clean”? A lot of this goes back to the British epidemiologist David Strachan, who, in the late 1980s, developed what was called the “Hygiene Hypothesis.” His hypothesis suggested that exposure to infections during childhood would amplify defenses against allergies as the child grew older. In short, the dirtier the environment growing up, the better chance the child stood later in life to ward off allergies. 

It’s easy to see why there’s some pushback—the business of “clean” is a booming industry. The most recent data available forecasts that the household cleaning products generates more than $61 billion each year. We’re continually being sold on hand sanitizers and all-in-one products that promise to “kill 99.9% of germs and bacteria.” 

While some see that as more of a marketing strategy than reality, readers of this blog know that cleaning — and hygiene — are critical to controlling the spread of dirt, bacteria and infectious diseases.

Professor Sally Bloomfield, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that much confusion exists as to the difference between cleaning and hygiene—cleaning your hands after touching a dog or pet is different than cleaning out the pet’s living areas.

“Whereas cleaning means removing dirt and microbes, hygiene means cleaning in the places and times that matter—in the right way—to break the chain of infection whilst preparing food, using the toilet, etc.”

Professor Sally Bloomfield, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

So is there such a thing as “too clean?” The answer is no—the reality is quite the opposite. The absence of thorough and proper cleaning can have catastrophic results under the right conditions.

According to the World Health Organization, infectious diseases kill more than 17 million people a year. And the Texas Biomedical Research Institute reports that 30 new diseases have emerged in the last 20 years. 

So not only is the act of cleaning important, but HOW we clean and disinfect is equally as important in helping improve health outcomes for both cleaning workers and building occupants. There are different levels of cleanliness, and it when it comes to protecting people who live, work and visit buildings, one cannot be “too clean.” 

We’ll dig more into the importance of microbiology training for cleaning workers in our next post, but for now, here are the 27 of the Most Common Diseases Related to Cleaning:

Amebiasis

Botulism

Campylobacter

Chickenpox

Cholera

Cryptosporidiosis

Diphtheria

E.Coli

Hantavirus

Hepatitis

HIV/AIDS

Influenza

Legionellosis

Malaria

Measles

Meningitis

Meningococcal

Pertussis

Plague

Polio

Tuberculosis

Rotavirus

Rubella

Salmonellosis

Staph/MRSA

Streptocucucua

Typhoid Fever

Want to learn more about training workers on microbiology fundamentals? Check out our comprehensive reference guide “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” by John Walker and Jeffery Campbell, Ph.D. 

Further Reading: If you’re interested in how cleaning has shaped modern culture, you might want to check out “Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness” by Suellen Hoy.


Why Cleaning Matters

A little over a year ago, we had a brainstorming session to name our monthly electronic newsletter. As you can imagine, it’s a rollercoaster of fun anytime Ben is at the whiteboard. A series of possible titles made their way to the board, ranging from the basic “ManageMen Minute” to the more audacious “Dirt Diaries.” 

In the end, we settled on “Cleaning Matters” because it succinctly sums up our goal of the newsletter—to provide valuable news and information that can be used by cleaning professionals as they work to grow and evolve their cleaning programs. It also illustrates our core ethos—that cleaning MATTERS. How you clean matters. Why you clean matters. When and how often you clean matters. Custodial work MATTERS.

But it’s easy to lose sight of this. It doesn’t matter where or what you clean, this is not an easy business. Between the three C’s (call-offs, complaints and cuts), we see cleaning professionals get waylaid in the day-to-day management issues. We call this “firefighter mode” because professionals are constantly going around and extinguishing issues that come up during the day. One manager recently shared that his job made him feel like a piñata. He felt like he just kept receiving hits before finally busting open (not really, but that’s how he felt).

Need inspiration to keep you going? Download this graphic and print it out for your office or save it to your desktop to remind you of the importance of your work!

What do you do to help prevent the daily stresses of custodial work from getting to you? In addition to establishing a regular practice that allows you to decompress, it’s important to remember why we do what we do. Your job is critical, and you can’t communicate its importance to your bosses and staff without realizing and believing it first yourself. 

So grab a cup of coffee or a glass of water and sit back to relax for a moment and reflect on why you do what you do. Here are four extremely important reasons why CLEANING MATTERS:

1. Cleaning improves the health of people in the building: Done correctly, cleaning removes unwanted dirt and bacteria from the indoors. Not the keyword “removes”—removing dirt is essential to effectively cleaning for health. Dust, bacteria and mold are just a few of the things that can accumulate indoors without proper cleaning and will have an impact on the health of building occupants. 

As Dr. Michael Berry, former EPA administrator, details in his groundbreaking work, Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health, “….every time carpets and fabrics are emptied of their pollution build-up through professional cleaning methods, there is a health benefit.” And this is only the beginning of how cleaning can impact health.

2. Cleaning helps preserve the built environment (and capital investments). The minute your customer walks in the door, they immediately begin forming a perception of your business based on what they see and experience. Too often, this first-impression is only considered when identifying finishes and furnishings for a business, but not when it comes to how those items will be cleaned and maintained for the longterm. What happens to that beautiful marble floor when someone uses an acid-based cleaner on it?

During the construction or remodel of a building, organizations spend a mind-blowing amount of money on furnishings like carpet, furniture and finishes. Without proper care through regular cleaning and maintenance, the lifespan of these materials will quickly diminish. 

3. Cleaning makes us more productive. The popular business magazine Inc. published an article titled “The Incredible Power of a Clean Workspace.” In it, the author argues that unkept and cluttered workplaces create unrecognized stress for workers. 

Dutch researchers recently evaluated the correlation between clean office environments and worker productivity in their study: “Impact of cleanliness on the productivity of employees.”

Researchers concluded: 

“It is found that a higher objective cleanliness correlates significantly with a higher perceived productivity of employees working in office environments of non-profit organizations in The Netherlands. A higher measured cleanliness also correlates significantly with a higher work satisfaction level of employees working in office environments.”

4. Cleaning makes a difference between lost and repeat customers. As we’ve noted in previous blog posts, people prefer to do business in clean places. QSR Magazine recently highlighted a study that found 93 percent of U.S. adults would not return to a store if they experienced maintenance issues, including odor and dirty restrooms. How the building is cleaned and maintained is a large driver to business success.

We realize your work is hard and often goes unappreciated, but never lose sight of its importance. Thank you.

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Keeping an Eye on Candida auris: How Cleaning Departments Can Prepare

Unless you’ve been on a break from the news and social media over the past week (which we highly recommend doing every once in awhile!), you’ve likely heard the news about a new fungus spreading through nursing homes and hospitals everywhere. Setting its target on people with compromised immune systems, Candida auris spreads rapidly. Cleaning professionals should monitor the situation as the fungus can live outside of the body for a long period of time—up to a month or longer, according to CDC expert Tom Chiller. 

What makes it so significant? Cadida auris is multi drug-resistant, meaning that it doesn’t respond to common anti fungal drugs. Further complicating the issue is that it’s difficult to diagnose and treat. 

Where is it? Because it targets people with weakened immune systems, it is known to spread in hospitals, nursing home and other healthcare environments. 

How does it spread? In addition to living on the skin of an infected patient, Candida auris lives on surfaces. It can spread from person to person, or from a contaminated surface to a person.

How will custodial teams be impacted? Environmental service departments will play a key role in preventing the spread of C. auris in a facility. The CDC recommends that patients with Candida auris be placed in a single room that may require frequent cleaning with a high-grade disinfectant (those effective against Clostridioides difficile) listed here. Infection control will work with EVS teams to ensure regular and thorough cleaning.

How can I prepare? As outlined in our Pandemic Planning playbook, here are a few steps custodial departments can take to prepare for an outbreak of C. Aureus in their facility:

  1. Conduct a survey, list and map locations of all direct and indirect contact fomites (hard and soft surfaces) in the building.
  2. Stockpile disinfectants, spray bottles, gloves, hand soap and germicidal wipes.
  3. Re-familiarize yourself with the CDC’s Disinfection and Sterilization Guide and provide updated training on the principles of cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces for cleaning workers.
  4. Provide “Protect Yourself” training for cleaning workers
  5. Regularly check the CDC Website to review the latest guidelines on managing C. aureus. 

Ultimately, the key is preparation, not panic. For additional resources, you may want to check out our Pandemic Planning Playbook. While the material outlines specific steps for (OS1) operations, it can be used as a template for all cleaning departments. A full review of microbiology basics is available in Microbiology for Cleaning Workers. This book offers a great guideline for worker training.