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and private, you’ll find vacuum cleaners that belch out dust, custodial closets that showcase a host of expired and outdated products, and custodians that wear a wide variety of hats—they do everything from keeping external walkways clean to vacuuming classrooms to stewarding after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 with green background and person standing at a podium with text reading "evangelists for clean."

Evangelists for Clean

A colleague recently shared an article from EdWeek titled, “How Much COVID-19 Cleaning in Schools is Too Much?” In the article, the author discusses how COVID-19 has led to an increase in cleaning and disinfection activity in schools (no surprise) and the subsequent impact of that “cleaning” (or disinfection, more appropriately).

Pointing to a study that showed an increase in asthma attacks with “cleaning” in homes, the author suggests that we should “avoid overdoing cleaning” in schools to limit the potential health impact on students because COVID isn’t primarily spread through surfaces. 

Ugh. As we all know, you can’t “overdo” cleaning. You can overdo disinfection, but that’s another topic we addressed early in the pandemic in this post

The thing I want to draw your attention to is that the EdWeek website draws 1.5 million visitors a month. It is a primary resource for educators across the country. And sadly, this isn’t the only journalist who gets it wrong.  

It’s been a year since our lives were flipped upside down by the pandemic, and there hasn’t been a day that’s passed when I’ve read something in the news or watched a commentator on TV get something wrong about cleaning. Many of you have likely experienced the same—it started with the images of spacesuit-clad disinfectant warriors and has continued through today with articles around hygiene theater. 

Friends, our work must begin now. As professionals in this industry, we must work to educate others about the critical differences between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. We must help them understand the importance of cleaning on our health. This starts in conversations with our neighbors and continues when we read or watch something on the news about cleaning. When a journalist gets it wrong, like in the article mentioned above, take a few minutes to drop them a note and let them know that cleaning and disinfection aren’t one and the same. 

We’ve talked a lot about how cleaning has taken center stage throughout the pandemic, but sadly, people still don’t understand it. By evangelizing our work, we will help clarify these misconceptions and further professionalize this industry that we’ve all grown to love. 

Your pal, 
Ben


P.S. Feel free to drop Ms. Sparks a note. I know I will. 

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.”

The Power of the (OS1) Community


During a “normal” year, my schedule would start to fill around February. I’d plan trips to many of your campuses and facilities, excited to conduct audits, catch up with you and your teams, talk about what’s new at the office and in the industry.

But… we’re still not at normal yet. While I’m starting to plan travel for this summer, it’s all tentative. Sure, the vaccine is on the way and there’s a good chance that we’ll regain *some* form of normalcy in the next six months, we have no idea exactly what that will look like. Further blurring that picture is the fact that the virus continues to mutate and evolve. No one can say for certain how will that impact immunizations and transmission? 

But that’s not stopping us. We’re embracing the uncertainty and focusing on what is certain: YOU. The (OS1) community is the foundation of what makes this cleaning system so effective. So, from the newly reconstituted Simon Institute to the Cleaning Industry Trainer’s Guild, you are all working so hard to organize communication and empower (OS1) users everywhere.

You won’t find another community like ours. We share. We network. We build relationships and trust. And most importantly, we’re dedicated to excellence in everything we do. 

Helen Keller once said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” 

As we’ve said all along, the pandemic has thrust cleaning and public health into the spotlight. People everywhere want better cleaning programs that effectively remove dirt from buildings and protect their health. We have a powerful message, and it’s time for our community to work together to share it. 

Your pal, 
Ben

Want to learn more about (OS1) and our community of users known as the Simon Institute? Drop me a line at ben at managemen.com—I’d love to tell you more about it.


P.S. Follow me on Twitter at @BenWalkerClean

Join us for “DIY Workloading,” our next online mini-course class, next week!

“How long should it take a cleaning worker to vacuum the floors in a 1,000 square foot room?”

“How many custodians do I need to clean a new building?”

“How can I balance the workload to make sure that everyone has an equitable set of tasks?”

These are just a few of the common questions custodial managers have as they configure (or reconfigure) workloads within their buildings.

If you’re looking for tools that will help you develop meaningful data to workload to teams, you won’t want to miss our next Online Mini-Course, “Introduction to DIY Workloading” on Jan. 28, 2021, at 11 a.m. MST. 

This course is for supervisors and managers in cleaning organizations and is designed to provide a simplified, basic understanding of Workloading as it relates to Team Cleaning. After completing the course, you will be able to determine how long it will take you to perform a cleaning activity, including steps, variables and task times. If you follow a team cleaning format or are exploring how a team cleaning system might benefit your operation, this is the course for you. 

During this hour-long training course, you will learn:

  • How cleaning tasks and times can form the foundation of your custodial program.
  • How times and frequencies are developed.
  • How Team Cleaning standardizes the workload.

The tuition for this mini-course is $45.00. This includes 45 minutes of instruction by Ben Walker and 15 minutes Q&A period. All participants will receive an E-book version of 99 Workloading Times a DIY Workloading Times Guide by John Walker ($21.95 value). 

About the Speaker: 

Ben Walker is the Chief Strategy Officer for ManageMen. In addition to his consulting work, Walker compiled the data for 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks. Ben Walker performs progress and baseline audits for large cleaning operations. He has experience auditing the cleaning program for hundreds of buildings nationwide.

He specializes in the (OS1) cleaning process, safety, green, source reduction, public relations, training, and cleaning education. ManageMen’s clients include Sandia National Labs, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University, Kansas State University, Valparaiso University, Provo City School District, Michigan State University, The University of Michigan, Los Angeles Habilitation House (LAHH), US Postal Service, and GMI Building Services.

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.

Cleaning Classrooms Safely: A Teacher’s Checklist [with infographic]

With the topic of reopening schools leading many conversations right now, we’ve had a lot of questions about how teachers and administrators can work with custodial teams to make sure classrooms and common areas to limit the potential for COVID to spread on hard surfaces.* 

Tips for helping teachers keep classrooms clean and safe.

Whether you work in a school or know a student who will be returning to the classroom this fall, these steps can help teachers keep classrooms clean and safe:

  1. Clean, then disinfect. Kids make messes. And with calls for students to eat lunch in the classroom, those messes will only increase. It’s important to know that in order for a disinfectant to work, you must first clean the surface to remove any foreign substances or barriers and then apply the disinfectant.  
  2. Focus on touch points. Little hands are constantly touching, but what are some of the most often touched surfaces within your classroom? Faucet handles, chair backs, keyboards, door handles and desks are all items that should be disinfected throughout the day to limit the opportunity for virus spread.
  3. Follow label instructions. Just like teachers need time after a long day, disinfectants also need time to sit and dwell in order to work effectively. How much time is indicated on the back of the bottle and can range between 2 to 10 minutes. 
  4. Launder cleaning cloths regularly. Disposable wipes are hard to find right now, so a lot of teachers will be using donated disinfectant sprays or spray from the custodial team. If using your own cleaning cloths, make sure to use a fresh cloth each day to avoid cross contamination.
  5. Safely store cleaning chemicals. Make sure curious hands don’t find cleaning chemicals and be sure to lock all disinfectant supplies in a secure area.
  6. Use bleach in a pinch. With wipes and ready-to-use disinfectants in short supply, the CDC recommends using a diluted bleach solution to disinfect appropriate hard surfaces. To make a solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of room temperature water OR 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room temperature water.
  7. Clear desks and tables nightly. Stack books, papers and supplies on desks to keep tables and other surfaces clear for custodial teams to disinfect in the evenings. A lot of custodial teams will be working with limited resources, so every little bit helps.

* As the CDC notes, hard surface transmission is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads, but recommends several cleaning and disinfection protocols to maintain healthy environments. These tips are designed to supplement regular cleanings performed by custodial teams in a school. Clean schools are critical for learning both now and once the pandemic is over. 

From the Frontlines: Michigan State University

Keeping academics, students and faculty safe has always been a priority for Brandon Baswell and the custodial team at Michigan State University, but the coronavirus and COVID-19 have definitely impacted the way they clean, train, staff and budget. Brandon shares some excellent insights on what’s happening now, and how they’re planning for the fall, in our second episode of Cleaning Conversations. 

“You can’t do ANYTHING if you don’t have a clean and healthy environment.”

Brandon Baswell, Michigan State University

The Future of Cleaning and Hygiene

Cleaning professionals, start your engines. 

We’re at the starting line of one of the most important races of our lives. Never before have people paid so much attention to how cleaning is performed. As a profession, we’re stepping out of the shadows and onto the stage as people start to understand that cleanliness isn’t just about what you see, but also about what you don’t see. 

In “Science, Cleaning and the Built Environment,” cleaning scientist Dr. Michael Berry stated, “Effective cleaning is not widely recognized as a form of insurance or that ineffective cleaning has a high cost in the long term.”

With the coronavirus and this pandemic, that has changed. People now see the critical importance of effective cleaning, because public health safety is at stake.

Whether you’re an (OS1) user or someone who stumbled on this blog post looking for ideas on how to better clean your facility, you can bet that once we get through this pandemic, people will be asking a lot more questions about your cleaning program. As we stated in this post, the business case for better cleaning has never been stronger; and evidence of this paradigm shift is popping up all around us. 

Cleaning Takes the Stage

Last week, Delta Airlines introduced “Delta Clean”—their “new standard of airline cleanliness—now and always.” In a video announcing the initiative, Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch discusses the various steps Delta plans to take to improve the cleanliness of its planes. 

Delta rolls out “Delta Clean” a new standard of cleanliness.

A recent article in National Geographic suggested that to fight germs wherever you go, you  should ask about “cleaning practices” at hotels. 

“Before you book a hotel or a vacation rental, ask about the cleaning process. Often, the answer will give you a clear idea of whether or not this is a place you want to stay.” – Jason Tetro, microbiologist and author of the book The Germ Code.

Singapore has developed a stamp that helps visitors and locals easily identify hotels and other businesses that achieved a standard level of cleanliness. The “SG Clean” stamp is placed prominently at the entrance of an establishment and designed to give people “peace of mind,” says Keith Tan, CEO of the Singapore Tourism Board. They aim to eventually certify more than 37,000 establishments. 

On April 9, the Google Doodle (the fun logo updates you can find on the Google homepage used to commemorate holidays and special occasions) was changed to a person holding a mop and bucket to recognize cleaning workers—this feels like a moment, right?

The Future of Cleaning

Products. Processes. Training. Measurement. These four key critical pieces of EVERY cleaning program will be the subject of scrutiny once buildings start to reopen. People will need peace of mind that they can step into buildings without concern of contamination. 

This is good news for (OS1) users! There’s a good chance you can speak to each of these elements better than you can recall certain family members’ birthdays. From training to annual audits, the (OS1) System ensures that people understand not only HOW to clean, but WHY we clean. 

If you’re not an (OS1) user, you need to be prepared to speak to cleaning processes, products, training and measurement protocols. 

People will want to know what products and processes are used, and how cleaning performance is measured. Are you ready for that challenge? 

Protecting Custodial Workers: What Every New Cleaning Worker Needs to Know

Long before COVID-19 infected patient zero, a large percentage of the 3.25 million cleaning workers in the U.S. received little job training. In some circles, the assumption is that most people know how to clean, so the absence of training might not seem like a big deal. Individuals in these groups treat it as an inherent skillset that people are either born with or learn at an early age. 

But the thing is, not everyone just “knows” how to clean. As a recent survey showed, the majority of Americans aren’t disinfecting properly. And the processes you would use to clean a building are different than how you would clean your home or apartment.

There are many issues with the lack of occupational training in the cleaning industry, but a primary issues is the increased risk and exposure to workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that cleaning workers suffer the second highest rates of job-related injuries of any occupation—injuries heavy lifting, overexertion, chemical exposure and slips and falls are most common.

Reducing Risks to Cleaning Workers Now and After the Pandemic

When it comes to COVID-19, cleaning and disinfection is essential in stopping the spread of the disease. Aside from person-to-person spread, COVID-19 spreads when a person comes into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. So when businesses slowly begin to open again over the next few months, all eyes will be on cleaning workers. Regular, systematic cleaning and disinfection will be key to controlling the spread of the virus and limiting the additional waves of the pandemic. 

For these individuals to clean—and to not pollute the surfaces and buildings they are meant to protect—they need training. They also need training to protect themselves. 

During this period, we can expect to see a swell of new cleaning service providers. Many people who have been displaced from current jobs in the hospitality or foodservice industries may find themselves working in a position where they’re being asked to clean in a commercial environment for the first time. 

We’ve seen way too many headlines highlighting cleaning workers who are concerned because they don’t understand the routes of transmission or how they could become infected. Too many people who are asked to use new disinfectants and don’t have training to do so. Too many people who aren’t equipped with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their hands and faces from exposure. 

We need to reverse this trend and make sure ALL cleaning workers have the knowledge and training they need to clean safely and protect themselves.

If you’re new to cleaning, we’ve pulled together a checklist of things you should know before you start working.

This is not meant to replace any existing training programs, but rather serve as a supplement. Our hope is to help provide a resource for those individuals who may not receive any training from their employers. If that’s you, we’re here for you. Please feel free to reach out with any questions about what you can do to protect yourself during this time.