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.


7 Deadly “Muda” or Wastes in a Cleaning Department

Toyota is often looked to set a standard in manufacturing, as it has long embraced lean management principles to develop automobiles across the globe. A large part of its success is due to its innovative approach to production, which can be attributed to Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System. While lean management originally started with Henry Ford’s assembly line, Ohno further integrated these principles into the Toyota Production System, which formed the basis for lean manufacturing as we know it today.

A central tenant of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing is minimizing “muda” —or waste—without sacrificing productivity. From uneven workloads to consumption of materials, limiting waste within an operation is one of the best ways to improve its profitability. 

In their paper, “Cleaning as an Engineered Process: Lean Principles for a Neglected Industry,” authors Dr. Jeffrey Campbell and Kathleen Campbell look specifically at how Lean Management Principles can be used within a cleaning department to improve efficiency.

“Lean is implemented by first understanding the activities and practices that are considered wasteful and do not add value to the process. It then looks at the process and identifies what creates value in the process stream and what is wasteful. A culture of continual improvement must be set up so that those who are in the day-to-day work-flow are comfortable with approaching management with new ideas on how to improve processes. Each area also needs to be cleaned and organized so that everything is in its place. With the preceding steps in place, waste can be eliminated or mitigated, and the process can become more Lean.’ The process should be re-evaluated often as new ideas or improvement emerge.” 

The “Seven Wastes” model is commonly used in lean and quality management systems such as ISO 9000 and Six Sigma. The wastes Ohno identified include:

  1. Transportation: The movement of resources or materials without adding value to your product.
  2. Inventory: Maintaining more product than you need for a given period. 
  3. Motion: Unnecessary movement of employees which may cause injury or are unnecessary.
  4. Waiting: The absence of movement for goods or tasks (e.g. waiting for items to be fixed, delivered). 
  5. Overproduction:  Producing more than you need to meet the customer’s demand or expectation.
  6. Over-processing: Performing work that doesn’t bring value to the organization or customer. 
  7. Defects: Production of a faulty or defective product. 

While a custodial department doesn’t necessarily manufacture a product, they do provide a service and one can easily draw parallels between Ohno’s seven wastes and potential sources of waste in a custodial department. 

Consider the seven deadly wastes when applied to a cleaning department: 

1. Transportation: How do custodial workers move throughout the building/buildings? Do they have defined routes or are they left to move throughout the building as needed? Are they kitted with everything they need (e.g. vacuums, chemical, PPE) to complete their tasks or do they need to go to other locations to retrieve items? 

2. Inventory: What does your janitorial closet look like? Is it filled with old equipment and expired chemicals? Do you purchase extra inventory “just in case” you need it, which contributes to accumulation overtime? 

3. Motion: Janitorial is one of the toughest jobs, which leads to high injury rates (one of the leading occupations for injuries, in fact). Injury from over-exertion is one of the most common to custodial workers. 

Ongoing training and on-the-job observation helps cleaning workers keep safe strategies top of mind for common tasks like lifting, reaching high areas, bending, etc. 

4. Waiting: How much time does it take cleaners to complete their task? Is there idle time? What happens when a space is occupied? Using our 99 Workloading Times and 612 Cleaning Times Book can help you identify how much time it should take your team to complete work assignments. 

5. Over-production: Is there such as thing as “too clean”? No, but there are routine tasks in a cleaning operation that might not need to be completed as often as they are. For example, a low-traffic restroom does not to be cleaned more than once a day unless there’s a specific issue to be addressed. The same goes for floor maintenance activities such as extracting a carpet or finishing a hard floor.

6. Over-processing: Because the cleaning industry currently lacks any standard for cleanliness, cleaning organizations must work with building occupants and customers to identify desired levels of cleanliness. 

In their paper, the Campbell’s discuss APPA’s five levels of appearance in its Custodial Staffing Guidelines book, which can be used a baseline for this discussion. Alan Bigger identifies them in his article “Operational Guidelines for Educational Facilities – Custodial.” 

7. Defects: Problems arise in a cleaning operation when employees lack the necessary training to do their work. In some instances, this can create a PR nightmare, as was the case at a Burger King restaurant in Fruit Cove, Florida when an employee used a floor mop to clean tables in the play area. 

In addition to complaints, the absence of a proper training program can cause injuries and result in inefficient cleaning processes. 

How lean is your custodial operation? Are there areas of muda or waste you could reduce? Consider talking to one of our consultants to learn more about how an engineered approach to cleaning could help! 

The Good Fight

Note: Each month, Ben Walker shares his monthly musings for our e-Newsletter, Cleaning Matters. April’s column is located here. If you aren’t subscribed to Cleaning Matters, you can do so by clicking here.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to present during the Clean Buildings Expo, which is sponsored in part by Trade Press Media Group, the publishing company for FCD. No question it was a career highlight, as I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting so many of the people who have read my columns over the years. There were a few times when I had to pinch myself because I felt like a celebrity! People stood in long lines to have me sign copies of their Cleaning Times books and to say hello.

Ben Walker speaks to a packed house of facility and cleaning management professionals during the recent Clean Buildings Expo.

One of the people who stood in the line following my session asked if I would have time over the next few days to speak with her further. She owned a contract cleaning business and was looking to improve some of the processes in place. I told her I’d sit down with her the next morning for coffee and we’d talk. Just talk, no consulting fees, no selling—just talking through some of her issues ,sharing ideas to help her make her business more efficient. 

I don’t tell you this to pat myself on the back. I share it because the high from last week’s event was still fresh on my mind when I started digging through my email this morning and came across this expose just published by Variety magazine, a weekly entertainment guide: “How America’s Biggest Theater Chains are Exploiting Their Janitors.”

Please take the time to read through the article and share it with your peers. It’s important that we support publications that bring the labor issues that run so rampant in our industry to light. It’s a story we all know too well—when cleaning is treated as a commodity, cleaning workers ultimately lose.

The article shares details of children of janitor’s being brought to work, sleeping on the floor or theater seats. Janitors going unpaid or receiving $350-$400 a week after working eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I don’t know what Hell is like, but I think it would be like that,” one cleaner told the reporter. “Sometimes I was crying because my feet couldn’t take it anymore. My back couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know how I could finish the work I had to do.”

******

There are so many cleaning companies that play in this arena who exploit the people performing the work for their profit. However, there are also a lot of companies out there trying to doing the right thing, like the woman I met during the Clean Buildings Expo last week. 

As an industry, we have so much work to do. 

Professionalism. Integrity. Standards. 

By standing on these principles, we will continue driving the industry forward. 

When we don’t, we only hurt ourselves and the people around us. And we enable conditions like those described in this article to continue thriving. 

Thank you for joining us in this fight.

Ben.