How to Prepare for a Bad Flu Season with a Good Disinfection Program

So—do you want the good news or bad news first?

Bad news: Early reports show that this year’s flu season is not looking so good. There’s a particular strain—H3N2—which is said to be more severe.

Good news: With proper disinfection, cleaning teams can have a substantial impact on stopping the spread of the virus.

A few months ago, we talked about the “Hygiene Hypothesis” and how there’s no such thing as being too clean. Proper cleaning—and disinfection— is critical to preventing the spread of viruses and diseases outlined in that post. 

But contrary to popular practice, disinfecting is about so much more than just misting an area and wiping it down several minutes later. In most non-critical environments, low-level and intermediate disinfection will do. Summary: HOW people clean is much more critical than WHAT they use to clean.

As we head into cold and flu season, now is a good time to refresh these basic principles of disinfectants with your team to make sure they work as intended:

  1. Consider the Tools: It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re cleaning to disinfect an area, you can’t use dirty tools. the tools you use can’t be dirty. And we’re not talking just “I can’t see dirt, so it must be clean” — freshly laundered cleaning cloths, mops and brushes must be used in order to prevent poor disinfection. Once the surface of the cloth has been used, fold it over to expose a clean side before wiping again.
  2. Follow Specified Dilution Ratios: We’ve all heard about the dangers of the “glug, glug” method where cleaners loosely follow dilution ratios by adding a “glug” of disinfectant to a few “glugs” of water. In some instances, cleaners may think that adding more disinfectant than called for is better.  This approach is not only be dangerous to the cleaner, it can result in  sticky or heavily soiled surfaces – which actually can become an even bigger breeding ground for pathogens . Always follow manufacturers’ directions when preparing  a disinfectant. 
  3. Clean, and Then Disinfect: If soil is present on a surface, it can cut down on the germicidal capabilities of a disinfectant. Use a one-step procedure to enable disinfectant cleaners achieve peak performance.
  4. Use Friction—and a Little Elbow Grease: According to the CDC, friction (e.g. scrubbing a hard surface with a brush) is an “old and dependable method for disinfecting hard surface. We’d go a step further and say it’s the most important component of a surface disinfection program. Cleaners should also put a little muscle into cleaning, as bacteria can mix with film and dirt on surfaces. When these are not removed, bacteria can also be left behind. 
  5. Wipe in ONE direction. Try sprinkling some flour on a tabletop and wiping it in a circular motion with a slightly damp cloth. What happens? The flour just spreads around the table. When you wipe in a singular direction and continue to expose a clean surface, you are able to move toward the edge of the table and remove bacteria more effectively.
  6. Change Solutions Frequently: As a best practice, cleaners should use a two-sided mop bucket system. To ensure cleaners regularly change disinfectant solutions, set a hard rule on frequencies (e.g. change solution once every five rooms). 
  7. Return Tools for Cleaning: After any disinfection occurs, it’s important to establish a protocol for cleaning equipment at the end of their shift so tools can be cleaned and dried. Mop heads should be returned to a designated barrel so they can be taken to a laundry and cleaned. Before each use, make sure mops are completely  dry. Bacteria are not destroyed by laundry chemicals, but by  the hot air of drying. Even slightly  damp mops will harbor dangerous bacteria. The same holds true for squeegees or any other tools used in the cleaning process—make sure they are properly cleaned and inspected for tears, which can create places for bacteria to hide. 

Always remember: the best disinfectant is a clean, dry surface.

For more information on disinfection, sanitization and best practices for cleaning, check out our book “Microbiology for Cleaning Workers Simplified” in the ManageMen store. 

Why Dirty Schools are a Big Problem—and What We Can Do to Clean Them Up

Last year, the Chicago Public School (CPS) system had a major cleaning problem on its hands. When it outsourced cleaning services, it promised the move would save the district money, provide cleaner schools and reduce responsibilities within individual schools.

That didn’t happen. 

An investigation by a local newspaper revealed that 91 of 125 schools failed cleanliness inspections by an outside inspector, and the Chicago Board of Education wanted action. They wanted accountability from the contractors hired to oversee cleaning duties.  

Roaches, dirty floors, missing restroom supplies were just a few of the issues. Several cleaners reported that they used personal funds to purchase cleaning supplies. Within the schools, so many hands were tied. Administrators couldn’t do anything about the issue. Teachers started leaving, dismayed by the filthy environment and kids—well, the kids suffered the most. 

The Issue with Dirty Schools

A lot of people want to know what REALLY happens when schools are dirty. The truth is, a lot can happen.

Former EPA scientist Dr. Michael Berry has studied the impact of cleaning on our schools extensively. In his study “Educational Performance, Environmental Management, and Cleaning  Effectiveness in School Environments,” he concludes, “effective cleaning programs enhance school and student positive self-image, and may promote overall higher academic attendance and performance.”

While Dr. Berry was specifically making the case for effective maintenance as a strategy for revitalizing aging city schools, he demonstrated the link between a school’s environmental quality and the educational performance of its students. Ultimately, he says, clean schools are not just an issue for parents and school staff, but our communities.  

Dr. Michael Berry creates the link between a dirty school, poor performance and the impact on our communities.

A few weeks ago, we shared an awesome letter to the editor from a concerned parent in a school district that was outsourcing its custodial services. She (legitimately) questioned how students would be impacted through the move. 

Here are just a few of the problems associated with dirty schools: 

1. Increased illnesses and absenteeism. 

2. Reduced performance.

3. Students and staff take less pride in the school, which reduces moral.

4. Schools experience higher teacher and employee turnover. Higher turnover impacts student’s learning and opportunities for achievement. 

5. Reduced property value. 

What We Can Do About Dirty Schools

There are a lot of clean schools in our country, but there are also a lot of really dirty schools as well, and it shouldn’t take an investigation to reveal issues with cleanliness. A lot of times the cleanliness of a school is tied to funding, not surprisingly.

As a parent, school administrator or just concerned citizen, what can you do to help make sure we’re offering a clean and safe facility for children to learn and grow?

1. Improve job descriptions for janitors. According to the National Education Association, 38 percent of janitors have no job description and 32 percent of those who do have a job description feel it does not match the scope of their work. Make sure job descriptions have been updated and accurately reflect the work the janitor performs. An effective scope of work is the first step to making sure cleaning is performed as required.

2. Allocate funds for training. Too often, we put a vacuum or mop in a janitor’s hand and tell them to clean, assuming they know what to do… but they often don’t. By allocating funds for cleaning programs, products and training, school custodians can have the tools they need to clean properly, while also understanding the basic science of their job, including microbiology, how to prevent cross contamination, etc. 

3. Scrutinize RFPs before they go to bid. Cleaning services have become increasingly commoditized, so it’s important to make sure that when your district issues an RFP, specs for cleaning are clearly identified so services aren’t cut to the lowest priced bidder.  Green Seal’s GS-42 is a great framework for an RFP.

4. Advocate for better cleaning standards and programs. As Dr. Campbell noted in his report Clean Schools Initiative, “National cleaning, facility and education associations, states, school districts, etc. must establish a common vocabulary with clearly identified standards, training competencies, measures and outcomes that focus on healthy environments that improve quality of life and human performance.” 

If you’re looking to turn around a cleaning program at a school, we’ve got you covered. Just check out this case study from the Provo City Schools that showed how a systematic approach to cleaning was able to reverse some of the all-too-familiar challenges of a poor cleaning program.

5. Thank a Cleaner. While it might seem tongue-in-cheek, the single most important thing a parent, student, teacher or administrator can do to improve cleaning in schools is show appreciation for the people doing the cleaning. The task is hard and often thankless, so showing custodial workers that you see them and appreciate the work they are doing goes a long way. 

As the late Nelson Mandela wrote, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

As children across the nation prepare to return to schools, let’s do what we can to provide an optimal learning environment for them. Clean schools matter.

School Janitors: So Much More than a Line Item in a Budget

You don’t need to walk far into your neighborhood store to see it’s back to school season. With end caps of glue sticks and aisles of pencils, paper and folders with everything from kittens to Avengers characters greeting you, it’s a time of year that brings excitement and new beginnings.

But in the town of Saugus, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, 21 school custodians will not return to school this year. The School Committee recently ruled to outsource services, igniting what the local paper called a “firestorm” of protests from local residents.

After the firing of 21 janitors, residents of Saugus, Mass., ask what will happen to the health and safety of students in their district.

More than 3,300 local residents signed a petition calling for reinstatement of the janitors. A high school student spoke, saying that the custodians are a “vital part of the school community who make students feel safe and supported.” 

Despite the protests, the Committee proceeded with the vote to outsource custodial services to a private cleaning company. According to the Superintendent, the move was part of a “reallocation of resources” estimated to save the district more than $1 million. 

This may sound familiar, as it happens far too often.  

We’ve gotta give it up for the people in this committee for understanding the importance of the custodial workers in their schools. If you’re reading this blog, you know how important cleaning is to a community. This letter to the editor from Saugus resident Erin McCabe sums it beautifully.

To the editor:

I feel the safety of our children is being overlooked. With limited custodians our children are placed at higher risk of health issues. 

These are just some of my concerns:

1. With limited custodial services, dust will most likely accumulate causing an increase risk of asthma attacks.

2. With limited custodial services, who will be cleaning up vomit and blood? Will there even be a custodian in each school to clean these pathogens, or will staff and students have to wait for someone who is trained in cleaning blood-borne pathogens? Thus exposing our children and their staff.

3. With limited custodial services, what will flu season look like for our children, when stomach bugs flood our school, will we see absences rise? Clearly not what we want for our students……..right?

4. With limited custodial services who will be maintaining our brand new high school/middle school. Will it remain in pristine shape for all future students? Probably not.

5. With limited custodial services, will we be able to host after school events, events on weekends? Such activities as our town basketball leagues etc … these activities are important and necessary for our community!

6. With limited custodial services, what will be put into place to maintain our children’s safety?

To read the full letter, please go to: https://saugus.wickedlocal.com/news/20190624/letter-to-editor-safety-of-our-children-is-being-overlooked

Thank you, Erin and the entire Saugus community, for recognizing the important work of a well staffed, trained and equipped custodial program. School custodians are so much more than a line item in a budget. They are key to ensuring healthy and safe environments for our children, as well as maximizing the investment in the buildings they clean. 

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.