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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. 

From the Frontlines: Los Angeles Habilitation House Talks (OS1) and Cleaning for COVID-19

There’s no shortage of information and news available related to COVID-19 and steps individuals can take to reduce its spread through actions like hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.

As businesses begin to reopen, we will be talking to the cleaning teams who have been on the frontlines throughout the early weeks of the pandemic. What challenges have they faced and how are they changing their approaches to accommodate both teams and their clients?

Our friends Nancy Albin and Guido Piccarolo from Los Angeles Habilitation House discuss how the (OS1) System prepared them for the current pandemic and the changing perception of the importance of cleaning in maintaining the health of people in a building.

Cleaning in the Age of Coronavirus

Right now, cleaning and disinfection is a focus for people around the world because of the coronavirus. For people in our industry, this is somewhat of a seminal moment — we’ve arrived at a place where there’s greater appreciation and understanding for the importance of the work we do. Of course, we wish it didn’t take something like a pandemic happening to get here, but we’re thrilled to see that the message is being heard.

When we get to the other side of this, there’s little question that the world of cleaning will change. Already, Singapore is implementing mandatory cleaning standards, beginning with “higher-risk premises such as childcare and eldercare facilities, schools and hawker centers [food courts and markets], according to Channel News Asia

Combined with social distancing, cleaning is the next most effective way to control coronavirus. 

The thing is, cleaning needs to be done correctly, or else it’s not effective.

In the future, we can expect government standards around this to ensure cleaning is done properly. For now, it’s left to each cleaning professional and organizations to make sure they’re following best practices.

Here’s what we know (with some great links to help explain things!):

  • The coronavirus spreads by hard surfaces or fomites. The most recent research found that it lasts on hard surfaces such as stainless steel for up to two-three days. 
  • Cleaning workers form a critical line of defense in helping to stop the chain of infection, killing the virus on the surface before it has the opportunity to jump to the next host/hosts. 
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to protecting cleaning workers. Follow guidelines from the CDC, which includes using gloves and gowns and understanding how to don (put on), use and doff (take off) PPE. 
  • OSHA requires training for all workers who use cleaning chemicals and disinfectants. All organizations should maintain Safety Data Sheets on ALL cleaning chemicals used in their facilities. 
  • Not all “cleaning” kills coronavirus. It’s critical that people understand the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection, explained in full here.
  • Remember, clean first — then disinfect. A disinfectant will never work on a visibly dirty surface. Clean using a cotton or microfiber cloth—never a paper-based product.
  • Read the directions! Each EPA-approved disinfectant used for killing coronavirus indicates the dwell time, or the time the surface needs to remain visibly wet, in order to be effective.
  • Hand washing is everything. Make sure workers wash their hands before they begin cleaning and immediately after removing gloves. 
  • We must work together. Encourage individuals throughout the facility to assist with cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, per CDC recommendations.
  • Communication is key. Make sure to communicate what you’re doing with stakeholders in your buildings. Share images on social media to help people at home see how hard your facility is working to keep buildings clean for their return. 

We’ll get through this; effective cleaning is essential in that effort. And when we do get to the other side, we hope there will be a much broader appreciation for the critical work that cleaners, janitors, housekeepers, environmental service workers and other cleaning professionals do in protecting the health of the public. 

We’ll be holding FREE training around chemical handling in the coming week. Sign up to our newsletter for dates and times.

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.