What Makes a School Dirty?

Should we care about dirty schools? Well, the short answer is yes, but probably not for the reasons you think. While visible dirt may keep students and staff from feeling positive about their environment (known as topophilia), a growing body of evidence has found that dirty schools may pose larger challenges— resulting in things like lower test scores and increased absenteeism. 

This is an issue in normal times, but an even greater problem coming out of a pandemic. With a considerable number of children having lost valuable learning time, schools need every edge they can get to keep students engaged and performing.  

There are almost 130,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. and little oversight over how they are cleaned. In many schools, public and private, you’ll find vacuum cleaners that belch out dust, custodial closets that showcase a host of expired and outdated products, and custodians that wear a wide variety of hats—they do everything from keeping external walkways clean to vacuuming classrooms to stewarding after school events. 

As any parent, aunt, uncle or teacher knows, kids can be dirty. Really dirty. And within our public schools alone, there are more 50.6 million students, based on federal projections for the fall of 2021. 

In the effort to provide students with a safe and clean learning environment, what other factors should educators identify for that might contribute to a dirty school? 

  1. Poor maintenance of cleaning equipment. You have to clean your cleaning equipment. Replacing vacuum filters, regularly laundering microfiber or other cleaning cloths, cleaning out mop buckets are all preventative maintenance strategies that help make for cleaner schools and longer lasting equipment. 
  2. Cross contamination between areas. Most schools have kitchens, restrooms and classrooms. When the systems aren’t in place to prevent movement of cleaning tools and equipment between areas, the same cleaning cloth might be used to clean a restroom sink, kitchen counter and/or a desk. 
  3. Underestimating cleaning frequencies. In a recent study that analyzed microbes on desks in three Connecticut schools, researchers took samples and examined how cleaning impacted surface microbial concentrations. Study authors concluded, “Current school surface cleaning protocols and cycles may be ineffective at reducing student exposure to fungal allergens and microbes of human origin.”
  4. Limited training for custodial workers. In many school custodial, training encompasses a few days (or hours) of following someone around to learn the job. Very few cleaning operations have a comprehensive training program in place that not only teaches employees HOW to clean, but WHY they clean. Training should not only provide workers with the overall understanding of why their jobs are critical and how cleaning impacts the health of people in the buildings they clean, but also protocols for how and when to perform specific cleaning tasks.
  5. The absence of cleaning systems. Cleaning isn’t about pushing dirt around, it’s about removing dirt and unwanted substances from the environment. And without the proper cleaning systems in place (e.g. moving from the top of the room to the bottom, disinfecting without cleaning), there’s a good chance custodians in your buildings are just moving dirt from one place to the next. 

The pandemic has changed the way so many look at cleaning, and this is increasingly true in our nation’s school systems. How we clean and maintain our schools has a direct impact on our students. As organizations look to utilize federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and other funding resources designated to help schools successfully reopen, it’s a great opportunity to examine the equipment, processes and training used by custodial workers.

Successfully managing a school environment is a necessary educational investment. But it’s one that pays off.

Learn more about how you can work to clean up your school in this post:  Why Dirty Schools are a Big Problem—and What We Can Do to Clean Them Up  https://managemen.com/why-dirty-schools-are-a-big-problem-and-what-we-can-do-to-clean-them-up/

picture of a mop with the text is there a right way to clean?

Is There a Right Way to Clean?

In 1971, Coke produced the “Hilltop” television commercial. Even if you weren’t alive then, you have likely heard the jingle sung by a group of teenagers singing looking like Julie Andrews in the mountains during Sound of Music. 

“I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.”

With troops still in Vietnam, the message was of inspiration and hope, intended to unite people everywhere… with a Coke. 

A similar environment exists right now as we start to emerge from the pandemic. Things have been divisive, but one thing that unites us all is that in some form, pretty much everyone cleans. In fact, we’ve cleaned more in the past 12 months than we ever have. And it’s anticipated that this will continue for the foreseeable future. 

But are you cleaning the right way? Is there a “right way” to clean? You just spray and wipe, right? Run the vacuum. If it looks clean, it must be clean, right?

Unless you’re in the cleaning industry, there’s a good chance you don’t know:

  1. You should always clean from top to bottom.
  2. Most disinfectants require the first step of cleaning and an established dwell time in order to work effectively.
  3. You should maintain different cleaning tools for different areas of your home or building.

This might not seem like a big deal, but when you have a bunch of people cleaning and not using cleaning products improperly, we run into issues with indoor air quality, chemical accidents, cross contamination, and more.  

“I’d like to teach the world to clean, in perfect harmony…”

Picture this scenario…

Short on staff, a housekeeping manager asks Jim, who just arrived for his first day on the job, to start cleaning rooms. She shows Jim the supply cart and gives him a list of tasks he needs to complete in each room.  

Jim enters the first room and removes the sheets from the bed. Next, he vacuums the floors and wipes down surfaces throughout the room—the nightstands, desktops, switches and door handles. Spotting a cobweb near the ceiling, he removes it with an extension wand, also dusting the top of the armoire. 

Jim walks into the restroom next and sprays the faucet, toilet and shower with disinfectant spray, immediately wiping them all down with the same cloth used in the main room. After cleaning the toilet, he mops the floors and leaves, repeating the process in the next room.

What’s wrong with this scene?

You’ve got to give Jim some credit. He followed the instructions he was given, but in this scenario, Jim isn’t cleaning. He’s pushing dirt around, and with it, he’s likely moving dirt, bacteria and likely viruses around too. 

As we mentioned earlier, this can cause a host of issues—within a home, a hotel, a hospital—any indoor environment of any size.

Yes, there is a right way to clean. And the better the protocols and systems you have in place—and the training that supports those protocols and systems—the cleaner and healthier your indoor spaces will be.

A moment to pause and reflect…

For most of this, this past year has felt a lot like we’ve been treading water in the middle of a huge lake. But finally, we can see a boat coming toward us to offer a break. As we get a moment to pause, it’s important to reflect on what went right during the pandemic. What can we improve?

COVID-19 has forced us to acknowledge the importance of cleaning in our indoor environments. It’s a pathogen that can be spread through hard surfaces, and it isn’t the last pathogen that will spread this way. In fact, there’s a good chance that we’ll face another pathogen that has even greater transmissibility via fomites in the not-so-distant future. 

Look around your house, your children’s schools, the hotels and stores you visit. Are they being cleaned properly, or are people just pushing dirt around? Have workers received training and do they understand that you should work from top to bottom when cleaning a room? Do they understand that you can’t just spray a disinfectant and wipe it with the same cloth you’ve used to clean the rest of the building?

There’s a science to cleaning, and it’s important we follow that science to keep our indoor environments safe and healthy for everyone. 

“I’d like to teach the world to clean, in perfect harmony.”

title for blog post

Our Top 10 Most Read Blog Posts of 2020

2020: A year that will go down in the history books. That couldn’t be more true for custodial professionals who suddenly were thrust onto the public stage as a pandemic took hold throughout the world. The same goes for most of us in the cleaning industry—while manufacturers battled unprecedented demands on the supply chain, others scrambled to prepare training and new certifications. Us? Well, we were prepared. Our users were prepared.

Our founder, John Walker, had anticipated the potential for something like this to happen, going so far as to prepare a pandemic playbook. A lot of people called us, wanting to know how to better create systems around their cleaning programs. A lot of people combed our website looking for information.

If this list is any indication, we can rest assured that people will appreciate the value of cleaning—and the people who do the work of cleaning—long after 2020 is over.

10. Cleaning Classrooms Safely – Teacher’s Checklist 

How can teachers make sure surfaces in their classrooms stay clean during  the pandemic?  We put together a checklist to help.

See the post and infographic here: https://managemen.com/cleaning-classrooms-safely-a-teachers-checklist-with-infographic/

9. Top 10 Frustrations of Custodial Professionals

The people who make it in this industry are problem solvers. Every day, they put together a new puzzle — figuring out which piece needs to go where to complete the puzzle of a clean building. It’s not an easy job, so to help others know they aren’t alone, we developed a list of the most commonly overheard challenges of custodial professionals.

Read the full list of complaints here: https://managemen.com/the-top-10-frustrations-of-custodial-professionals/

8. Coronavirus Communication: How to Tell Building Occupants We’ve Got This

To assist (OS1) teams with communicating their plans to key stakeholders and building occupants within their facilities, we developed a sample communication to help them understand that all of the necessary systems were in place for pandemic preparedness.

Read that post here: https://managemen.com/coronavirus-communication-how-to-tell-building-occupants-weve-got-this/

7. Why Cleaning Matters

It doesn’t matter where or what you clean, this is not an easy business. We’ve pulled together a list of four extremely important reasons why cleaning matters, along with a printable to remind yourself and your team just how important your work is.

Read that post here: https://managemen.com/why-cleaning-matters/

6. Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a Cleaning Operation

We can benefit from looking at a cleaning operation from the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are certain fundamental needs within a custodial operation that must be met in order for the program to be effective and meet certain higher-level goals. Too often, our conversation about cleaning is just through a specific lens rather than looking at the operation as a whole.

Read more about how you can apply the Hierarchy of Needs to your cleaning operation here: https://managemen.com/applying-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-to-a-cleaning-operation/

5. How the White Wings Cleaned Up NYC

Lacking any formalized sanitation and refuse system, New York City was drowning in garbage and filth in the late 1800s. Its current mayor, William Strong, called for Colonel George Waring to return and assume the position of sanitation engineer. The job of tackling the city’s overwhelming sanitation issues would be no easy feat, and Waring approached the job as he would approach combat on the battlefield. 

Read more about how George Waring and the White Wings cleaned up New York City here: https://managemen.com/from-the-history-books-how-the-white-wings-cleaned-up-new-york-city/

4. The Case Against Spraying Disinfectant Everywhere: Raise your hand if you’ve seen a picture of a heavily suited worker spraying what’s assumed to be disinfectant on sidewalks and streets in the past four months.

For cleaning professionals, this image might be somewhat alarming. Mostly because it demonstrates what we already know—that the majority of people throughout the world have a limited understanding of the science of cleaning. 

Read more: https://managemen.com/the-case-against-spraying-disinfectant-everywhere/

3. Please Take a Minute to Thank a Cleaner: While we rest, cleaners are lifting heavy trash bags and mop buckets, pushing vacuums and pulling overstocked carts. But this effort doesn’t come without a price. Due to the labor-intensive nature of their work, janitors have one of the highest rates of job-related injuries. Injuries from slips and falls or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that cause extreme pain in areas such as their backs (46 percent of all custodial-related MSDs), shoulders (15 percent of custodial-related MSDs), necks and legs. 

Read more: https://managemen.com/please-take-a-minute-to-thank-a-cleaner/

2. Think Janitor is a Dirty Word? No, and Here’s Why: If you trace the etymology of the word “janitor,” it doesn’t take much research to find that the term is tied to deity. “Janus” from which “janitor” is derived, was a Roman god of beginnings and ends; metaphorically he represented doors and passages. In images, he’s often depicted with two faces that allow him to look to the future and the past. 

Read why Janitor isn’t a dirty word here: https://managemen.com/think-janitor-is-a-dirty-word-no-and-heres-why/

1. Why Dirty Schools are a Big Problemand What We Can Do to Clean Them Up

The top post of this year looks at some of the most common issues that stem from dirty schools—things like poor performance and reduced morale. But it’s not just the issues—we dig into strategies that could help fix the problem of dirty schools. Spoiler alert: It starts with management.

Read the post here: https://managemen.com/why-dirty-schools-are-a-big-problem-and-what-we-can-do-to-clean-them-up/

silhouette of a person mopping a floor with text Cleaning Conversations: Perspectives from the people who keep our buildings clean James Peel, Texas Tech University

Cleaning Conversations: James Peel, Texas Tech University

Looking for a way to schedule cleaning workers at Texas Tech University (TTU), James Peel reached out to the University of Texas at Austin to learn about (OS1), the System they follow for cleaning processes and measurement. They invited him down to see (OS1) at work and James jumped in the car with a few others on his management team.

It didn’t take long to see what the hype was all about—when James and his team saw UT’s custodians line up to receive their daily supply kits and keys to the areas they were assigned, they were sold on (OS1).

That was in 2019, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, Peel has continued leading the custodial team through the (OS1) transition process. They’ve held socially distanced boot camps, multiple workloading sessions (which, he says are his favorite) and inspired dozens of employees with a renewed passion for cleaning and a commitment to providing healthy buildings for students, faculty and staff. We talk to James about this process and more, during this episode of Cleaning Conversations.

Cleaning Conversations: Jeff Hawkins, Provo City School District

Approximately 70-75 percent of the custodial team at Provo City School District is comprised of students, so when schools closed in the spring, that left Jeff Hawkins and his team with a massive staffing shortage. With all hands on deck, staff from other departments pitched in to learn the (OS1) System and clean schools.

With so much of the current conversation focused around disinfection, Jeff talks about how the (OS1) System has prepared them for executing cleaning during a pandemic situation, so his team has the training, tools and program to keep students, teachers and staff safe.

The Case Against Spraying Disinfectant Everywhere

Raise your hand if you’ve seen a picture of a heavily suited worker spraying what’s assumed to be disinfectant on sidewalks and streets in the past four months.

It looks something like this:

For cleaning professionals, this image might be somewhat alarming. Mostly because it demonstrates what we already know—that the majority of people throughout the world have limited understanding of the science of cleaning. 

Yet, when the general public sees images like this, they assume it’s what’s required to protect them from COVID-19. 

This gap in knowledge has led to widespread use (misuse?) of chemical disinfectants. Unnecessary use of cleaning chemicals generates waste, cost and can lead to injury to both the people applying the disinfectants and the individuals in the buildings being cleaned in the wake of the current pandemic. 

In short, spraying disinfectant everywhere—throughout schools, daycare centers, offices, hotels and restaurants—is a bad idea. 

Let us explain. 

A Health & Safety Issue

If it were just a few images circulating that misrepresent what’s truly needed to stop COVID-19 in its tracks, that’d be one thing, but the lack of education around proper disinfection practices is leading to injuries. 

One recent report found that at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California, guards were “rampantly spraying [disinfectants]… every 15-30 minutes around housing units. The sprayed chemicals are coming into contact with individuals’ eyes, noses, mouths, skin, clothing, bedding, food and drinking water, on an ongoing basis.” 

From headaches and nausea too painful blistering of the skin and swollen eyes, noses and throats, detainees housed in these areas experienced a variety of physical reactions from the misuse of the disinfectants. 

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. In April, the CDC reported that calls to poison control hotlines for cases involving cleaners and disinfectants rose significantly over the previous two years. 

Insurance Journal magazine recently reports that in an average business, disinfectant overuse can impact up to 10 percent of people. 

“Asthmatics, migraine sufferers, those with allergies or immune disorders or suppressed immune systems may experience symptoms [resulting from disinfectant exposure] such as memory loss, trouble concentrating, mood swings, irritability, headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting,” said Dr. Claudia Miller, an immunologist, allergist and co-author of Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes.

While there’s cause for concern, it’s important to recognize that disinfecting is important when it’s done properly using tested application methods. In pictures such as that shown above, spraying and fogging technology is used. However, emerging research has shown that these methods may not offer the efficacy of more traditional spray and wipe methods. As such, use of these methods should be reconsidered until additional testing is conducted. 

Citing ineffectiveness and health concerns, the World Health Organization recently recommended against the use of spraying or fogging disinfectants for use against COVID-19. In their guidance document, they wrote:

“In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces by spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommended for COVID-19… spraying disinfectants can result in risks to the eyes, respiratory or skin irritation and the resulting health effects. Spraying or fogging of certain chemicals, such as formaldehyde, chlorine-based agents or quaternary ammonium compounds, is not recommended due to adverse health effects on workers in facilities where these methods have been utilized.”

Similarly, the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) has also advocated against fogging and misting, in their recent recommendation, “Guidance for Decontamination of the Built Environment: Cleaning, Disinfection, Worker Protection and Post Cleaning and Remediation Assessment.”

Old Problem, Renewed Awareness

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a chemical handling issue on our hands. This post and infographic from a few years ago offers some important data around chemical accidents and injuries to workers. In pre-pandemic days, cleaning workers were experiencing an estimated 83,000  injuries from cleaning chemicals each year. Cleaning chemicals are a regular culprit in poor indoor air quality findings. 

But as businesses across the country begin the process of reopening, communication and  education around cleaning, cleaning science and cleaning for health is more critical than ever. Science must continue to drive our best practices, which we should regularly benchmark with other organizations and communicate with building owners and occupants. Cleaning workers not only tools to do the job, they need the education, training and personal protective equipment to use those tools effectively.

Here are five important things to remember when disinfecting any space, for COVID-19 or otherwise. Intensive disinfection efforts must be:

1) Conducted only after surfaces have been thoroughly cleaned.

2) Performed by trained staff.

3) Accompanied with the proper personal protective equipment.

4) Conducted in well-ventilated areas. 

5) Coupled with other mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and regular hand washing. 

If you use a systematic, engineered approach to cleaning like (OS1), there won’t be a need to spray disinfectant everywhere. And remember, effective cleaning contributes to a healthy indoor environment; it doesn’t pose additional health risks. 

What an Amazing Time to Be in Our Industry

You know the adage “hindsight is 2020”? I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Ultimately, the saying speaks to the fact that it’s easy to see what the right thing to do was after an event happens, but difficult to predict the future. 

When we get to the other side of this pandemic and are five or 10 years in the future, what will the events of 2020 look like? Will the industry effectively have captured its moment, helping the public understand the critical role that cleaning plays in protecting public health? 

When people go back to work, will they start to look at the person cleaning the restroom or mopping their office lobby in the eye and possibly even say “thank you”?

When budgets are cut due to funding shortfalls, will cleaning be one of the last departments to feel the pinch, because there’s an understanding that cleaning is essential to helping stop the spread of deadly viruses?

Forced to show that they’re cleaning and not polluting the indoor environment, will more custodial teams put key performance indicators in place and do a better of measuring their efforts and possibly benchmarking them against other programs as we do in (OS1)?

Will janitors and custodians finally drop off the list of occupations with the most injuries, because there’s greater value for the work they perform and a desire to help people work more safely?

From custodial directors to distributor sales representatives, janitors to equipment salesman—when someone asks what we do for a living, will we proudly recognize our affiliation with the cleaning industry? 

Will hindsight truly be 2020?

Stopping the Spread of Infection: The Business Case for Standardizing Your Cleaning Programs

This year, the flu has already killed more than 10,000 people in the U.S. and hospitalized more than 180,000 others, according to early reports from the CDC. It started early and aggressively—affecting an estimated 19 million people across the country—and shows few signs of slowing down. 

With the threat of another virus—a potential pandemic—at our doorstep, more people are starting to talk about cleaning and disinfection, which is great! We like people talking about cleaning.

Looking for info on what to do and how to clean during an outbreak? We’ve got you covered: Check out this post for information and an infographic on how to clean to stop the flu.

The thing is, outside of encouraging building occupants to stay home when they’re sick and regularly wash their hands, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces throughout a building is an essential step in controlling the spread of a virus.

That’s why when a school closes because of a flu virus, custodial crews are called to thoroughly clean and disinfect the building before students return. However, without a standardized cleaning program in place, how cleaners approach this task can leave a lot of surfaces untouched.

Money Matters: How the Spread of Viruses Affects Business

In the past week, we’ve started to see the markets react to the coronavirus. The Chinese market just saw its biggest daily drop in more than four years. That’s because when people are sick and can’t come to work, business slows. 

A report published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health last year looked at the best ways to effectively stop the spread of infection in an office building.

A few key findings from the report: 

  • “Viral illnesses have a significant direct and indirect impact on the workplace that burdens employers with increased healthcare costs, low productivity, and absenteeism.”
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces on fomites leads to an average reduction in the concentration of a virus by 85 percent. 
  • In the United States, both influenza and non-influenza acute respiratory infections result in an annual economic burden of $87 billion and $40 billion respectively, although this may be underestimated (Fendrick et al., 2003; Molinari et al., 2007). 
  • “Although annual vaccination can help reduce influenza outbreaks, vaccines are not developed for many other pathogens, such as norovirus (Fiore et al., 2010). Therefore, the best defense for disease prevention is public health hygiene and sanitation interventions, such as the use of hand sanitizers, surface disinfectants, and behavior modification (Leon et al., 2008; Reynolds et al., 2016).”

That last point is critical. Stated simply, authors found that one of the best ways to prevent the spread of pathogens throughout a building is to step up your cleaning programs. 

Standardized Cleaning Programs Make Good Business Sense

In one of his recent articles for Facility Cleaning Decisions, Ben talked about the benefits of standardization. He shared how a standardized cleaning program eliminates waste. How it more evenly distributes workloads and promotes safety for cleaning workers and building occupants. He talked about how it creates progress and generates data. 

A standardized cleaning program is a best practice, because it promotes best practices. It makes sure that all surfaces get cleaned, because there’s a system in place for cleaning them. 

Of the reported 50 percent of a custodial manager’s budget that is labor, it offers a delivery system for the work performed. Rather than focusing on fires, it sets daily frequencies, tools and routes to not only remove dirt, but stop the chain of infection.

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Almost two years ago, Time Magazine published an article about how the world wasn’t ready for the next pandemic. But as many facilities work to stop the spread of the flu virus, one thing is evident: We need better cleaning systems. 

It’s not just essential for promoting the health of building occupants, but the vitality of our country’s businesses and markets. And because the coronavirus isn’t the last outbreak that we’ll experience, a standardized cleaning program will be an essential risk management strategy for businesses moving forward.